Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

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!

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

 

Share

by Camille Paglia

 

I am drawn to feisty intellectual Camille Paglia for two reasons: 1) Being a straight man, I appreciate any feminist, like Paglia, who does not indulge in obligatory male bashing, and 2) I share Paglia’s aversion to “herd mentality.” She’s a contrarian, but often for good, fact-based reasons. It’s refreshing to find a feminist willing to take on “women’s studies” dogma and cultural icons like Gloria Steinem.

Her main theme in this collection of previously published essays is that modern feminism downplays human nature — or the role of biology — in modern life. Every problem cannot be solved by social engineering, she believes. We are who we are.

A minor complaint: If you don’t know what Paglia makes of Katharine Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, or Dorothy Parker, she will let you know on page 35. And on page 176. And on page 222. Etcetera, etcetera. If you weren’t aware that Paglia wrote a feminist-themed letter to the local editor when she was just a teenager, she will relate that story multiple times.

Then again, this is a collection of Paglia musings from a period of 25 years. If you feel you are a lonely voice in the feminist wilderness, you probably feel the need to repeat yourself.

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

by Gary Larson

 

I pretty much lost interest in the “funny pages” decades ago because so few of them were actually funny. An exception was Gary Larson’s single-panel classic, The Far Side. Larson’s loopy, goofy illustrations looked adolescent but displayed out-of-left-field wit. I mean, how can you not smile at this?

 

 

That’s the first cartoon you see in The Far Side Gallery, an anthology of Larson’s syndicated strips from 1982-84. Here is another example from the book:

 

 

But I have to admit that I found this book a bit disappointing. For every absurdist gem like the two examples above, there are a dozen entries that seem either dated, lame, or (to me, at least) incomprehensible. Maybe Larson improved with age; perhaps by purchasing this collection of his early work, I just picked the wrong years.

But man, when Larson was good, he was very, very good.

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Baby Driver

 

I can picture young Tom Cruise and young Steven Spielberg teaming up to make a film like this 30 years ago. The result might have been a popcorn classic. Unfortunately, young Ansel Elgort as getaway driver “Baby” lacks Cruise’s charisma, and filmmaker Edgar Wright seems primarily interested in action scenes.

The action scenes are pretty good – especially Wright’s clever use of a synchronized soundtrack.  But there is also a lot of mundane exposition filling the gaps between chases. Baby Driver is an agreeable ride for a couple hours. But it ain’t no popcorn classic. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

**

 

Hereditary

 

Hereditary reminds me of 2014’s The Babadook: Both films are creepy, absorbing family dramas … but it’s a stretch to hail either as a modern horror classic. In Hereditary, Toni Collette plays a cursed mother who is besieged – to put it mildly – by mental illness and violent tragedy in her small, tight-knit family. All of this doom and gloom is detailed in a superb first hour. But, as in Babadook, the “horror” that dominates the second hour is simply not that original, nor that scary. Release: 2018 Grade: B

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

 

Near the end of Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder, Charlie Rose interviews multimillionaire Cullen Davis for Rose’s TV show. A Texas jury had just acquitted Davis of killing his wife’s lover and a 12-year-old girl:

 

“Has your life gotten back to normal,” asked Rose in a husky, intimate whisper. “I mean, can you live a normal life ever again?”

“Normal would be walking down the street without being recognized by anybody,” Cullen replied. “That’ll never happen.”

 

Davis was right about that. One day in the 1990s, some 15 years after the 1976 murders, my wife and I were crossing a skyway in downtown Ft. Worth.  I caught the eye of a man headed in the opposite direction: a slight, dapper-looking fellow with a “cat that ate the canary” glint in his eye. He looked first at my wife and then at me. There was a trace of a smile on his thin lips.

It was, I knew instantly, Cullen Davis.

 

Rose gingerly turned the questioning to the murders. “Are you afraid, living in the mansion?” he asked.

 

At about the same time as our Davis sighting in the skyway, we lived near the infamous “murder mansion” on Mockingbird Lane in Ft. Worth. By then, the Davis trials were fading into history and the mansion itself was a long-abandoned wreck. Ghoulish curiosity seekers (including us and our friends) would spend a Saturday or Sunday squeezing through a vandalized plywood barrier to explore the once-lavish, $35 million palace, now dark, musty, and ravaged by souvenir hunters. (I confess that I took a piece of floor-tile from the kitchen – site of one of the murders.)

I mention all this because it’s not often that I read a true-crime book in which the (alleged) killer is someone I’ve seen up-close-and-personal, and whose former home I’ve helped ransack.

But pilfering floor tiles is nothing compared to the hijacking of the judicial system pulled off by Davis and his colorful, apparently conscienceless lawyer, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, in three trials conducted in the late 1970s.

You think the O.J. Simpson trial was a miscarriage of justice? Check out the Davis trials, in which multiple witnesses — including victims shot point-blank by “a man in black” — identified Davis as the perpetrator, and yet Texas juries could not bring themselves to convict.

Apparently, jurors were awestruck by the strange little man’s wealth and charisma.

I certainly wasn’t awestruck when I locked eyes with Davis in that skyway, nor when I trespassed in the cavernous halls and living rooms of his haunted house.  I was creeped out.

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

The Mansion

grouchyeditor.com Mansion

 

I have a real weakness for horror movies in which a group of people are trapped at some isolated location and then snuffed out, one by one. This kind of film can have amateurish acting, sloppy cinematography, and a plot as tired as grandma’s bunions, and I’ll likely still watch it. The Mansion, a mix of (mostly) comedy and horror from France, is no And Then There Were None, but if you share my weakness for this genre you’ll enjoy the creepy old house and the systematic offing of numerous knuckleheads — one by one. Release: 2017 Grade: C+

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Calibre

 

Two buddies go on a hunting expedition in the Scottish Highlands and experience the worst nightmare since Ned Beatty was forced to squeal like a pig in Deliverance.

Calibre isn’t in the same league as Deliverance, but it does deliver a palpable sense of pending disaster and, if you’re a city kid, it will lend credibility to your worst (albeit stereotypical) fears about backward country folk. Release: 2018 Grade: B+

 

**

 

It

 

I wanted to like this movie, really I did. I enjoyed Stephen King’s novel years ago, and lord knows It was popular at the box office. But oh, man, where to begin? What we have here is 135 minutes of horror-movie rehash, with every predictable trope and cliché imaginable, about a group of pre-teens battling evil in small-town Derry, Maine. The kids’ parents are themselves either evil or missing in action, and the film’s so-called “horror” is simply a series of jump-scares, loud noises, and shopworn special effects.

You might ask if there was anything I did like about It. Sure: It has a nice look, and Bill Skarsgard’s creepy clown in the opening scene was pretty cool. Release: 2017 Grade: C-

 

**

 

mother!

grouchyeditor.com mother!

 

All poor Jennifer Lawrence wants in this movie is a little peace and quiet for herself and poet-husband Javier Bardem. Good luck with that. I guess you should never invite strangers into your house.

I’m not sure why mother! is so polarizing. I suspect it might be because it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch. What begins as a slow-burn psychological thriller in the vein of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, or perhaps his Repulsion, takes a hard turn at the midpoint to an over-the-top religious allegory, and you know how people feel about religion. And babies. But I liked the film because, a) it’s very well-made, and b) it’s thought-provoking. And in this age of endless superhero and comic-book movies, that’s worth celebrating. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

I’m not a fan of director Wes Anderson’s breakout film, The Royal Tenenbaums. The movie’s tone is quirky to a fault, and its oddball characters left me cold. The characters in Grand Budapest are also an eccentric bunch, but this time Anderson hits a comic sweet spot.

Ralph Fiennes is especially good as a harried concierge who is falsely accused of murder and on the lam with his loyal “lobby boy.” Anderson’s visuals are endlessly inventive, and he delivers something rare: inspired slapstick for intellectuals. Release: 2014 Grade: A-

 

**

 

The Dinner

 

Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall have more than food on their minds when they convene at a ritzy restaurant to discuss the consequences of a horrific crime involving their kids. The Dinner took me by surprise more than once, because none of its characters are what they first appear to be. The smooth-talking politician might not be so bad, his charming wife might harbor dark impulses, and the “woke” narrator might have major issues.

The movie crams an awful lot of unpleasant subject matter into two hours, including mental illness, privilege, and racism, but it’s also a smart story with unpredictable performances from its quartet of stars.  Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

Cargo

 

The last scene of Cargo is either a moving example of creative inspiration – or the most embarrassing thing an actor’s done since Nicolas Cage wore a bear suit in The Wicker Man. You be the judge.

Cargo, in which dad Martin Freeman strives to save his infant daughter in a zombie-infested world, starts well, and then there’s that wild ending, but everything in between is just standard zombie-movie fare. Release: 2017 Grade: C

 

**

 

Norman

 

Norman is a fun, gentle, entertaining movie that bucks the superhero/comic book/special effects trend – and that might explain why you probably haven’t heard of it. Richard Gere is amusing as an elderly Jewish con man who somehow becomes “friends” with the prime minister of Israel, leading to global scandal for them and fond memories of similar fare like Being There for viewers. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share

 

Cold War is a new romantic comedy with Madeline Walter about a young couple whose relationship is tested — to put it mildly — when a crippling flu bug confines them to close quarters for days on end. We talked to Walter about the movie. We also let Rip van Dinkle ask her a question. Just one question.

 

**

 

GE:  Your movie reminded me of Hollywood “bickering couple” classics like War of the Roses, His Girl Friday, etc. Were you familiar with those movies, and was Cold War a conscious attempt to carry on that tradition?

 

MW:  I believe it was! I have a woefully limited knowledge of classic films, but [co-directors] Stirling and Wilder are both film buffs, and I know they were inspired by many of the classics. When I was preparing for the shoot, Wilder referred me to some movies that had inspired him, and the one that I actually drew from the most was the original Odd Couple with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. I think that movie is brilliant, and just really beautifully captures the dynamic of two people with intensely different lifestyles and hangups trying to live together (and making it work because they ultimately deeply care about each other). Also, fun fact — in the scene in the movie where Jon notices that Maggie’s labeled their duplicate DVDs, the DVD that he pulls out is His Girl Friday.

 

**

 

GE:  Which comic actresses inspire you?

 

MW:  A bunch! Kathryn Hahn, Issa Rae, Sharon Horgan come to mind — they all make such funny choices that really come out of such grounded, surprising emotional places. I’m also an improviser, and I learned pretty much everything I know about performing at the UCB theatre, so a lot of the women I perform with are really inspiring to me. So much of the time I’m just stealing what they do and trying to make it my own.

 

**

 

GE:  The movie was basically a two-person show (I can see it as a stage play), and you and Michael Blaiklock are in most scenes together. Is that a good working situation for you, or do you prefer a larger cast?

 

MW:  This was my first feature film, so I really loved working with such a small cast. It really allowed me to focus on my character’s relationship to one person, and gave me the time to explore and examine that relationship and make clear choices about its evolution. Also, I have to say, doing a two-person movie with Michael specifically was awesome- everything he did was so present and surprising, and he made it really fun. I highly recommend doing a two-person movie with him if the opportunity comes up!

 

**

 

GE:  I’d say one lesson of Cold War is that yes, you can spend too much time with a significant other. Assuming you were/are in a relationship with another person, what would you say is the ideal amount of time to spend together?

 

MW:  I think it’s nice to spend enough time apart so you both have interesting answers to “how was your day?”

 

**

 

GE:  Between you and Michael, there was quite a bit of puking in the movie. Was that method acting, perhaps residual memories from college days?

 

MW:  I wish … but unfortunately my wildest college experience was a time I stayed up all night organizing a filing cabinet. I am very proud of our puking sounds though — the most fun was doing ADR. Something feels so wrong (yet so right) about standing in a super polished recording studio and gagging into a state-of-the-art microphone.

 

**

 

Editor’s note: Rip van Dinkle was impressed by a scene in Cold War in which nurse Madeline shares screen time with a nude actor and his noodle. We let him ask Madeline one question.

 

 

Rip:  The scene in which you examine the naked patient was hilarious. I was in “The Smallest Penis in Brooklyn” pageant and I know that it can be like pulling teeth trying to find men who are willing to do something like that. Was that an awkward scene for you to film? Did the actor have any qualms about revealing his shortcomings to the world?

 

MW:  You know, it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be, because Kenneth [Yoder], who played the patient, is a total pro. And I really just super appreciated that Wilder and Stirling showed full frontal male nudity in the type of movie where female nudity is usually much more common. They really made an effort to flip rom-com tropes in a lot of ways, and that’s what made this movie so exciting to me.

 

.                       

 

 **

 

Editor’s note: In the interests of equal time — lest anyone think that the patient with the flaccid penis represents the only skin on display in Cold War — here are some revealing screen shots of Madeline in the film:

 

grouchyeditor.com Madeline Walter

grouchyeditor.com Madeline Walter

grouchyeditor.com Madeline Walter

grouchyeditor.com Madeline Walter

(Click on pictures for a larger, better view.)

 

© 2010-2018 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

Share