Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

 

On the surface, there are few good reasons to recommend Mindhunter, the new ten-part series on Netflix. In this golden age of television, with its hundreds of channels and scores of new series, it often feels like half of these shows are serial-killer cop procedurals. Alas, Mindhunter is yet one more.

There is also a glut of serial-killer feature films, but a handful of them stand out. I am thinking of The Silence of the Lambs. I am also thinking Mindhunter stands apart. Here are a few reasons why:

 

1)  It’s a David Fincher project. Fincher, the director responsible for Zodiac and Se7en, executive produces and directs four of Mindhunter’s episodes (the first two and the last two). The man knows how to inject flair and originality into a tired genre.

 

Left to right: Groff, Torv, and McCallany 

 

2)  The show is exceptionally well cast. Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv play FBI agents who comprise the vanguard of serial-killer profiling in the late 1970s. I wasn’t familiar with any of these actors, but I am now.

Groff in particular is a pleasant surprise. Early on, I was afraid his bland agent Ford was as colorless as his omnipresent business suits, but I quickly got over that. Groff and sharp writers add unexpected dimensions to this deceptively boyish-looking profiler.

3) Ford’s jail-room encounters with various serial killers – all of them based on real-life murderers – are riveting. It’s like Clarice Starling having weekly shrink sessions with variations of Hannibal Lecter. You are not likely to soon forget hulking actor Cameron Britton (pictured at top) as the notorious “coed killer” Ed Kemper.

If there is a downside to Mindhunter, it would be its drawn-out expository scenes, in which everyone seems quite impressed by the FBI team’s “revelations” about the criminal mindset. The show’s writers hope to convince us that serial-killer profiling was more revolutionary than it actually was, and that 1970s law enforcement and the general public were, apparently, quite the credulous bunch. 

But I was around in the 1970s and I remember the era well. Criminal psychology had been an object of fascination for a long time by then. If you don’t believe that, check out the final scene of Psycho.   Grade: A-

 

 

Creator: Joe Penhall  Cast: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith, Sonny Valicenti, Stacey Roca, Cameron Britton, Joe Tuttle, Happy Anderson  Premiere: 2017

 

 

 

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The Survivalist

 

Like the similar-themed apocalyptic thriller The Road, The Survivalist is relentlessly grim. A bearded hermit lives in the woods, planting seeds and arranging tin cans as a primitive alarm system to warn him of potential marauders. Nothing much happens in his Robinson Crusoe existence until one fateful day when two women appear at his cabin. This is a well-made film, well-directed and well-acted, and despite an unhurried pace it’s generally absorbing. But that sluggish pace and the pervasive gloom of the story, while realistic, also produce a movie that at times feels like an endurance test. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

El Bar

 

Unlike The Survivalist, The Bar is fast-paced, infused with humor, and over the top. After two men are inexplicably mowed down outside the door of a humble Madrid café, a small group of customers find themselves trapped inside. Is there a sniper in a nearby building? Are there more targets in their midst? And why have the two corpses been dragged away? It’s a fun premise, and Alex de la Iglesia directs the action with gusto. But by the time star Blanca Suarez gets stuck in a drainage hole because her boobs are too big to slide through the opening (below), The Bar becomes downright silly. Release: 2017 Grade: B-

 

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                                                          How not to slip through a drainage hole

 

**

 

Life

grouchyeditor.com Life

 

Life won’t win any awards for originality, but hey, if you’re going to copy, at least this movie copies from the best. We get bits of Gravity, bits of Predator, and a whole lot of Alien. If you like those science-fiction/horror classics, you will likely enjoy Life, which borrows and expands on several of its predecessors’ best ideas. The plot: Jake Gyllenhaal and a small group of fellow astronauts must destroy a hostile alien organism before it makes its way to Earth – with or without the astronauts. Sound familiar? I will say this: For a movie that steals so blatantly from the classics, Life’s twist ending is both original and clever. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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by Calvin Trillin

 

Killings is a compilation of true-crime accounts that Trillin wrote for The New Yorker, primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, about murders in the country’s heartland. Murder is an inherently interesting subject, and Trillin admirably fleshes out the lives of otherwise-unremarkable people caught up in horrific circumstances, but perhaps because we are by now accustomed to books and movies that spare no gruesome detail, Killings’s less-sensationalistic stories can feel sedate, at times almost quaint. As you read them they hold your interest, but you might not recall any of them six months later.

 

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We don’t know if these daring dads and their darling daughters are A) artistically uninhibited; B) sexually perverted; or C) some combination of the above, but we do know that it’s not every day that papa films his progeny in the buff — and then shares the lust-provoking results with the world.

 

Katrine Boorman & director John Boorman

 

 

“A lot of people ask me, well, ‘How did you feel about directing your daughter being raped?’ Well, she wasn’t being raped of course. It was just a scene. She didn’t mind, and nor did I.” – John Boorman on Excalibur’s director’s commentary

 

 

“I’ve always said that once you’ve been raped by Gabriel Byrne and Corin Redgrave in armor, watched by your father, you’ll never look back.” – Katrine Boorman in The Independent

 

 

“So I was doing the scene with John Boorman’s daughter Katrine, who was playing my wife, and I was supposed to make love to her in quite a violent fashion. Anyway, I made love to Katrine in the wide shot, doing my grunting and groaning and all those medieval sexual shenanigans. Then they came in for the close shot.”– Gabriel Byrne. 

Byrne’s turn humping Katrine was apparently left on the cutting-room floor; in the shots reproduced here, that’s Redgrave having his way with Boorman’s daughter.

 

 

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Katrine didn’t just bare her breasts for daddy when she was 23; she went topless again at age 39 in 1997’s Le Bonheur est un mensonge (above left). In 2012, Katrine got behind the camera to make a documentary about her famous family called Me and Me Dad. Below, the infamous pumping scene from Excalibur:

 

Asia Argento & director Dario Argento

 

 

“Argento began performing for her father when she was a teenager, appearing in the nude as a 16-year-old in Trauma. She was also a rape victim in another of his films, The Stendhal Syndrome. Not surprisingly, these roles and their father-daughter relationship scandalized Italy. Argento has said that they are viewed in her native country like a real-life Addams Family – ghoulish and weird.” – New York Daily News

Now 41, Asia apparently still has a thing for older men. It was recently reported that she’s dating TV personality Anthony Bourdain, 61.

 

 “How’s this, dad?” Sixteeen-year-old Asia in Trauma.

 

“I never acted out of ambition; I acted to gain my father’s attention. It took a long time for him to notice me – I started when I was nine, and he only cast me when I was 16. And he only became my father when he was my director.” – Asia Argento in Filmmaker Magazine

 

Above and below, Asia in Dracula 3D

 

 

 

 In Dario’s The Phantom of the Opera, above and below, Asia gets taken doggie-style.

 

 

Alexis Vogel & photographer Ron Vogel

 

 

From Playboy’s February 1979 pictorial “Father Knows Best”:

“Photographer Ron Vogel has been snapping pictures of his daughter ever since she was a baby. At 21, she’s still his favorite model.”

 

 

“Over the years, Ron took ‘hundreds of pictures of Lexi in various states of undress. She has youth and vitality greater than most of the models I’ve worked with and her coloring is extraordinary; she has earthy tones and dark penetrating eyes.’”

Click on the thumbnail shots below for full-sized views of Ron’s full-frontal shots of Alexis.

 

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“Lexi: ‘I was a ham. I’d try to get my dad’s attention away from the models … I never had any problems posing that way for my father.’”

 

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“‘Posing nude for me throughout the years has made Lexi very free about herself,’ says Ron.”

 

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Split

grouchyeditor.com Split

 

Yes, James McAvoy is impressive playing a psycho with multiple personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest “comeback” picture, the thriller Split. Problem is, McAvoy’s disturbing characters often seem like the only reason to keep watching the movie. The plot, in which McAvoy’s crazy man abducts three teenage girls and confines them in a basement, takes a decent premise and goes from clichéd to ridiculous to boring. Sorry, but this is hardly a return to form for Shyamalan.  Release: 2017 Grade: C

 

**

 

The Edge of Seventeen

grouchyeditor.com Edge

 

After enduring the first 20 minutes of this coming-of-age comedy-drama, I wasn’t sure if I could continue watching. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s script employed done-to-death voiceover narration, a la The Wonder Years, and worse, the protagonist was an incredibly bratty and vulgar teen. Eww. But then a funny thing happened on the way to study hall: The more our heroine was assailed by life’s slings and arrows, the more I grew to like her. By the end, I was cheering for her. Unlike so many teen-oriented movies, this one is smart, poignant, and boasts a winning performance from star Hailee Steinfeld. Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

**

 

The Big Sick

 

The Big Sick has a lot going for it: It has heart, and it has endearing performances from writer-star Kumail Nanjiani and the supporting cast. Nanjiani plays a stand-up comedian of Pakistani descent who has to deal with his Muslim-traditional family and, after his WASP girlfriend lapses into a coma, her bickering parents.

Unfortunately, The Big Sick also has a Big Flaw. As the ailing girlfriend, Zoe Kazan is clearly intended to be spunky and lovable. But whenever her entitled, annoying character appeared on screen, I began to feel ill. Release: 2017 Grade: B-

 

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by David Niven

grouchyeditor.com Niven

 

“Well, old bean, life is really so bloody awful that I feel it’s my absolute duty to be chirpy and try to make everybody else happy, too.” – David Niven

 

Movie star Niven’s 1971 memoir is certainly “chirpy.” And if you’re a fan of old Hollywood, it’s guaranteed to make you smile. But Balloon also reminded me of – of all books – a more recent “memoir”:  controversial author James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I read Frey’s bestseller after it was revealed that much of his allegedly true story was pure fiction. But I liked it anyway.

In Niven’s case, later biographers have debunked many of the anecdotes he relates in The Moon’s a Balloon as either exaggerated, sugar-coated, or outright fabrications. But I liked it anyway.

It’s odd, though. So much of Niven’s life was so inherently interesting – World War II service, Hollywood stardom, glamorous pals – that you have to wonder why he felt the need to embellish.

My guess is that the above quote explains at least part of it. Niven was a born entertainer, and if that meant stretching the truth a bit, so be it. Or maybe he was just practicing what Hollywood preached in its “golden age”:  Life goes down better with a happy ending.

 

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Toni Erdmann

grouchyeditor.com Erdmann

 

A bohemian music teacher attempts to reconnect with his uptight, unhappy, businesswoman daughter in Bucharest, and havoc ensues. The two leads (Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek) have great chemistry, and there are some truly memorable scenes — including a (nude) birthday party to end all birthday parties. But writer-director Maren Ade’s otherwise impressive film has a near-fatal flaw: At 162 minutes, it’s much, much too long. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Hell or High Water

grouchyeditor.com Hell High Water

 

Part Bonnie and Clyde, part old-time Western, Hell or High Water aims for realism, but in its quest to be taken seriously and hammer home some social commentary, it’s not as much fun as it could have been. That is, with the notable exception of crusty (of course) Jeff Bridges, who as a retiring lawman on the hunt for two bank robbers provides the movie’s only source of levity and wit. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Get Out

grouchyeditor.com Get Out

 

A black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) goes home with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents, and he’s in for quite a weekend. For an hour or so, Get Out cleverly skewers upper-class white folk who feign empathy and understanding of race relations, but then writer-director Jordan Peele’s story sinks into horror-movie clichés. It’s a sharp and suspenseful ride – until that last act. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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by Madeleine L’Engle

grouchyeditor.com Wrinkle in Time

 

Observations about a Children’s Classic

 

A Wrinkle in Time is a beloved children’s book about a little girl who goes on a dangerous quest to find her missing scientist-father. It was published in 1963, but I’m a little behind in my reading, so I just now got around to it. Random thoughts:

 

  • There are heavy doses of both religion and science in the plot, yet author Madeleine L’Engle manages to make them peaceably co-exist.

 

  • I kept thinking of the book’s likely literary influences, pre- and post-publication. Before: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. After: the Harry Potter books.  J.K. Rowling is the more entertaining, skilled writer, with stronger characters; L’Engle deals more overtly with adult themes.

 

  • I’m guessing that Wrinkle was (is?) more popular with girls than with boys. I mean, any story that ends with the heroine conquering evil by (spoiler alert!) declaring “I love you!” to her baby brother is going to be a tough sell to the mud-and-trucks crowd.

 

  • I believe I’ll pass on the upcoming Hollywood adaptation, mostly because it reportedly features the Queen of Smarm, Oprah Winfrey. (I might change my mind if Winfrey is cast as the dreadful blob of brain, but I’m guessing that’s not the case.)

 

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by Agatha Christie

grouchyeditor.com Blue Train

 

The following sentence is from my 2013 review of Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds:

 

“My other complaint with Death in the Clouds is that, once again, Christie’s plot hinges on the failure of people to recognize, at close quarters, someone they really ought to recognize.”

 

I have the same fruitless grouse about The Mystery of the Blue Train. I say fruitless because it’s not as if the author, who died in 1976, might mend her ways. We just have to accept that, in many of her stories, witnesses tend to have poor vision and/or recall.

But it’s a Christie whodunit, and it’s got Hercule Poirot, and the ending fooled me. So there you go.

 

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Elle

grouchyeditor.com Elle

 

Elle begins with a brutal rape, but in its aftermath the victim does not go to the police, nor does she inform close friends. In fact, middle-aged Michele appears to be borderline blasé about the attack. When her rapist continues to stalk her, she almost seems to welcome it. But why? The answer unfolds gradually, and while it does Elle is a tantalizing mystery with a commanding performance by Isabelle Huppert. But once we learn the reason for her strange behavior – not to mention the identity of the rapist – the suspense of the film begins to lose its power. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Passengers

grouchyeditor.com Passengers

 

Considered a critical and box-office failure, it’s true that Passengers is no science-fiction classic, but if you enjoy big-budget spaceship movies that look cool and keep the plot simple, as I do, you could do a lot worse. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt play space tourists who get a much longer trip than they bargained for in this essentially simple, old-fashioned romance. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Her

grouchyeditor.com Her

 

At first, I was disinclined to like this drama about technology and our evolving connection to it. Protagonist Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his privileged pals seemed to embody every negative stereotype about West Coast liberals: living lives of economic ease, self-absorbed, and endlessly seeking emotional safe spaces. But Theodore’s growing relationship with his computer operating system, a husky-voiced charmer dubbed “Samantha,” tapped into some disturbing truths about the modern world. The result is a film that achieves something rare. It makes you think and it makes you feel. Release: 2013 Grade: A-

 

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