Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

by Steve Almond

 

I suspect that Almond is mostly preaching to the choir with his book about the evils of American football. If you’re already down on football, you’ll cheer him on. If you’re a fan, you’ll view him as a spoilsport.

Either way, it’s difficult to argue with many of his points. Football does cause brain damage; NFL owners do extort taxpayer money for new stadiums; college student-athletes are anything but; etcetera, etcetera.

Some of Almond’s assertions are questionable. On the “homophobia” alleged to be rampant in the NFL, he drags out the stereotype about how players who dislike locker-room showers with gay teammates are actually afraid of their own sexuality. Does that mean that women who prefer not to shower with males are, in fact, afraid of their own sexuality? Is that a flawed comparison?

But football does present a dilemma. Physical aggression is ancient and part of our DNA. I’m not sure what you do about that other than channel it somehow – like through watching football. My take: It’s best to stop supporting high school and college football. As for the pros, they are handsomely paid and they now know what they are getting into.

Watching football is like watching porn: not good for you but still a component of a free society.

 

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Bad Education

 

Bad Education is intellectually rewarding but emotionally bereft, mostly because there are no characters to root for. And yes, that includes the charismatic high-school superintendent played by star Hugh Jackman.

In HBO’s fact-based film about scandal in Roslyn, Long Island, we watch in mounting disgust as the school officials and citizenry of Roslyn prioritize property values and glossy college resumes over other things. Little things like, oh, millions of embezzled taxpayer dollars. That is, until the high-living thieves are caught by an enterprising student journalist.

It’s highly watchable stuff; I just wish I cared more.  Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

**

 

Downton Abbey

 

At the midpoint of this theatrical offshoot of the long-running British TV series, I began to seriously question my taste and judgment: Why on earth had I slavishly watched nearly every episode (52 of them) of this ridiculous soap opera, which aired from 2011 to 2016? In the movie, the king and queen of England are coming to visit the upstairs/downstairs gang at their fancy digs, and I am supposed to care … why?

But here’s the thing. There is a fine line between warm and fuzzy (a good thing) and cloyingly sentimental (a bad thing), and no one is more adept at finding the sweet spot than Downton creator Julian Fellowes. By the time the credits rolled on this — let’s face it – motion-picture cash grab, Fellowes had worked his magic and I was once again sucked in to the hoity-toity hokum. Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

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by William Kent Krueger

 

There is a dead judge and a missing boy in the northern Minnesota wilderness, and it’s up to our hero, a small-town, mild-mannered ex-sheriff, to save the day.

Iron Lake is an OK thriller, but it’s oh-so-familiar. If you read enough of these crime novels (I’m guilty), many of the protagonists – Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, or in this case, Cork O’Connor – begin to morph into the same character. The hero will be a hard-headed, middle-aged man, often a cop or ex-cop, who drinks and smokes and broods over a lost love. And then there is a call to action, often involving a family member or that lost love, and our hero proves his mettle against all odds. Only the settings change in many of these books.

Iron Lake was of interest to me because this time the locale was not L.A. nor New York, but rather rural Minnesota, where I grew up. The story was fine; the characters were fine; but mostly this was nothing new.

 

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The Platform

 

If you like your movies loaded with symbolism and metaphors, The Platform is piled high with none-too-subtle commentary on class warfare, capitalism, socialism, racism, and religion. All of that adds substance to the film, but the unpredictable plot is what held my interest in this Spanish thriller.

A man volunteers to spend six months in “the hole,” a concrete prison with hundreds of floors through which a food-filled platform descends on a daily basis – a rectangular slab piled high with consumables for the prisoners. The catch? Everyone on the upper floors pigs out, leaving nothing but scraps for the poor souls below. The Platform is often gross and always grim, but it kept me glued to the screen, wondering what fresh hell would be coming next. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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by Michael Booth

 

As I type on this keyboard, we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and so any book depicting the culture and lifestyle of a particular region probably needs a caveat: Was it written post-plague or pre-plague?

In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, British expat Michael Booth chronicles Scandinavia — but the Scandinavia of 10 years ago, which might be very different from the Nordic region post-plague.

At any rate, I’m of Nordic heritage (mostly Norwegian; some Swedish), so Booth’s travelogue-analysis was of special interest to me. Booth has been compared to Bill Bryson, but his book is less interested in Bryson-like humorous anecdotes and more about compare-and-contrast: How does Scandinavia stack up in relation to the rest of the world? What makes it unique?

Yesterday, I watched a news report about the one Western country that seems to be going against the grain in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. That would be Sweden, which will not surprise anyone who reads this book. According to the news story, the Swedes are apparently shrugging their collective shoulders about the virus while everyone else is taking drastic measures.

Are the Swedes showing the rest of us how to deal with a pandemic, just as they aspire to lead the way on gender equality and immigration? Or are they a nation of oblivious fools?  

The Swede in me would like to believe the former; the Norwegian in me fears the latter.

 

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Harpoon

 

Harpoon is a bit gory for my taste (pun intended), but this tale of three friends on a boat trip gone bad is otherwise a fast-paced, entertaining black-comedy-slash-thriller. Munro Chambers, Christopher Gray, and Emily Tyra shine as young pals who grow paranoid, distrustful, and hungry – oh, boy, do they ever grow hungry – when they are stranded at sea with little food and water. None of this threesome is particularly sympathetic, but they are all very amusing rascals. If nothing else, Harpoon might get you to Google “Richard Parker” (both of them). Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

**

 

Wij

 

Perhaps I’ve grown jaded, or maybe I’ve seen too many movies based on books by Bret Easton Ellis, but I was unmoved by the alleged “shocking” escapades of the kids in this Belgium-Netherlands co-production. Director Rene Eller’s movie follows a group of eight teens who go bad thanks to, oh, the usual culprits: Internet porn, reality TV, and/or indifferent, clueless, or non-existent parents. You’ve seen most of this before – although probably without quite so much bare skin. Release: 2018 Grade: B-

 

 

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Since we are “self isolating,” we thought this would be a good time to post something fun. So here are thumbnails of the covers of books that Grouch has read over the past 25 years. Where possible, the covers shown are the actual covers when the books were purchased, whether in 1995, 2005, or yesterday — probably about 95 percent of the titles. The list is alphabetical. 

Click on any image for a view of the full cover. 

 

grouchyeditor.com perfect people 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whew … that’s a lot of scrolling. If you’d like to read short reviews of about one-third of the above books, click here for an index with links.

 

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Girl on the Third Floor

 

Girl on the Third Floor is further evidence that a talented director can take a silly ghost story and, with skill and creativity, deliver more than a few goose-bumps. C.M. Punk plays a no-account husband who, after cheating on his pregnant wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn) with a sexy blonde (Sarah Brooks), gets his #MeToo comeuppance at the hands of some angry female spirits. Director Travis Stevens uses the creepy old house the errant husband is renovating to good effect. Too bad Stevens’s efforts are undermined by a weak script. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

Trieste Kelly Dunn

 

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by Mary Stewart

 

Why, you might reasonably ask, would I read a 58-year-old book by romance novelist Mary Stewart? OK, let me try to explain.

I was motivated by a mixture of:  a) nostalgia, b) a hankering to read what they call a “cozy” mystery and, last but not least, c) fond memories of … Hayley Mills. She starred in Disney’s film version of the book.

So sue me. Go ahead, sue me.  Moon-Spinners fulfilled my wish list.

By today’s standards, the story is certainly “cozy.” There is no sex; just romance. There is violence, but nothing graphic. There is no swearing. On the whole, it’s very tame stuff, which I suppose is good or bad, depending on your taste.

The plot concerns a young English girl living in Greece who, while on holiday at a small fishing village, stumbles on a gang of thieves, a murder, and a kidnapping. Throughout all of this drama, my mental image of the heroine was Hayley Mills. I enjoyed that, because Mills was my childhood crush.

So sue me.

 

Footnote:  As for the actual title of this book – to hyphenate or not to hyphenate – I give up. Take a look at this:

 

 

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We get a lot of review requests along with links to private “screeners.” Mostly, these are low-budget movies so dreadful that they don’t even appear on Netflix or Amazon Prime – yet.  They have titles like Luciferina and The Haunting of Mia Moss and, in this case, Rondo.

Often the movies are unfinished: The soundtrack might not match the video, the credits have yet to be added, that sort of thing. But occasionally these films have a certain rustic charm; the spirit of Ed Wood living on.

 

Rondo

 

 

If ever there was a successful film director who exemplifies the much-decried “male gaze,” it would be Brian De Palma. De Palma’s thrillers – especially in the 1970s-80s — often featured damsels in distress and damsels in undress:  Melanie Griffith in Body Double, Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill, and former De Palma spouse Nancy Allen in several of his films, to name just a few.

If De Palma was guilty of glorifying the male gaze, then I’m guilty, too; not just because I enjoyed his voyeuristic images, but also because, stylistically, he emulated the late, great Alfred Hitchcock.

Which brings me to Rondo, written and directed by Drew Barnhardt, a filmmaker who told me he was definitely influenced by De Palma. This is more than apparent in Rondo, with its 360-degree pans, voyeur elements and, of course, sexy ladies.

I confess that I had the wrong idea going in to Rondo. From that title, I expected some macho action flick a la John Wick. “Rondo,” I supposed, would be the protagonist’s he-mannish name, and fistfights would ensue. Wrong.

“Rondo,” it turns out, is the password to gain admission to a perverse sex club. And the movie protagonist is not some hulkish weight-lifter but rather a buxom babe named Jill (Brenna Otts). When something bad happens to Jill’s brother after he visits the sex club, she goes undercover to investigate.

 

Above, Jill (Brenna Otts) comforts her traumatized brother

 

OK, this low-budget movie isn’t in the same league as the best of Brian De Palma. But it is an entertaining (if a bit sleazy and grim) little thriller. If you like bloody violence you will enjoy the ending. And if you enjoy damsels in undress, thanks to actresses Iva Nora and Otts, your male gaze will get an eyeful.

 

**

 

Male Gazing in Rondo

 

“Mrs. Tim” (Iva Nora, above and below) is about to discover the downside of weird sex clubs

 

 

**

 

Brenna Otts, above and below, submits to a pat-down by the villainous “Lurdell” (Reggie De Morton). 

 

Lurdell and Jill discuss the terms of her sex-club desires. Below, Jill goes into more detail:

 

Lurdell and his evil companions enjoy some white-girl booty.

 

Among movie-nudity scholars (yes, they exist), there is some debate about what constitutes actual “nudity.” To me, if you reveal 99 percent of your bare ass — thong panties or not — then yes, that qualifies.

 

 

 

Oops!

 

 

The movies have a long, sometimes shameful history of white-girl heroines being threatened or violated by the “scary black man.”

Between Otts’ sex-fantasy speech about “big dicks” (see above) and the symbolism of a black man pressing his gun into her backside (also see above), well ….

 

In researching this article, we checked out some old thrillers and found this scene from De Palma’s 8mm (1999), in which naked actress Emily Patrick shares the stage with a BBC (look it up). Except

It isn’t a De Palma thriller. We were confusing 8mm with De Palma’s Snake Eyes, which premiered a year earlier and also starred Nicolas Cage. Oops.

The scene below depicts another nude white girl imperiled by a BBC. Except

Emily Patrick doesn’t seem “imperiled” at all. In fact, she looks downright pleased to see her companion’s appendage – much like Jill’s sex fantasy.

OK, so wrong movie, wrong director. Watch the clip anyway:

 

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(Click on photos for a larger view)

 

The movie clip:

 

 

grouchyeditor.com Emily Patrick

 

**

 

We’re giving the final word on Rondo to resident pest Rip van Dinkle:

“OK I give up. I tried to interview Brenna for this article. We tried to reach her through the movie’s publicist. We tried through the film’s director. I even reached out to her on Twitter.

“Could. Not. Get. A. Reply.

“What riles me up is that line in the movie about her character’s preference for “big dicks.” That’s just not right. I’m guessing that if she sees this article and my picture, she will change her mind. So here you go, Brenna. This dick’s for you:”

 

grouchyeditor.com Hybristophilia

 

 

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