Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

We Summon the Darkness

 

In old-school slasher flicks, the psychos were usually male and their victims were often female. But this is the post “Me Too” era, and so in We Summon the Darkness the roles have reversed. (OK, so that was a twist spoiler; but it’s not much of a twist.) Yet one thing hasn’t changed over the years: Old-school slashers were generally ridiculous, and that certainly holds true with this 2019 offering.  It’s well-produced — but not so well-written.

Alexandra Daddario plays the alpha of three female dimwits who hook up with three equally dimwitted boys for a night of drinking and games at her parents’ isolated house. Bad things happen. You know the drill. Release: 2019 Grade: C-

 

Sidebar:

Alexandra Daddario, who stars and is listed as one of the film’s producers, gets to flex her acting chops in We Summon the Darkness. I hadn’t seen Daddario in anything since 2014’s True Detective, in which she memorably flexed a few other things (see below).

 

 

The video clip:

 

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by Soji Shimada

 

I guess you could call Shimada Japan’s answer to Agatha Christie, but I wouldn’t put him in Dame Agatha’s league. Crooked House is a locked-room murder mystery with all of the usual ingredients: an isolated group of suspects, most of whom have something to hide, but not necessarily murder; an eccentric detective to amaze everyone with his astounding deductions; and a convoluted, somewhat clever plot.

I say “somewhat” clever because I didn’t buy the resolution to the story, which is more “howdunit” than whodunit. I suppose that, theoretically, it’s possible that the crimes could be committed per Shimada’s plot. But man … it takes a great deal of goodwill on the readers’ part to buy into it.

 

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by Tucker Carlson

 

There’s a good reason that the left keeps targeting Fox News’s Tucker Carlson with advertiser boycotts. Unlike the Fox anchors who follow his nightly show, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Carlson is neither a lightweight Trump sycophant (Hannity), nor a smug, intellectually lazy yuck (Ingraham). Carlson is sharp, witty – and often right. In short, to the left he’s a formidable threat.

If you watch Carlson’s show (raising my hand), most of what he covers in 2019’s Ship of Fools is old news. His targets are familiar: Obama, environmentalists, illegal immigration, open borders, and … well, most issues that progressives hold near and dear.  But unlike so many of the talking heads out there, Carlson is passionate and persuasive.

 

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Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

 

I’m trying to decide what I learned after watching the Netflix docuseries Filthy Rich. Most of what’s presented in the four-part series is old news to anyone who followed the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal. Epstein allegedly lured teen girls with empty promises and small amounts of cash. He enjoyed relationships with high-powered men like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Alan Dershowitz.

We also get obligatory interviews with accusers like Virginia Giuffre, whose connection to Prince Andrew was also well-publicized (see photo above).

In the end, I didn’t so much learn anything as have my old feelings confirmed. If you have enough money and clout, you can pretty much get by with anything — at least until you’re found dead in a jail cell. Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

                         

 

Virginia Giuffre, above left, alleges she was repeatedly forced to be Alan Dershowitz’s (above right) sex toy when she was still a teen.

 

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Accuser Maria Farmer let Epstein see nude pictures of her teen sister Annie, including the bare-breasted painting shown center above. According to the sisters, Epstein molested both of them. At right, Annie Farmer today.

 

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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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