Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web


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:


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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.


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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-


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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


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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 (text only)



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.


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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.


© 2010-2019 (text only)


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 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


© 2010-2019 (text only)


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.


© 2010-2019 (text only)


The Mansion 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+


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