Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

Cold War

 

Imagine odd couple Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar (Felicia Ungar?) as a cohabitating male and female. Now give them a debilitating flu bug and confine them to their small house for several days. Will either of them come out of that situation in one piece?

That’s the premise of Cold War, a romantic comedy in which lovers Maggie (Madeline Walter) and Jon (Michael Blaiklock) find out the hard way if there is such a thing as too much togetherness.

A movie like this can go sour if your two leads aren’t engaging enough to hold the audience’s attention for 90 minutes, but I never got sick of Maggie and Jon.  Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

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by Agatha Christie

 

If you do an Internet search of “best Agatha Christie books,” you’ll find this novel in many top-five lists, along with Christie classics like And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’m a bit surprised by that.

Pigs is a typical Hercule Poirot investigation, with the Belgian detective interviewing a series of murder suspects and then amazing everyone when he unmasks the killer. But unlike the classic mysteries listed above, Pigs doesn’t feature anything particularly clever or groundbreaking in the genre. It’s entertaining, but routine Christie.

 

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Wind River

 

A grieving father (Jeremy Renner) teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to find the killer of a Native American girl in Taylor Sheridan’s latest thriller.

Sheridan films are often scenic and boast dynamic action scenes. Yet there is something about his characters that leaves me unmoved. People we are clearly supposed to care about will have tragic back stories. Or they die violently. But I’m just not that invested in them. That’s how I felt about Hell or High Water, and that’s how I feel about Wind River.

Great Utah scenery, though. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

**

 

Bullet Head

 

I’m a sucker for a good animal-on-the-rampage thriller. The shark in Jaws, the St. Bernard in Cujo, and the tiger in Burning Bright – they are much more terrifying, to me, than a special-effects creature from outer space, or a demon in the closet, which are often more silly than pee-your-pants scary. I nearly wet myself several times during Bullet Head, in which a trio of thieves (John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin) are stalked in an abandoned warehouse by a crazed mastiff. And, believe it or not, the movie is actually pro-dog. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

**

 

Bad Match

 

Bad Match doesn’t have the budget or the big stars of Fatal Attraction, but it does share its famous predecessor’s thriller DNA and it delivers a neat twist ending. Harris (Jack Cutmore-Scott)  is a self-centered Millennial who spends his leisure time playing video games and banging girls he finds on a dating site – until he swipes right on the wrong target (Lili Simmons). Nothing particularly new in this karmic morality tale, but bad boy Harris’s descent into ruin is a thing to behold. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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by Steve Rushin

 

I loved this book – but I’m hesitant to recommend it. I pause because although I’m clearly in the author’s target audience, you might not be. If I say “Mel’s Matinee Movie,” do you smile, or do you scratch your head?

Rushin grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. I’m a bit older than him, but I also grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. Rushin’s love letter to all kid-related things from that time and place naturally resonates with me. I can’t help but smile at references to Metropolitan Stadium, Southdale shopping mall, Fran Tarkenton and, yes, Mel’s Matinee Movie. But again, do you give a rip?

On the other hand, Rushin’s main theme is family life, and his anecdotes about the suburban Rushin clan will likely appeal to a wider audience. One of the blurbs on the book’s jacket compares Sting-Ray to Jean Shepherd’s depiction of family life in the 1930s. I think that’s probably apt. Even if you did not grow up, as Rushin and I did, in the frozen tundra 50 years ago, much of his warm and humorous book is universal.

 

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Voice from the Stone

 

My main complaint with modern horror is that so much of it substitutes sound and fury for genuine suspense. Rather than build tension, these movies assault the senses with loud noise, frenzied camerawork, and gore. But there is an opposite extreme, exemplified by Voice from the Stone, in which the burn is so slow that it induces boredom.

Emilia Clarke looks lovely as a nurse employed by a grieving widower to look after his disturbed young son at their Italian estate, which, like Clarke, is lovingly photographed. But the first hour is so understated and muted that by the time things finally start to happen in the third act, I was nearly comatose. Release: 2017 Grade: C-

 

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Aval

 

It’s tempting to write off Aval (English title: The House Next Door), India’s homage to Hollywood horror classics like The Exorcist. Much of the dialogue (a peculiar mix of Indian languages and English) and relationships evoke corny melodramas from the 1950s. At some point the story, in which a doctor and his wife learn that someone in their Himalayan neighborhood is possessed, stops making a lot of sense, and a few scenes are unintentionally funny.

However … there’s no question that several of director Milind Rau’s set pieces are chilling, with clever camerawork and stunning visuals. Also in its favor: the movie is consistently entertaining. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

**

 

The Babysitter

grouchyeditor.com Babysitter

 

A 12-year-old boy discovers that his oh-so-hot babysitter is actually a psychotic devil worshipper in this Netflix horror-comedy that starts out silly and grows progressively more ridiculous. But no worries: It’s meant to be silly, it’s well-produced, and it’s often amusing. Oh, and Samara Weaving gives a killer performance as the blonde from hell. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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by Anthony Horowitz

 

Horowitz’s double mystery is a lot of fun for fans of old-fashioned whodunits. It’s a clever book-within-a-book in which a literary editor investigates the suspicious death of her company’s most successful writer: an irascible cuss who wrote the wildly popular “Atticus Pund” mysteries.

For the most part, Horowitz (the original scriptwriter for TV’s Midsomer Murders) avoids common whodunit pitfalls like implausibility and cheating. The ease with which he links two seemingly unrelated crimes — one in “real” life and the other in the pages of a thriller — is also impressive.

I was able to predict the murderer of the cantankerous author. But I won’t boast because I was gobsmacked by the identity of the killer in the Pund portion of the book.

 

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Voyeur

grouchyeditor.com Voyeur

 

This might be one case where the movie is better than the book. Famed journalist Gay Talese’s nonfiction account of a Colorado Peeping Tom was often a repetitious slog through the mind (and journal) of Gerald Foos, a motel owner who for years spied on unsuspecting guests through ceiling vents and then recorded his observations.

This documentary, on the other hand, is less about peeping and more about two old men who are both preoccupied with how they are and will be perceived by the rest of us. The juxtaposition of the proud and meticulous Talese with his partner in crime, the alternately insecure and self-aggrandizing Foos, as they strive to publish Foos’s perverse tale is an often-fascinating look at fame – and infamy – in America. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

**

 

Nocturama

grouchyeditor.com Nocturama

 

Nocturama is stylish, beautifully shot, and has several scenes that are truly harrowing. But too bad the editor wasn’t in charge of things, because the movie also has a lot of sequences that drag on needlessly – especially during the first hour. Writer-director Bertrand Bonello’s premise is a good one: A group of disaffected young people are persuaded to plant bombs on the streets of Paris, and then hide out in an upscale department store while all hell breaks loose in the city. But in that first hour, Bonello’s camera dwells on every corner the kids pass, every elevator they use, and every subway change they make on their way to planting the bombs. Yet the rest of the film is a chilling portrait of what could come next in the form of terrorism.  Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

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by Holly Madison

 

We’re told not to be judgmental of other people, but when someone writes a book about her “career” as one of Hugh Hefner’s concubines, isn’t she really saying, “Hey, look at me and my life! What do you think?”

OK then, Holly Madison. I think you are a bubble-headed blonde with just a wee bit more smarts than most of the other bubble-headed blondes who at one time comprised Playboy publisher Hefner’s harem in Los Angeles. You were smart enough, at least, to find a competent ghostwriter to chronicle your years at the Playboy Mansion and on the reality show The Girls Next Door.

In Rabbit Hole, Madison strives mightily to paint herself in the most flattering light — she was just a naïve little girl from Alaska who made some poor choices — which I suppose is human nature. She doesn’t really succeed, but I will say this: In the process of documenting her life, she manages to make everyone else in her orbit also look bad. Hefner, for example, comes off as a male version of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest:  manipulative, insecure and controlling.

But silly me. I was hoping to learn at least a little bit about Playboy’s past – Hefner’s famous friends, the Dorothy Stratten episode, the magazine’s impact on society – but Madison has no interest in the slice of Americana that the magazine represents. She is interested in the endless petty squabbles among the “girlfriends” and with their geriatric crypt keeper at the Playboy Mansion.

No one leaves a good impression in this memoir, including its delusional author. At one point she compares the arc of her life to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Talk about seeing things through the looking glass.

 

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Spielberg

 

This retrospective about the famed filmmaker often resembles DVD commentary tracks in which everyone involved with a movie kisses the director’s ass. Of course, in this case the director is worthy of much praise, but still … it gets old.

Speaking of old, maybe it’s my age and nostalgia for my misspent youth, but I’ve always preferred early, “immature” Spielberg to later, “mature” Spielberg. Yes, his more-adult dramas are well done, but other directors can do that. Conversely, no one’s been able to match the excitement of Spielberg’s early roller-coaster rides. Release: 2017  Grade: B

 

**

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

 

I suspect The Autopsy of Jane Doe looked a bit ridiculous on paper. Much of the story is either far-fetched or horror-movie cliché. But when you have a talented director (Andre Ovredal), a suitably spooky setting, and an old pro like Brian Cox as your star, you can turn a so-so screenplay into something special – something genuinely creepy and suspenseful. Cox and Emile Hirsch play father and son coroners who spend one terror-filled night dissecting a beautiful corpse (Olwen Kelly). Generally, I’m not a fan of gore, and this movie has plenty, but hey, it is about an autopsy. Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

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