Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

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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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 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 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 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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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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Harvey Weinstein gets in trouble with the starlets. George Bush gets in trouble with his “David Cop-a-Feel” routine. But Howard Stern, the King of All Sexual Harassment, never seems to get in trouble.

Stern has been copping feels and scandalizing women for as long as I can remember. The difference between Howard and Harvey and George? Somehow, the “shock jock” persuades his female guests that a little bare-bottomed humiliation is their idea.

And their husbands and boyfriends are just as game and/or gullible, offering up their ladies to Howard’s altar of ass.

Stern’s 1992 video Butt Bongo Fiesta is a monument to bad taste, with cringe-worthy racism, misogyny, and homophobia all competing for attention. Not to mention scatological humor. Much of the video is, well, unwatchable. But I do like the parts presented below.

(The quality isn’t great on these clips, but hey, they are lifted from an ancient, hard-to-find VHS tape, and so ….)





Marie told Howard that she is a housewife and a real estate developer. She and her spouse “represent your more middle-of-the-road American couple,” she claimed, but Howard was skeptical. “I bet you do,” he said.

The kinky housewife revealed that she and hubby sometimes enjoy spanking sessions. For this video, Howard got to join the fun.




In these screen captures, Howard nearly tongues a piece of ass. Hubby doesn’t mind. Wifey seems not to notice.





The cameraman zooms in so that viewers can enjoy a close-up of Marie’s bare — and quite red — cheeks:



We’re not sure if Marie had an orgasm during her spanking session. It seems like a possibility. Here is the video:





Stacy was a 21-year-old blonde whose long-haired boyfriend wanted to bongo her butt for Howard.

Below, Howard takes a peek at Stacy’s blonde bush and persuades her to remove her g-string:




Howard examined Stacy’s bare backside and quipped, “My goodness — anybody want a roast-beef sandwich?”



Stacy’s video:






Jessica Hahn achieved infamy when her sex scandal with televangelist Jim Bakker made headlines in 1987. The former church secretary then prolonged her 15 minutes of fame by debasing herself for Howard and by posing, naturally, for Playboy magazine (below).




In the video below, Ms. Hahn spreads her limbs for a sketch in Butt Bongo Fiesta:



And here she is in a segment about the vagina. Notice how the cameraman cannot resist zooming in on hers.



If you’d like to watch the entire video – not exactly recommended – it can be found here or here on YouTube.



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by Vicki Baum Grand Hotel


Grand Hotel is of most interest as a cultural time capsule from the 1920s. Ninety years ago, what sort of novel captured the public’s imagination?

First published in 1929 and later an Oscar-winning film with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and the Barrymore brothers, Grand is about guests at a ritzy Berlin hotel whose lives intertwine briefly, with both romantic and tragic results. It’s the same kind of overwrought soap opera that grips many readers today, with illicit affairs, lust-filled men, fading celebrity, and the vain struggle to stave off aging and death. Baum’s writing is often sentimental and melodramatic, but her characters are timeless.


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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-



                                                          How not to slip through a drainage hole




Life 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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