Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

Becoming Cary Grant

grouchyeditor.com Grant

 

“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” – Cary Grant

 

Well, maybe not everyone. Possibly not viewers of Becoming Cary Grant, a mostly cheerless yet spellbinding documentary about the demons haunting Hollywood’s most famous leading man.

The filmmakers use Grant’s own home movies, a melancholy musical score, and excerpts from the actor’s unpublished autobiography to tell the story of a 9-year-old Bristol boy who lost his mother (she was committed to an asylum), then as an adult went through a series of failed marriages, and who gradually invented the persona of “Cary Grant,” the enigmatic, charismatic star we all know from the movies.

It’s a sad — if incomplete — portrait of the man everyone wanted to be. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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by Joan C. Williams

 

Since November 8, there have been hundreds – possibly thousands – of published articles about that branch of humanity famously labeled “the deplorables” by Hillary Clinton. Many of these election postmortems are clueless and/or condescending attempts to dissect and explain (to liberals) the strain of American voter that supported and continues to support Donald Trump.

But some of these election analyses are insightful. Joan Williams’s White Working Class expands on a previously published essay and it’s mostly an evenhanded, enlightening study of the social gap between the country’s “Haves” (the elite) and “Have-a-Littles” (what Williams labels the “working class”).

Williams, herself a born-and-bred member of the liberal elite, occasionally slips into full-on Democrat mode (in praise of big government) and takes some unwarranted swipes at Trump (a pure racist, even when his supporters are not), but she also has the balls to lay most of the blame for our current House Divided at the hands of those who hold the most power: the elites.

It’s too bad she doesn’t stick to her strong point, the first two-thirds of the book when she concentrates on the evolution of class division. Toward the end of White Working Class, Williams cannot resist tackling a host of other societal ills: abortion, race relations, illegal immigration, etc., and allows her inner liberal to promote the usual progressive remedies. It’s almost as if, after hammering liberals on their class cluelessness, Williams felt the need to soften the blow.

 

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by George MacDonald Fraser

grouchyeditor.com Flashman

 

Flashman chronicles the misadventures of a 19th-century cad who, through sheer luck and an uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the right time, manages to emerge a national military hero in Britain.

Imagine James Bond as a racist, misogynistic coward, and you’ll have the gist of this series (begun in 1969) about Harry Flashman, an unapologetic jerk in 1840s Afghanistan who deflowers dimwitted country girls, fornicates with superior officers’ wives and, when things go badly, as they invariably do, pins the blame on someone – anyone – else. Bottom line: Flashman is amusing, albeit forgettable, fluff.

 

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by Molly Haskell

grouchyeditor.com Spielberg

 

I’m of two minds about Steven Spielberg. I share the general belief that he’s a brilliant showman. I think that Jaws, for example, might be the best adventure film ever made. On the other hand, I hold Spielberg largely – if indirectly – responsible for the sorry state of Hollywood today, with its glut of “franchise” movies and over-emphasis of special effects. Not to mention studios’ “will teenage boys like it?” marketing mentality.

The publisher was wise to assign this short-but-insightful Spielberg biography to Haskell, a renowned critic who appreciates the filmmaker’s talent and influence but is not, by her own admission, a die-hard fan. Haskell’s chapters are chronological, linking Spielberg’s personal life and evolution to the plots and themes of his movies. I didn’t always agree with her evaluations, but her prose is unfailingly thought-provoking.

To me, the book is most interesting in the chapters about early Spielberg, when the wunderkind was setting the world on fire with energetic, imaginative blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Later films like Empire of the Sun, Amistad, and Lincoln might hold more appeal for a serious analyst like Haskell, but I’ve always felt that when it comes to a Steven Spielberg movie, popcorn is more palatable than polemics.

 

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Manchester by the Sea

grouchyeditor.com Manchester

 

Hollywood bad boy Casey Affleck won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance as a traumatized janitor in this drama about tragedy overwhelming a working-class family in Massachusetts, but man … if there’s a better actress working in film today than Michelle Williams, who in one five-minute scene delivers an emotional knockout punch, I’m not sure who it might be. Release: 2016 Grade: A-

 

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grouchyeditor.com Aesop's Fables 

We can learn something from these ancient stories, which have been handed down from generation to generation since a Greek slave named Aesop supposedly compiled them. What can we learn? Humans have been passing down state-the-obvious drivel for a long, long time.

“The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” – for every one of those legendary tales, which actually have a point, Aesop delivers ten more pearls of wisdom like this one:

 

The Gnat and the Bull

A Gnat alighted on one of the horns of a Bull, and remained sitting there for a considerable time. When it had rested sufficiently and was about to fly away, it said to the Bull, “Do you mind if I go now?” The Bull merely raised his eyes and remarked, without interest, “It’s all one to me; I didn’t notice when you came, and I shan’t know when you go away.”

 

Feel smarter now?

 

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Arrival

 

If Arrival is supposed to be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for today’s generation, I feel sorry for today’s generation. The film plays mind games with us and yearns to be profound, but I found it pretentious and nonsensical. It’s like those time-travel movies that expect to be taken seriously, even though time travel is considered impossible – at least by today’s science.

When aliens land on Earth, star Amy Adams’s linguist is recruited to decipher their message. The “universal truths” she decodes are meant to be hopeful, but I’m thinking most of us would go mad at worst, or be psychologically paralyzed at best, were they our actual reality.

And dare I point out that Arrival’s clichéd plot is sexist? Once again we have a situation in which all the boys want to do is make war, and only a female is intuitive enough to break through to the aliens.  Release: 2016  Grade: C+

 

**

 

Room

grouchyeditor.com Room

 

Room is structured as two movies in one, and both halves are superb. The first half is a harrowing thriller, apparently inspired by the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland, in which a young woman and her son are imprisoned for years in a small shed. The second half is a gut-wrenching drama about the fallout when the victims (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) finally escape and must reintegrate into the real world. Release: 2015  Grade: A

 

**

 

The Love Witch

grouchyeditor.com Samantha Robinson

 

I’m not sure if this colorful but clunky film is intended as parody or homage to 1960s supernatural thrillers (think Hammer Films), but either way it feels forced and flat. Comely Samantha Robinson (above) plays a modern-day witch who uses potions and sex appeal to seduce one hapless male after another, but alas, none of them are up to her retro-feminist standards. If you want to chuckle at genre fare like this, I suggest you check out the real deal. Say, The Brides of Dracula? Release: 2016  Grade: C

 

**

 

The Witch

grouchyeditor.com Witch

 

A Puritan family in 1600s New England, banished to the wilderness for transgressing against village mores, finds life in the wild an unholy nightmare when someone – or something – begins to bedevil them. Mostly, this is an ultra-realistic, atmospheric study of the struggle to survive at that time and place, with religion serving as both a source of comfort and terror to the family as it confronts something wicked in the woods. Release: 2015  Grade:  B+

 

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Barney Fife in a haunted-house movie – who wouldn’t hand over their last (and only) bullet to see that?

OK, maybe you wouldn’t. But I have a great deal of affection for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, the 1966 Don Knotts vehicle that might have been the first motion picture I saw all by myself, unfettered by parents or older siblings, in an honest-to-goodness movie house.

I recently re-watched Mr. Chicken, and I am happy to report that I still find it enjoyable. Silly and featherweight, sure, but fun. Is it remotely scary? Not unless you’re about the same age I was when I first saw it 50 years ago. But it’s suitably creepy in that old-dark-house mode that Hollywood does so well.

 

 A Barney and Otis reunion

 

The plot:

Luther Heggs (Knotts) is a lowly typesetter at the Rachel (Kansas) Courier Express. Luther dreams of becoming a big-time journalist and of winning the prettiest girl in town, Alma (Joan Staley). Unfortunately for Luther, he is Luther: timid, bumbling, tongue-tied and inept. But opportunity knocks when Luther is tasked with spending the night in the Simmons Mansion, or “murder house,” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a murder-suicide that might or might not be unsolved.

 

The “murder house”

 

What I Like:

1.  Nostalgia, if you were a 1960s kid. The jazzy opening theme reminds me of early James Bond soundtracks. The spooky mansion is straight out of The Munsters (reportedly, some of the same Universal Studios sets were used in both Munsters and Mr. Chicken). The locale is a small town in the Midwest; I was raised in a small town in the Midwest.

 

Reta Shaw demonstrates small-town flirtation with Dick Sargent

 

2.  The Don Knotts in this film is the Don Knotts we knew from The Andy Griffith Show. I was never a fan of Knotts’s other famous TV character, Mr. Furley from Three’s Company. Mr. Furley was too lascivious. I preferred naive Barney Fife. Regardless, very few actors did fear and false bravado as well as Knotts.

 

Don Knotts does his thing

 

3.  The plot is your basic haunted-house story, nothing you haven’t already seen with Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Bob Hope. But the screenplay is peppered with delightfully quirky throwaway scenes: The elevator that won’t stay put. The picnic speech. The oddball townie who, out of nowhere and seemingly everywhere, keeps hollering “Attaboy Luther!”

 

 The intrepid reporter

 

4.  That organ music.

 

The infamous organ

 

5.  Joan Staley. Who is Joan Staley? This is Joan Staley (NSFW).

 

Alma matters to Luther

 

6.  And finally, for anyone who appreciates vintage 1960s cinema and sitcoms, this movie features the finest collection of comic actors from that era – although if you blink you might miss some of them. Take a look at the rogues gallery of familiar faces who appear in Mr. Chicken in the sidebar at the end of this review.  Grade: B+

 

 Our hero

 

Director: Alan Rafkin  Cast: Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent, Skip Homeier, Reta Shaw, Lurene Tuttle, Philip Ober, Harry Hickox, Charles Lane  Release: 1966

 

 

Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

Remember These Faces?

 

.                    

                             Hal Smith                               Reta Shaw                           Dick Sargent

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                             Burt Mustin                           Lurene Tuttle                       Eddie Quillan

.                    

                            Charles Lane                         Harry Hines                         Ellen Corby

.                       

                            Herbie Faye                            Jesslyn Fax                        James Millhollin

 

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Shadow of Truth

grouchyeditor.com Shadow

 

Shadow of Truth is a crime documentary in the mode of Making a Murderer, but I thought it was even more disturbing than Netflix’s 2015 miniseries. Both series suggest that an innocent man is incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit. But in Murderer the mystery revolves around an apparently commonplace sex-crime, whereas in this Israeli series, the killer of a high school girl was, possibly, motivated by a bizarre, gruesome compulsion. One complaint:  Four episodes are not enough to do justice to such a convoluted case. Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

**

 

Lights Out

grouchyeditor.com Lights Out

 

A Malevolent Something named “Diana” terrorizes a single mother and her two kids in this James Wan-related horror flick (he produced). Diana only appears to her victims when the lights are off, and director David Sandberg makes good use of our primal fear of the dark and the fact that what we don’t see is often scarier than what we do. Too bad Sandberg’s treatment of our other sense, hearing, is much less sensitive. To me, it’s cheating when every scare-shot is accompanied by a DEAFENING SOUNDTRACKRelease: 2016  Grade: C+

 

**

 

Train to Busan

grouchyeditor.com Train to Busan

 

I guess it’s a cultural thing, but Korean movies are often unintentionally humorous to my American eyes. The South Korean actors don’t just cry; they wail hysterically. They don’t just shout; they scream at the top of their lungs. It comes off like a clinic on how to overact.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing to find a snark-free, sarcasm-free story — like time traveling back to 1950s Hollywood for wholesome, goofy fun but with modern special effects. Busan is non-stop entertaining, with heroes who are clearly good and villains who do all but wear black hats when passengers on a high-speed train do battle with zombies. It’s a lot of fun. Just try not to chuckle too much at the acting.  Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

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Most slasher-flick producers figure that if they can convince a few actresses to take their clothes off on camera, and then toss in a bucket of blood, the job is done. Not so with Girl House, a better-than-average slash-‘em-up that – gasp! – does not insult the intelligence.

That doesn’t mean that the actresses in Girl House keep their clothes on, or that there are no buckets of blood. It does mean that you won’t be bored between stripteases.

 

The Story:

In a prologue, two pre-teen girls chase a boy through the woods. They catch him and then, as naughty girls are wont to do … they pull down his shorts. They then proceed to trick the poor schlub into showing them his penis:

 

.        

.         

 “We wanna see what’s down there,” says mean girl Camren Bicondova

 

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“That’s it? Looks like an acorn!”

 

As we all know, this is how serial killers are born.

 

 

Fast forward to the present, and we meet college student Kylie (above), a nice girl who needs money. In her desperation, Kylie does what most college students who need money do: She goes to work at McDonald’s.

Just kidding. She takes a job at the titular “Girl House,” a wired-up mansion in which half a dozen hotties are spied on, 24 hours a day, by thousands of horny Internet viewers.

 

 

The house is supposedly secure, but the girls’ guardians don’t reckon with a certain young man whose rage against females has festered since he once had his pants pulled down by two naughty girls. Someone’s going to pay for that.

 

 

One by one the Web-cam girls get picked off, but not before most of them fulfill the obligations of movies like this by stripping down to their birthday suits. As a bonus for the viewer, the actresses in Girl House don’t seem like future porn stars; they’re exploited, sure, but … see “Casting Call” sidebar below.

 

 

Girl House plays better than it sounds. The characters all have at least the semblance of personality, the production values are decent, and the pace is snappy. It’s no Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Halloween – but it does have more T&A.   Grade: B-

 

 

Directors: Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews  Cast: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Arianna Fox, Alexis Kendra (Peters), Camren Bicondova, Baylee Wall   Release: 2014

 

 

Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

 

 

**

 

Casting Call:

 

 

How do you cast the girls for a movie like Girl House? We’re guessing the casting director caught some of the performances below. (Click on thumbnails for a larger view.)

 

Ali Cobrin (“Kylie”)

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Ali Cobrin’s good side and, uh, other side in American Reunion (2012)

 

**

 

Chasty Ballesteros (“Janet”)

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Chasty Ballesteros gets butt-pumped in Showtime’s Ray Donovan (2013); enjoys crotch play and displays her rear in the 2013 Cinemax series The Girl’s Guide to Depravity

 

**

 

Alyson Bath (“Devon”)

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Alyson Bath, sometimes billed as Shirleyann Mason, gave it (and the audience) her all in the 2009 Cinemax series Lingerie

 

**

 

Nicole Arianna Fox (“Mia”)

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Model Nicole Fox strips for a photo shoot in Redlands (2014)

 

**

 

Alexis Kendra (“Business Woman”)

.                       

Also known as Alexis Peters, Alexis Kendra went topless in Hatchet II (2010); in Goddess of Love (2015) she got bolder, including the ass shot and the full-frontal above. At top, she contemplates life while seated on a toilet.

 

**

 

Elysia Rotaru (“Heather”)

.                       

Elysia Rotaru puts the girls in Girl House

 

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