Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

Us

 

Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit Get Out created a stir because it was a rarity: a horror movie with smarts. Critics gushed because, face it, when it comes to the scary-movie genre, the bar is awfully low. But to me, Get Out failed to achieve goal number one:  it wasn’t particularly frightening.

Not so with Us, Peele’s 2019 follow-up. Lupita Nyong’o stars as the female head of a family of four that encounters their wicked doppelgangers while on holiday in Santa Cruz, California. This time, Peele pleases both critics – there is symbolism galore; what do the doubles represent, the global underclass? Our individual dark sides? – and horror-film aficionados. Peele wisely puts the scary first, the message second.

Also, it turns out you can spend all the money you want on special effects or monsters or gore, but there’s nothing more terrifying than a knowing, evil grin — especially from someone who looks just like you. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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We get a lot of review requests along with links to private “screeners.” Mostly, these are low-budget movies so dreadful that they don’t even appear on Netflix or Amazon Prime – yet.  They have titles like Luciferina and The Haunting of Mia Moss and, in this case, Lection and Shed.

Often the movies are unfinished: The soundtrack might not match the video, the credits have yet to be added, that sort of thing. But occasionally these films have a certain rustic charm; the spirit of Ed Wood living on.

 

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Low-budget movies tend to come in two distinct categories: watchable and unwatchable. Today, we take a look at two movies released this year by South Carolina filmmaker David Axe.

One is quite watchable and the other, well … you guessed it.

 

Lection

 

 

Lection has probably the least amount of dialogue since 1928 – the year they stopped making silent movies (more or less). The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which two casualties are the spoken word and the written word. “Election” becomes “lection,” “vote” becomes “vot.” Conversation becomes nearly non-existent.

A third casualty is the movie’s wardrobe department, which can happen when your budget is a mere $25,000 and the amateur cast is encouraged to wear their Saturday-afternoon shabbies. Hey, it’s OK though, because this is the (extremely) casual, dystopian future.

Anyway, a rag-tag group of survivors has split into two factions fighting for more bread. Or rather, “mor bred.” One faction is led by a sexy young black woman (Sanethia Dresch). The other group is led by a grumpy old white man. You can probably guess which side wins.

 

(Above right, actress Sanethia Dresch’s shapely backside; more about that below)

 

I’ll credit writer-director David Axe with this: His story is ambitious. It wants to explore the societal division between haves and have-nots. The problem is the movie’s execution. (I’m reminded of football coach John McKay’s rejoinder when asked what he thought of his team’s execution: “I’m in favor of it.”)

A major problem with Lection is its lack of dialogue. No speaking means long, long, long stretches of deadly dull footage in which nothing much happens. In this case, less is not more.

To watch the trailer for Lection, click here.

 

Shed

 

(Above, Mike Amason in Shed)

 

Compared to Lection, a lot happens in Shed (not to be confused with The Shed, another 2019 premiere), an Axe production that features many of the same actors from Lection but in a much more entertaining movie. Unlike Lection, Shed is a watchable mess.

It’s a bit of a throwback to 1980s schlock, but Axe has a few things going for him: His musical soundtrack is distinctive and surreal; and the man certainly has visual flair. Many of Axe’s shots are clever.

But mostly, Shed is enjoyable on a guilty-pleasure level. If you like gore, there is that. If you like gratuitous nudity, there is plenty of that. There are even moments that reminded me of – in a good way – Blade Runner. And if you enjoy hammy performances, here we have Lection’s Mike Amason (pictured above) in another villainous role.

The plot involves some mumbo-jumbo about an unhuman species that traversed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago, and which must kill humans in order to inhabit their skins. Events are frequently incomprehensible, but the film is never dull. Axe’s musical score, his pacing, some over-the-top performances, and the striking visuals ensure the movie’s entertainment value.

To watch the trailer for Shed, click here.

 

**

 

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Actress (and Her Shapely Derriere)

 

 

One thing Lection and Shed have in common is actress Sanethia Dresch, who stars in the former and provides support in the latter. She is a bright spot in both films. We tried to interview her.

After initially agreeing to do the interview, she did not reply to the actual questions. We’re guessing she might not have cared for our third query:

“Most of the reviews of Shed mention the “threesome scene” early in the movie. Can you take us through what it’s like to film a scene like that? It was a very dark scene (at least on my computer), but it appears that you are nude in it – were you? Was that difficult?”

Or perhaps she was scared off by the mention of Rip van Dinkle:

“When I get your replies, I might have some follow-up questions. Also, we have a humor columnist named Rip van Dinkle who wants to ask you a couple questions. I’ll forward them to you after I receive your replies to this interview.”

Can’t really blame her for that. Dinkle scares off most people.

Or, as director Axe told us: “She’s not always very responsive.”

Anyway … there seems to be some dispute about the aforementioned threesome scene (it’s mentioned in pretty much every review). For one thing, the actress who plays “Kahlan” (Caley Fleming) apparently used a body double (Courtney Busby) for the simulated sex — although the close-up shots below certainly seem to be of Fleming:

 

 

Then there is the third member of the horny trio, “Morgan” (Dresch), who joins in the bedroom fun. Axe told us: “To be fair, she (Dresch) wasn’t actually nude in that threesome. It just very briefly looked that way. The nudity in that scene mostly was the result of clever editing.”

Hmmm. That piqued our curiosity, and so because we have way too much free time, we lightened the (very dark) scene.

We suppose there could be a merkin involved, but these certainly look like bare butt cheeks to us:

 

Before:

 

 

After:

 

 

In the shots above, Morgan (Dresch) enacts a fantasy she earlier described to Kahlan (Fleming): “I’ve been dreaming … Gauge (Gauge Santiago, the dude above) is always there … I want you, too: your mouth, your tits, your cunt, your skin. And Gauge — his hands, his cock.”

Apparently some dreams do come true.

 

(Fleming, left, and Dresch discussing … uh, maybe Gauge?)

 

 

Sanethia Dresch

 

 

.                   grouchyeditor.com Dresch

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(Click on photos for a larger view)

 

 

 

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Bonus Trivia

 

Shooting Shed was apparently quite the experience. Director-writer-editor-photographer Axe includes this statement in the end credits: “An amateur cast and crew made Shed for $25,000 in Columbia and Eastover, South Carolina in late 2018 … during a hurricane. A bunch of actors and crew quit during production.”

And then there is this from Axe in an on-line interview:

 

 

Can’t say the actresses weren’t warned about Shed’s nude scenes. Here is the casting call:

 

 

Speaking of nudity, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention actress Emilia Olga’s (“Caley”) eye-catching full-frontal shower scene:

 

Olga All Dressed Up:

 

 

Olga All Undressed:

 

 

Just for fun, here is a blink-and-you-miss-it skin shot when Morgan’s cheerleader skirt flies up as she runs through the woods:

 

 

In case you are beginning to wonder if we have a fetish about Sanethia’s fanny, well, we aren’t the only ones. Check out this clip from her YouTube page and a shot from her Instagram:

 

 

 

The “End”

 

 

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by William Strauss and Neil Howe

 

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night new decade.” – (apologies to Bette Davis in All About Eve)

 

According to this book, something big is about to happen. Think World War II big. Or Civil War big. In fact, it’s probably already happening, but in a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees, we just aren’t aware of it yet – but historians will be.

Strauss and Howe make a convincing case that America is well into its “Fourth Turning” – the final, crisis stage of four recurring cycles of history.

The authors go back about 500 years and present evidence that society nearly always (the Civil War being the lone exception) goes through:  1) a “high” (think post-World War II);  2) an “awakening” (the chaotic 1960s);  3) an “unraveling” (when this book was published, in 1997); and finally and potentially catastrophically, 4) a “crisis” (ummm … right now). And then the cycles repeat.

Turning links these historical patterns to another recurrence: four human generations. These are, in order, the “prophets” (Baby Boomers, in what seems to me a misnomer); the “nomads” (Generation X); the “heroes” (Millennials); and the “artists” (Gen Z). How these archetypes interact with the four historical stages determines the fate of mankind.

Strauss and Howe’s case is strong about America’s past. Where they falter is in the book’s subtitle: the “prophecy” part. Although they do provide caveats to their (often alarming) predictions for this century, many of their projections seem off-base.

Not even these guys could predict Donald Trump.

 

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Burning

grouchyeditor.com Burning

 

Until its ending, which I thought was unnecessarily ambiguous, Burning felt like a Korean version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. A young man (Ah-in Yoo) falls in love with a free-spirited girl (Jong-seo Jun) in the first half of the film and then, after the girl vanishes, he spends the second half engaged in an obsessive search that leads to some very dark places. But until that abrupt and unsatisfying ending, the movie is compelling and filled with haunting images. Release: 2018  Grade: B+

 

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Dolemite Is My Name

 

I’m old enough to remember when Eddie Murphy burst upon the American scene in movies like 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop and, of course, on TV’s Saturday Night Live. It was a dynamic time for Murphy and for his audience, because we hadn’t seen anything quite like him.

So it’s a bit melancholic to see middle-aged Eddie in Dolemite Is My Name, sporting a pot belly and lacking that brash, youthful energy of days gone by. But Murphy retains some of that spark, and in Dolemite he’s given a role that leaves behind fat suits and haunted houses in favor of some depth. Alas, the story of 1970s comedian-turned-movie-“auteur” Rudy Ray Moore is oh-so-familiar and predictable. It’s in the same ballpark as Ed Wood and The Disaster Artist, but not quite as good. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

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Mandy Kaplan (see sidebar) and Johnny Giacalone play a married couple experiencing the seven-year-itch – scratch that; seven-year-itch implies pining for new romantic partners. What these two have is more like “it’s-been-seven-years-and-nothing-about-you-lights-my-fire.”

After consulting with a marriage counselor, Nick and Willa embark on a 30-day program to spice up their love life. The program, however, is less Hallmark and more Hamster.com. Anyone game for anal sex?

 

 

Pros:  Although the film is raunchy, at heart it’s old fashioned and feel-good. The two leads are likable, which they pretty much have to be in a movie like this, and several of the supporting characters are a hoot. A few scenes are flat-out hilarious.

Cons:  The tone is often peculiar. 30 Nights mixes a Disney-movie sensibility with hard-core interludes. Sometimes this works because the contrast is so stark that it tickles. (Remember watching “June Cleaver” speak jive in Airplane!? Imagine June and Ward experimenting with anal sex, instead.) At other times this tonal juxtaposition just feels … off. I mean, golden showers in a feel-good comedy?

But there are several laugh-out-loud scenes, which is a tough find in 2019.   Grade:  C+

 

 

Director: Tom Metz III  Cast: Mandy Kaplan, Johnny Giacalone, Dan Fogler, Katie Walder Release: 2018

 

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From the Editor:  We asked Smallest Penis in Brooklyn contestant and Grouchy Editor contributor Rip van Dinkle to interview the star of 30 Nights of Sex to Save Your Marriage, Mandy Kaplan.

We did this not because we have anything against Ms. Kaplan, who was charming and a good sport; we did it because, well, we lost a bet to Dinkle and owe him an interview.

 

Rip van Dinkle:  As you know, the plot concerns a married couple trying to spice up their love life. To that end, they attempt all sorts of wild and crazy things. Or all sorts of tame and sensible things, depending on your perspective. Do you think couples had better sex lives in, say, the 1950s, or today, and will it be better or worse 50 years from now? 

Mandy Kaplan:  Being only 24 years old (what?) I wouldn’t know what things were like in the ‘50s. Was that the Mesozoic period? I assume people have always been kinky as hell, just less open about it. 50 years from now I assume everyone will be too open about their sex lives which will kill the fantasy or mystique. It is my firm belief that we are living in the sex sweet spot. Ooh, potential name for the sequel!

 

 

RVD:  As a male with a penis, I am often confused by the female point of view. On the one hand, we men are told never, ever to send “dick pics” in an e-mail. On the other hand, I know from first-hand experience that lots of women enjoy going to pageants where men show their little willies on a stage and get measured by female judges. Please explain.

MK:  We clearly hang in different circles. I have never heard of these pageants, but assume the women enjoy emasculating the men and feel this is a safe way to do it. Seems to be in line with something like a dominatrix (one of my favorite scenes in 30 Nights!)

RVD:  Finally, it seems that just about the only body part it’s still OK to laugh about is the tiny pecker. If you ever star in another sex comedy in which a role calls for a man with a wee one, I am hoping that you’ll consider Yours Truly for the role so that I can become a big Hollywood star. Deal?

MK:  Wait, you’re NOT already a Hollywood star? I was told this was George Clooney’s alias. Damn.

 

 

From the Editor:  We had to explain the meaning of “emasculate” to Rip. We did this by showing him this definition:

 

 

Below, Dinkle is measured by a female judge at the Smallest Penis in Brooklyn pageant.

 

 

“I have never heard of these pageants, but assume the women enjoy emasculating the men”

 

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Walking Out

 

I have a weakness for movies like this one. You know: wilderness movies with hungry bears, or deep-sea movies with dead-eyed sharks. That’s because, unlike most sci-fi and horror films, these scary stories could really happen. To you. Or to me. Walking Out, in which a father and his teenage son encounter peril in the Montana mountains, does well with its survival elements. On the downside, although Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins are believable as dad and son, their on-screen chemistry left me a bit cold. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

 

Whenever a studio announces plans for a movie version of a beloved TV show, the hope, at least among fans of the series, is that the movie version will be bigger and better. Bigger budget = better experience. There is good news and bad news about Netflix’s two-hour revival of the classic Breaking Bad. The bad news?  The movie, which follows the trajectory of young Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after the death of Walter White, is no better than the series. The good news? The movie is just as good as the series – and you don’t get any better than that. Release: 2019 Grade: A

 

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by Amy Tan

 

As I read The Joy Luck Club, I was reminded of what’s great about books, especially fiction. Here I am, a middle-aged white man living in 2019 America, suddenly immersed in the lives of Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters, spanning most of the 20th century. It was a bit like snooping in a stranger’s medicine cabinet: Much of what you see there is fascinating; some of it is unfathomable.

Tan is very good at world-building. Open her book to any page and you are immediately absorbed by whatever she’s writing about. Vivid images and memorable metaphors abound. That’s the good news.

Yet if I’m honest … there are eight main characters in the story – four mothers and four daughters – and I often found them indistinguishable. The mothers all suffer hardships and learn valuable life lessons, which they attempt to pass on to their girls. The daughters are all more optimistic but also more foolish. At times I felt I was reading the same story four times over, just with different character names.

But Joy Luck seems relevant to me, some 30 years after its publication, in part because there is so much talk about China today, and it illustrates the gap between the Chinese way of seeing the world, and the American way. The Chinese – at least traditionally – seem to be all about fate and omens and what the West might consider superstition. They see America as a place of much opportunity, but too little wisdom and too much worship at the altar of money.

 

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A Young Man with High Potential

 

Is it just me who finds it off-putting when a perfectly good suspense-drama finds it necessary to include a 10-minute sequence of graphic gore? Young Man concerns a social nerd/computer genius (Adam Ild Rohweder) who falls for a sexy girl (Paulina Galazka), then lets things get out of control and winds up running from the law – a cliché plot, for sure, yet suspenseful and well acted. But when Crime and Punishment veers into Blood Feast, it loses me. Release: 2018  Grade: B-

 

 

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