Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

Border

 

Tina is a Swedish customs agent with an unusual talent. Much like a predator in the wild, she can sense heightened emotion in humans: fear, shame, or guilt. If you’re nervous and trying to smuggle a bottle of booze past security, best not walk near Tina.

I’m not well-versed in Scandinavian folklore, so when we learn the genesis of Tina’s special power — shortly after she encounters a man who is homely and outcast, like she is — my reaction was, “this is interesting.”

The problem with Border is that, while it is intriguing and well-made, it’s also relentlessly nihilistic and unpleasant. As if Tina’s lonely lot in life isn’t sad enough, there are subplots involving pedophilia and reproduction that made me want to … well, no thank you.

You can take Border as an allegory of the struggles of marginalized people in society, or as a face-value monster movie. But after we learn the big reveal, my main reaction was, “this is too depressing.” Release: 2018  Grade: C+

 

Would I watch it again? No.

 

**

 

Talk to Me

 

When I see that a horror movie has a lofty approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I tend to take that information with a grain of salt. The bar for most modern horror is so low that, I suspect, many critics overreact when they watch something that doesn’t actually suck.

Talk to Me, a thriller from Australia with 95 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, does not suck. It doesn’t break new ground in its genre, and it isn’t particularly scary. Yet it does have something rare: characters that are interesting.

Sophie Wilde plays Mia, a high school girl who, along with her circle of friends, discovers the ultimate party game — a mummified hand that, when touched, conjures spirits. Evil spirits. As you might expect, things do not go well for the thrill-seeking teens.

But Mia’s relationship with her friends and family raises Talk to Me a notch above its competitors. Release: 2022  Grade: B

 

Would I watch it again?  Possibly.

 

© 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Godzilla Minus One

 

Critics and moviegoers went wild with praise when this movie opened in 2023. It was a Godzilla movie for people who normally don’t care for Godzilla movies. It was a Japanese, relatively low-budget flick that put Hollywood blockbusters to shame.

I’m sorry, but there is a distinction between “Oh, that was better than I expected,” and “This is the best movie of the year!” The effusive praise, I suspect, was more a commentary on general unhappiness with Hollywood’s recent output than genuine accolades for a monster movie.

The plot:  A World War II Japanese pilot is twice shamed, once for failing to complete a kamikaze mission, then again for failing to destroy the Big Bad Monster when it first appears. When he returns to post-war Tokyo, the pilot inherits a makeshift family consisting of an attractive young woman and an orphan girl.

The human story is touching, but also predictable and marred by some typically overwrought acting. (I say typical, because a lot of Japanese movies feature actors who express emotion to such a degree that it seems comical to Western eyes — or at least to my eyes.)

But it’s a traditional story about family and redemption, which audiences seem to crave. And the special effects are well done. And the monster is fun.

Release: 2023  Grade: B

 

Would I watch it again?  Not likely. It would help if they cut 15-20 minutes from the runtime.

 

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by Robert B. Parker

 

When you think about it, celebrated gun-for-hire Spenser isn’t all that great at his job. In A Savage Place, Spenser flies out to Hollywood to function as bodyguard-helper to a TV reporter investigating mob ties to the movie industry.

In the end, things don’t work out so well for the reporter. Nor do they for Spenser.

But that’s not what Parker’s Spenser books are about. They are about the Boston tough guy’s self-deprecating wisecracks, and about his wry observations of people and places. What, for example, does a hardened egg like Spenser think about the “beautiful people” of 1980s L.A.? Will he charm his way into the sexy reporter’s bed? Does a bear shit in Beverly Hills?

I don’t think this is one of the better books in the Spenser series. The “white knight does his part to serve feminism” theme feels a bit forced. Also, the damsel in distress isn’t particularly likeable.

But the wisecracks are on cue, and so are the action scenes.

 

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Miss Marple

 

We all know The Beatles. And James Bond. But to me, an unsung hero of the 1960s “British invasion” was Margaret Rutherford as Miss Jane Marple.

Movie lore has it that Marple creator Agatha Christie was not a fan of Rutherford’s portrayal, which emphasized comedy over mystery. It’s true that the four Marple films rely more on slapstick and buffoonish supporting characters than anything found in Christie’s novels.

 

 

But I’ve watched numerous actresses portray the spinster sleuth on television series, and I remember very little about them. On the other hand, rubber-faced, jowly Rutherford as Miss Marple made an indelible impression.

Which of the four movies is best? The critical consensus seems to place them in chronological order, with Murder, She Said (1961) followed by Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). To me, they are pretty much interchangeable.

 

Robert Morley and Rutherford in Murder at the Gallop

 

All four films are enjoyable larks. The jaunty musical score by Ron Goodwin, the supporting players including Robert Morley, Ron Moody, Lionel Jeffries, and James Robertson Justice (not to mention Rutherford’s real-life husband, Stringer Davis) — all of that makes me smile.

The mysteries are only mildly engaging, but they are mostly there just to give Rutherford and company something to do.

 

Rutherford and Davis

 

Release: 1961-1964  Cast: Margaret Rutherford, Charles Tingwell, Stringer Davis  Overall Grade: B+

 

With Lionel Jeffries in Murder Ahoy!

 

Would I watch them again?  Of course.

 

© 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by C.S. Lewis

 

Wikipedia describes British intellectual Lewis as a “Christian apologist.” Really? Maybe I’m misinterpreting the term, but it doesn’t seem to me that Lewis’s writings do much “apologizing” for Christianity.

But I digress. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis plays devil’s advocate — literally — through “Screwtape,” a high-ranking demon and advisor to his nephew “Wormwood,” a novice demon attempting to corrupt a young Englishman. In a series of letters to the nephew, Screwtape details the tricks of their trade: how to plant ungodly thoughts in an individual’s head, and then how to encourage those thoughts to flourish.

This is accomplished chiefly by appealing to the Englishman’s vanities, fears, etc., and then finding ways to justify his delusions. The great Enemy to Screwtape (and Wormwood) is, of course, Christianity.

Lewis said that he found the writing of Screwtape Letters to be “easy,” but also unpleasant. It’s not hard to see why. Like a film actor who enjoys playing villains on screen, it was probably fun to play-act Satan’s assistant. And yet, there are so many depressing aspects to human nature — so many pitfalls to being a good person — that you might not want to dwell in that role for very long.

 

 © 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Ayn Rand

 

If I read this Ayn Rand novella just 10 years ago, my reaction to it might have gone something like this: “Interesting. Far-fetched, but interesting.”

The dystopian world Rand creates in her story depicts a society in which totalitarian collectivism rules. The protagonist is a confused soul living in a city where nothing is done — or even thought — by “I” or “me.” To do that is a crime. The only acceptable pronoun is “we.” People don’t have names; they are assigned numbers. Everyone follows, like docile sheep, the dictates of the “Council.”

Interesting, I would have thought in 2014. But people are not docile sheep, I would have thought, 10 years ago.

Flash forward to 2024, in which “he” and “she” are routinely replaced by “they,” and in which violating groupthink can cost you your livelihood. Individualism is dangerous because it threatens the well-being of the group, we are told.

I suspect the reason Anthem is not routinely cited with Brave New World and 1984 as warnings about the perils of — insert your “ism” here — is because Rand planned it in 1937 as a magazine article. It’s a very short novel. It doesn’t have the meat of 1984 or Brave New World. But it effectively conveys the same message.

 

 © 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by James Herriot

 

I was seeking relief from the anxiety, tumult, and horror that is politics in 2024. So, when I read the adjectives “warm” and “joyful” in the blurbs for All Creatures Great and Small, I was hoping they weren’t some book publicist’s hyperbole.

Happily, they are not.

Creatures is a series of 67 short stories depicting the life of a young veterinarian in rural Yorkshire, England, in the late 1930s. Real-life vet James Herriot slightly embellishes his encounters with denizens of the countryside in stories that are sometimes sad, often hilarious, but always entertaining. If that sounds a bit sappy, rest assured it is not.

The vignettes are richly varied. In one, Herriot meets a rich man whose wife and daughters hold contempt for him; on the same day, he visits a dirt-poor farmer whose young daughter venerates her father. Which of the two men has a better life?

In another tale, an elderly widower loses his best and only friend: an old dog that Herriot cannot save.

But the majority of the stories are funny. Herriot’s life with his boss and a co-worker — two eccentric, bickering brothers — is a treasure trove of humorous episodes. And then there are the farmers: variously obstinate, inarticulate, hostile, friendly, or admirable.

I highly recommend this book. I would call it “warm” and “joyful.”

 

 

 © 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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OK, so I’m a bit late to the party with Game of Thrones. The show ended its run in 2019. But I was curious to find out what the fuss was about, so I spent the past four months binge-watching all 73 episodes.

I had read the first installment of George R.R. Martin’s celebrated Thrones novels years ago. I thought it was OK, but not so good that I wanted to continue reading the books. When it came to fantasy literature, I preferred The Once and Future King, or even the Harry Potter novels.

But HBO’s adaptation of Martin’s books was a cultural phenomenon. And I had missed out (I did see season 1).

In December of last year, I decided it was time for me to check out the entire series.

 

Click on any picture for a larger view

 

Main takeaways: It is a very good show. Not my all-time favorite, which remains Breaking Bad, but it’s probably in my top ten; possibly in my top five. Also, the much-maligned eighth and final season was fine. More on that later. Impressions:

 

1)  Let’s face it. The story is silly. Very silly. It has fire-breathing dragons, witches, giants, and vampire-like ice people. The miracle is that all this fantasy silliness lives in harmony with character-driven scenes in which actors deliver clever, occasionally profound dialogue. There are so many larger-than-life personalities in play, and we know it’s just a matter of time before they clash.

It’s this riveting soap opera that makes the series so addictive — even though the dragons are a hoot. 

 

2)  Season eight’s episode titled “The Bells” is essentially a 60-minute fight scene. Normally, I get bored with fight scenes before 60 seconds elapse.

Too many shows conflate deafening sound effects, speed-of-light edits, and swirling camera angles with “action.” They are not good action. It’s annoying chaos when you cannot tell who is who, what is what, where is where, and when is when.

To this episode’s credit, I was absorbed for the entire hour. Thrones is exceptionally good about this in most of its action scenes.

 

3)  I am going to defend season eight as a whole. I thought it was fine. I’m thinking a lot of fans were disappointed by the ending because their favored characters did not wind up on the throne. If you loved Arya and Arya wound up ruling the seven (or six) kingdoms, you’d probably be fine with season eight. Ditto for Jon Snow, Daenerys, et. al.

Season eight also had satisfying wrap-ups for most of the show’s major characters.

 

King’s Landing

 

4)  Much of the CGI in Game of Thrones looked fake, including King’s Landing castles, and the dragons, but I didn’t care. Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton soldiers in 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts also looked fake, but I enjoyed them anyway.

 

5)  The themes were timeless. If you follow politics in 2024, you will recognize many of the same issues and characters in fictional Westeros that we see on the daily news. Are things better with men in charge, or women? How much democracy is too much democracy? Is blood really thicker than water? Are the White Walkers a metaphor for climate change? Would you shoot your abusive father while he is sitting on the john?

 

6) All the gratuitous nudity. Call me old fashioned, or call me a chauvinist pig, but I appreciate that the naked ladies looked like real naked ladies from any historical time period — save the last 30 years. Medieval broads did not have Life Time Fitness. They did not have abs or pecs. They were soft and cuddly.

 

7) Season eight was heavily criticized for abandoning the show’s leisurely pace. But if I had a complaint about earlier seasons, it was that some of the plotlines tended to drag. I am thinking of Arya’s endless apprenticeship as “a girl.” I am thinking of Daenerys’s reign in the continent of Essos. For the most part, Bran’s journey was a bore (the three-eyed fucking raven?).

 

8)  Too often, when the good guys are suddenly surrounded by bad guys, or even armies, and things look dire, they are rescued at the last minute by allies with perfect timing. You can get by with that sort of deus ex machina occasionally, but it happens a lot in Thrones.

 

Overall, Game of Thrones was an excellent show. Its dark moments were often shocking. Its action sequences were well done. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took a lot of shit for, allegedly, letting down fans in the show’s later seasons. I think they did a bang-up job. A better job than George R.R. Martin in the first book.

I’m going to miss Game of Thrones. Is it my favorite show of all time? No. Does it make my top ten? Definitely. In my top five? Hmmm, maybe. Ask me again in a few years.

 

 

Favorite duo:  Arya and “The Hound” (above)

 

Character I was supposed to love, but did not:  Jorah Mormont

 

 

Character I disliked at first. But much like his waistline, he grew on me:  Samwell Tarly (above)

 

Best villain: Can’t list all of them. But here are my top five: Cersei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Ramsay Bolton, Walder Frey

 

 

Glue holding the entire series together:  Tyrion Lannister (above), of course

 

Best nudes:  Because I have little interest in Hodor’s crowbar or Peter’s dinklage, I’m focusing on Thrones’s actresses.

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

Carice van Houten (above) was not shy about showing her goods — all of them

 

Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, Oona (above) in a cheeky scene

 

Hottest Nudes

 

Nathalie Emmanuel front (above) and back (below)

 

 

Emilia Clarke (above and below), who was every (male’s) queen

 

 

 

Airdates: 2011-2019   Grade: A-

 

 

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A Haunting in Venice

 

Alfred Hitchcock said that he did not make “mystery” movies because, unlike his preferred plotlines, whodunits rely more on logic than suspense. Hitchcock chose to feed information to his audience and then keep it on tenterhooks, anxious not about who the killer was, but on when or how the bad guy would strike.

Kenneth Branagh, starring in and directing his third adaptation of an Agatha Christie whodunit, seems to realize that Hitchcock was correct. A Haunting in Venice, in which Branagh once again plays the indomitable Hercule Poirot, swaps suspense for atmosphere. But oh, what atmosphere!

The plot: A cast of typical Christie characters are stranded in a cavernous Venetian palazzo during a storm and, following a séance, learn there is a murderer in their midst. Poirot must unmask the villain while simultaneously battling odd visions. Is he fighting an ordinary criminal or is the supernatural at work?

Not every plot element holds up to inspection, but Venice has never looked lovelier — or creepier. Release: 2023  Grade: B+

 

Would I watch it again? Eventually, yes.

 

© 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Bodies Bodies Bodies

 

I was ready to write off this movie after the first act. OK, I thought, it’s a whodunit like And Then There Were None meets Any-Slasher-Movie, Gen Z-style. Seven young people gather to party at a mansion during a hurricane, and they are picked off, one by one. Been there, done that — plus, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stand the music on the soundtrack (yes, I am old).

But a funny thing happens at the end that redeems the whole movie. There is a brilliant twist that I didn’t see coming, and it was good enough that I’m upping my grade from, oh, C-minus to (see below). Kudos to three creative chicks: Kristen Roupenian and Sarah DeLappe, who wrote the film, and Halina Reijn, who directed. Release: 2022  Grade: B+

 

Would I watch it again?  Yes.

 

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