Category: Books, Movies, TV & Web

by Fred Van Lente

 

Let’s face it: When you pick up a book like Ten Dead Comedians, you aren’t expecting Tolstoy or Hemingway. You are looking for escapism.

Van Lente’s high-concept plot is enticing: Based on And Then There Were None, the story has a gaggle of comedians picked off, one by one, on a secluded Caribbean island. Who’s doing it? Who cares?

The comics are clearly based on well-known personalities, including (I presume) Joan Rivers, Margaret Cho, Carrot Top, and Larry the Cable Guy. (I could be wrong — it might be Kathy Griffin, Jeff Foxworthy, Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, or composites of the above. You tell me.)

As in real life, some of the sparring, dying characters’ verbal zingers hit the mark, others fall flat. The book confirms what you probably already suspect: You want your favorite comedians on stage in a club; you do not want them living next door to you. They are often unpleasant people.

Aside from its ending, which doesn’t stretch credibility so much as demolish it, the book gits-r-done as an amusing time-killer.

 

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Amor Bandido

 

Amor Bandido (Bandit Love) begins like any number of forbidden-love dramas. An older teacher (Romina Ricci) is having an affair with her teenage student (Renato Quattordio), and the two of them decide to run off together. At this point, the only real suspense is wondering how long before we get to see the first sex scene (answer: 27 minutes). But at the midpoint, the movie makes an unexpected shift from taboo-romance to outright thriller, and the genre shift pays off.  Release: 2021 Grade: B

 

 

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by Patricia Highsmith

 

If you’re not familiar with suspense novelist Highsmith (1921-95), there’s a good chance you are familiar with the movies adapted from her books. I’m thinking especially of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’ve read just one of her novels, Ripley. This is what I wrote about it in 2004:

 

[Highsmith] draws us into the sociopathic mind of Tom Ripley, a small-time con artist who makes the leap into full-fledged murderer. As Ripley connives his way into the world of privileged Americans in Italy, Highsmith tells us what “Tom wanted,” and what “Tom felt” and, before long, we are so seduced by Ripley’s good fortune, charm, and cleverness that we nearly give him a pass when “Tom’s wants” include bludgeoning people with boat oars and glass ashtrays. Ripley then becomes sort of a cross between Dostoyevsky, with Tom’s cat-and-mouse games with the police and his (fleeting) sensations of guilt and paranoia, and Nabokov, with our protagonist justifying his actions to himself, and to the reader. Clever, clever stuff; and highly entertaining.

 

I also wrote that the book wasn’t perfect:

 

Highsmith uses a plot device that Agatha Christie sometimes employs, and which never fails to annoy me. She has Ripley interrogated twice — once as himself, and once posing as one of his victims — by the same Italian policemen. At close quarters. We are asked to believe that the police are foolish enough to believe that Ripley is two different people merely through his use of hair coloring, and eyebrow pencil, and changing his pattern of speech. I don’t buy this when Christie does it, and I don’t buy it here.

 

To her credit, in Plotting Highsmith acknowledges struggles with the police-procedure aspects of her books. She cites the danger of portraying cops as unrealistically stupid.

 

But mostly, the book is an enlightening description of the writer’s lot: the plot snags, “writer’s block,” and the hassles of everyday life that threaten to undermine a good book. (Stephen King also deals with these “mundane” obstacles in his On Writing, which is also quite good.)

 

 

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Uncharted

 

Here’s the best way to approach a popcorn movie like Uncharted: You switch off your brain and hope the film doesn’t drag, that the special effects are fun, and that the lead actors are amusing. Forget about plot and logic. The flick can be stupid; it cannot be boring.

That’s my excuse for enjoying Uncharted, starring Mark Wahlberg, Tom Holland, and Sophia Ali as squabbling, globetrotting treasure hunters.

The climax features helicopters lifting two ancient ships out of the ocean and into the air and … it’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen on the screen. But it wasn’t boring.  Release: 2022  Grade: B-

 

 

The one missing element that prevents Uncharted from achieving classic guilty-pleasure status is movie-star skin. That’s a shame because Sophia Taylor Ali is in the film. As consolation, here is Sophia in a butt-revealing scene from The Wilds:

 

 

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by Oscar Wilde

 

“We should treat all trivial things in life very seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality.” — Irish writer Oscar Wilde on his most famous, and enduring, stage play, The Importance of Being Earnest.

 

That sums it up. If you’re looking for something with plot, look elsewhere. If you’re seeking something with a “deep” message, ditto. On the other hand, if you want a social satire with some of the wittiest dialogue ever put to the page, here you go.

There are just five main characters in the play, two men and three women, most of them hamstrung by strict social conventions of the late 19th century, and all of them doing their best to subvert or undermine those restrictions. Their true feelings are exposed by Wilde’s dialogue, which features an endless series of contradictions, hypocrisies, and, frankly, nonsense.

It’s delightful.

 

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by Ethel Lina White

 

Alfred Hitchcock came to Hollywood’s attention when, two years after the publication of this book (originally titled The Wheel Spins), he helmed a 1938 film adaptation called The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock’s movie was a hit, and it’s easy to see why he was attracted to White’s story: Its young heroine becomes aware of a crime, yet she can’t seem to convince anyone else; most of the action takes place aboard a train, and Hitchcock devotees are aware of his fondness for that venue (Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, etc.). It’s a romantic thriller with humor. Need I say more?

The plot: A young British woman meets a kindly spinster named “Miss Froy” while they are both traveling home to England. But when the nondescript Froy goes missing, no one else on the train seems to recall her. Is our heroine hallucinating? Is villainy afoot?

 

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The Deep House

 

The Deep House has a brilliant premise: a young scuba-diving couple explores an underwater haunted house — and all hell breaks loose.

The French-produced, English-language horror flick also boasts impressive direction. Much of it was filmed in a large water tank, into which sections of the artificial house were lowered. The payoff is one creepy shot after another.

Unfortunately, what (ahem) sinks the movie are its annoying protagonists. The boyfriend is exceedingly arrogant and condescending; his lady friend is cowardly and stupid. Much of their dialogue is insipid. I wanted the haunted house to get them both.

I give Deep House an A for effort, but because of those irritating leads and a few script issues, I give the movie itself:  Grade: B-   Release: 2021

 

**

 

The Lost City

 

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum play, respectively, a romance novelist and a book-cover model who find themselves hunting for treasure on a tropical island. Love and thrills and silliness ensue.

If that sounds a bit like Romancing the Stone, with a dash of The African Queen tossed into the mix, I’m certain the effect was intentional. Lost City, alas, falls short of those earlier romantic-comedies because often it’s just too darned silly for its own good. Tatum’s male model, for example, comes off more like a developmentally challenged adult than a quirky charmer.

But Brad Pitt is hilarious in a supporting role. Release: 2022 Grade: B-

 

Bullock eyeballs Tatum’s taters. Which begs the question: Does his ass make an appearance in all of his movies?

 

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by Mary Roberts Rinehart

 

I’ve compared Rinehart to Agatha Christie in previous reviews of her books. Rinehart was essentially America’s answer to the British crime novelist, but who employed a more light-hearted ambiance. Her characters, befitting early-20th-century, upstart America, are far removed from the stuffy snobs who populate most Christie stories.

But in reading Rinehart’s 1909 novel (her second, after The Circular Staircase), The Man in Lower Ten, I was put in mind of another Brit — Alfred Hitchcock. Rinehart’s plot involves romance, murder aboard a train, and police hunting an innocent man. Can anyone say, The 39 Steps? Or, The Lady Vanishes? *

I confess that Rinehart’s heavy use of century-old American colloquialisms and parlance often defeats me, but her jaunty tone and colorful characters override any linguistic obstacles.

 

* Rinehart’s book predates the written and film versions of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes — and everything published by Christie.

 

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Dashcam

 

My goodness. There sure are a lot of liberal snowflakes masquerading as “film critics” at Rotten Tomatoes. Their verdict on Dashcam star Annie Hardy — both the character she plays and the character she is — is near unanimous. Here are a few excerpts:

 

 

Clearly, they disapprove of Hardy. Even when they approve of the movie itself.

Perhaps I’m just a contrarian, or maybe I enjoy a movie heroine who sticks it to the (woke) mob, but I had no problem with Hardy. Playing a Yank in England who gives a ride to the wrong woman, Hardy is foul-mouthed and crass. But she’s also clever and amusing. In fact, she’s the best thing about the movie, which is otherwise just another routine live-stream/cellphone-cam exercise in cheap thrills. The plot makes no sense and the director substitutes frenzy and gross-outs for genuine suspense and scares.

But to those RT critics, Hardy commits the unpardonable sins of mocking liberals, smoking cigarettes, and belittling virus lockdowns. And masks. And vaccines. She likes Trump. She kicks demon ass.

I liked this girl.  Release: 2021  Grade: B-

 

 

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by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

I’m guessing that, like most casual readers, my knowledge of author Edgar Rice Burroughs can be summed up like this: Oh yeah, the guy who wrote Tarzan books.

Turns out Burroughs was a bit more ambitious than that. Turns out he was quite political. But I digress.

The Moon Maid is part one of a trilogy that Burroughs published in the 1920s. On the surface (pun intended), the story depicts a spaceship crew of five landing on Earth’s satellite and discovering a hidden world of warring creatures living in the moon’s interior. There are good guys and bad guys, and our hero finds love with the titular moon maid, a beautiful princess. Pretty standard stuff, what they used to call “boys’ adventure tales.” At least, that was my impression.

But because I was — and still am, really — ignorant about Burroughs’s political leanings, I’m going to conclude this brief review with a Moon Maid summation lifted from a Web site dedicated to Burroughs’s work:

 

The Moon Maid trilogy, which even the fans of Burroughs must admit is rather crude, blunt, or unpolished compared to his other works, has a larger soul and message: Be Prepared! Beware the Politicians! Do Not Disarm! Avoid Communists! Avoid authoritarian rule! Honor and Love Thy Wife! Struggle Against Dictators! Honor Family and Friends! Love Thy Country! Be Free and Independent! Be willing to Fight for One’s Beliefs!

Burroughs made no bones about his political leanings or his fear for the future — not only for America but the world at large. Or, as others might say, perhaps I’m reading too much into The Moon Maid — after all it might be as simple as ERB [Burroughs] the working man artfully figuring out a way to sell a story which had been rejected.

 

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