Thursday, December 24, 2020

Unintended: a coming of age "almost murder" mystery

Greetings, commies!

You know that feeling following the thump-crunch under your wheels? You know it's a squirrel. Its flattened corpse will haunt you on your drive home from work. Now imagine accidentally killing something human size? Now you can imagine how Lea felt when she killed her neighbor in Unintended. I must say, I really wanted to like that movie - if only it could figure out what genre it belonged to. 

My thoughts:

"Unintended" is basically an embryo that doesn't know what it wants to be when it develops. I am all for cross-genre movie, but this one can't decide if it's a thriller or a heart-warming, tear-jerking coming of age slice of Americana. It starts lowkey but sinister, and then just devolves into sappy. Too many images of Lea having an exaggerated panic attack. Too many pill-popping, hair-pulling scenes that do not add to the story. Not to mention, it's totally implausible from the criminal justice standpoint. No way can you just walk away from a potential manslaughter without the police involved. People don't just disappear into thin air without the authorities raising some questions. I can see someone hiding the impulsive murder of a newborn, but not a fully grown teenager that everyone knew in that community.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Crush: a triumph of lazy casting


Greetings, commies!

I will be doing a series of reviews on unworthy films. They are free on Amazon, so I encourage you to give them a chance. Today's rotten turnip is Crush.


Crush is a 2013 American direct-to-video thriller film directed by Malik Bader and written by Sonny Mallhi. Starring Lucas Till, Crystal Reed, and Sarah Bolger, it follows a popular high school student portrayed by Till who finds himself being stalked.

My thoughts:

The casting director clearly did not want to take any chances or cast - God forbid - against stereotypes. Of course, the creepy girl is a skinny brunette. Of course, the object of her admiration is the "sensitive jock" with an actual conscience. The characters are not very plausible. I do not know many high school athletes who look like the male protagonist yet take the time out of their day to consider the feelings of the little people around him. In addition to being a star soccer player, he also loves old black and white movies and drawing portraits. I get it, even jocks have souls, and human beings have layers and dimensions, but this chap is so darn perfect, he is not very convincing. And I cannot imagine a straight 17 year old rejecting a hot female friend who sneaks into his bedroom with one intention. Too many cringeworthy, awkward character development twists. Paired with lazy predictable casting, and you get a C- product.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Kelly + Victor: a most unsexy movie about sex

Greetings, commies!

How desensitized you must be to need drugs and whips and chains to get off? Good question. A better question yet: how much can we romanticize low lives? Nothing shocks modern audiences. Drugs, random sex, torture? Yawn. Kelly + Victor is a desperate attempt to shock the unshockable audiences. 


After meeting at a nightclub, Kelly and Victor are removed from their dull, ordinary lives when they start an exciting sexual relationship.

My thoughts

Why is it that most movies about sex that claim to be "edgy" and "raw" are really so ... not sexy? I don't know if the director did any research, but doing lines of cocaine is a sure road to impotence. The characters are so off putting, makes me want to wash my hands and gargle my mouth. I am not a prude or anything, but hopping into bed with a random stranger you met at some dingy club is a little anticlimactic. You know next to nothing about the characters, so it's hard to become emotionally invested in them. The sex scenes are gratuitous and unconvincing. It's like watching mice squirm on the bottom of a barrel. A general "eeeek" reaction.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Bliss: a Turkish drama of morals

Hello commies!

If you have the stomach for a film that deals with some heavy stuff, if you are willing to engage empathy while suspending judgment, consider Bliss, a Turkish drama.


Adapted from internationally acclaimed author Zulfu Livaneli's novel, BLISS is an unconventional road movie in which the executioner of an honor killing and his victim go on a journey of self-discovery.

When 17-year-old Meryem (Ozgu Namal) is found disheveled and unconscious by the side of a lake, her family believes the worst - that her chastity has been lost and that she has been a willing accomplice in its disposal. They turn to the ancient principle of "tore," a strict moral code governing the rules of sexual practice, which condemns Meryem to death. The duty of defending the family's honor is given to distant cousin Cemal (Murat Han), who must take Meryem to Istanbul and kill her along the way.

The two begin to fall for each other and their journey takes an unexpected turn when they meet Irfan (Talat Bulut), an academic escaping his big city angst, who is also looking for a second chance in life. Set against the impressive backdrop of Turkey's natural wonders, BLISS pits tradition against modernity, urban against rural and East against West, all the while refusing to settle for easy answers.

My thoughts

Turkey is a country of contrasts, as many reviewers have pointed out. Like many Middle Eastern countries, it has a flashy, hedonistic facade that lures in tourists and a savage, dark, cruel underbelly. The most disturbing part is that Cemal is no knight in shining armor, no Western savior for the poor Turkish peasant girl. Even though he refuses to carry out the task given to him, he is not very far removed from the people who condemned the 17-year old to death for losing her virginity. He is one of them. He is "one of the good ones", but he is still one of them. His anger and a sense of masculine entitlement come through on several occasions. That is what makes the viewers cringe in the end. It's not a happily ever after sort of ending. You are left wondering if it's only a matter of time before the beast in him comes out.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Daisy Chain - autism stereotypes meet Irish superstition

Happy Halloween, commies!

Halloween has a noticeable connection to the Celtic pagan tradition, so this year's pick is an Irish horror movie The Daisy Chain. I am not a huge fan of it for a number of reasons outlined below, but it doesn't mean that you won't enjoy it.


The very nature of evil drives this chilling psychological thriller. Martha and Tomas are a grieving couple who move to a remote Irish village in the wake of their baby daughter's death. Touched by a traumatized, autistic girl whose entire family has perished in tragic accidents, they open their home to young Daisy. Martha believes that with her love, she can help Daisy...

My thoughts:

Sounds like a perfect recipe - insulting, inaccurately executed autism stereotypes are wed to Irish superstition. That's what the world of horror needs: another creepy kid movie. Every known cliche has been utilized: the string of accidents, the clingy foster parent with a tragic past. A touch of "The Omen" and "Rosemary's Baby". Since this flick is made in Ireland and actually uses elements of Irish folklore, so it must be "artsy". I cannot say that the acting is atrocious. There is nothing for an actor to do. Generic, stereotypical one-dimensional characters, predictable plot twists. One thing I don't understand. If the foster parents suspect they have a murderous supernatural entity under their roof, why do they keep going about their business? Shouldn't they be a bit more vigilant?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Borat 2: a much needed laugh

Greetings, commies!

Are you ready to take a break from righteous indignation and laugh at everything that's wrong with this world? Borat 2 is out! Same fake Kazakh language, sane fake folk tunes. Same stitch-popping vulgar humor. Just what the doctor ordered to help your lungs rebuild after Covid!


Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

My thoughts:

Seriously, do not watch this movie alone. If you choke on your popcorn, you want to have someone there to save your life. And if you like to drink beer while watching comedy, get your Depends on, seriously. You will pee yourself! I feel off the couch a few times. I am of Russian descent, so I got all the messages in Cyrillic. If you speak Russian, it adds another layer of hilarity. This movie came out at the perfect time. It's sooooo insulting to the snowflake crowd. Really pulls no punches, doesn't hold back. Just what we need! I bet many viewers will complain that it "trivializes human trafficking and Covid". It totally does! And that's why it makes it so hilarious.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Pretty Persuasion: deliciously evil and misogynistic

Greetings, commies!

Evan Rachel Wood was born to play mean girls! The meanest girls are not always blond cheerleaders. Wood is brilliant at subtle sociopathy. Frankly, I am surprised that Pretty Persuasion got made and released into the mainstream. Of course, it's 15 years old. No way it would have gotten made in 2020, not with all the touchy snowflakes who are offended by the way someone sneezes. 


Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood), an outwardly friendly but inwardly cold and manipulative teenager who attends an exclusive private school in Beverly Hills, incites chaos among her friends, and a media frenzy when she accuses her drama teacher of sexual harassment.

My thoughts:

With so much censorship and squeamishness in the world of filmmaking nowadays, with so much paranoia and so many taboos, it's amazing this venomous gem got made in the first place. I have a pretty strong stomach for teenage sociopathy, but this movie made me wince a few times. The world has changed a lot in 15 years. Now filmmakers tiptoe around the topics of school shooters and sexual harassment of minors. If you are having a bad day, if you are angry at the world, consider watching this flick.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Beanpole: a WWII movie - not for prudes or purists


Hello commies! 

We have two very spooky events coming up: Halloween and the Election. Hope you are holding up and not reading too much fake news. I have an amazing iconoclastic film to recommend. Most WWII movies that reach American audiences are about the Western front. I am glad to see The Beanpole with subtitles. It highlights the Russian/Soviet experience. We need more of those movies made available to international audiences. 


1945, Leningrad. World War II has devastated the city, demolishing its buildings and leaving its citizens in tatters, physically and mentally. Two young women, Iya and Masha, search for meaning and hope in the struggle to rebuild their lives amongst the ruins.

My thoughts:

I am fortunate enough to speak Russian, so I read some reviews of this film on various Russian sites. I noticed, there was a group of viewers who considered it blasphemous. I read comments like, "My great grandfather, who fought in the Patriotic War, is flipping in his grave!" Indeed, the movie depicts certain episodes from post-war Leningrad life that does not jive with the spirit of victory and patriotism. Indeed, patriotism comes with a certain element of prudishness: "Not in OUR country." It's a bitter pill of swallow. Nobody wants to think of military doctors conducting assisted suicide. It's not very Soviet, is it? Just as it's not very Soviet for two women to be in a sexual relationship. Not in THAT country, for which their great grandfathers had fought. 

Some reviewers pointed out that the city does not look very much like 1945 Leningrad. The whole air is anachronistic. And I agree, the film breaks every dogma of portraying that era. The way people talk, the way they move - it's very different from what you are used to seeing in WWII movies from the 1960-1980s era. It's like you are in a parallel dimension. I assume, it's not because the director did not know any better. It's not like he did not do his homework. The casting choices and some of the directorial moves were deliberate. 

One reviewer actually pointed out that the two female characters borrow each other's clothes. One favors red, and the other favors green, and sometimes they swap cardigans, which symbolizes a sort of symbiosis established between them. They have so much pain and anger tying them together, they cannot separate and move on with their lives. And they don't give a damn what happens around them, if it's Leningrad or Berlin. They are stuck in their own personal hell. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Portrait of a Lady On Fire - low budget cosplay

Greetings, commies!

Those of you who have the misfortune of knowing me personally, will attest that I like ridiculing and trashing things that many people find appealing. It's my guilty pleasure to go against the grain. This is why today I am posting a review for the art house Euro flick Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This movie got rave reviews, but I personally find so many things wrong with it.


Marianne is hired to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse. As the women orbit each other, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse's first moments of freedom.

My thoughts:

The manager of Party City wants the costumes back. Seriously, you'd expect better quality from community theater. And what's with Marianne's mahogany highlights and Heloise's dark roots. This is not a period piece. This is pretentious cosplay. You have two sociology professors dressed in pseudo-period costumes, acting out love scenes in what looks like a warehouse with a conference room attached to it. My favorite part was the apparent lack of social boundaries. The privileged heiress and the hired painter enjoy some girl bonding while hand-holding the mentally deficient servant through an herb-induced abortion. They take her to a shady den and then try to cheer her up with some art therapy. The highlight of the movie was the rapping session around the bonfire. The dialogue ... don't get me started. The predictable whining about "not having a choice". Oh, buttercup ... Not to me misogynistic, but this is what happens when female directors make movies about "female" issues. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Song for a Raggy Boy - a distressingly illustrative true story

Greetings, commies

Regardless of where you stand in terms of religious beliefs and your views on institutionalized spirituality, you will find Song for a Raggy Boy deeply disturbing and moving. 


Against the wishes of the Bishop, Father Damian (Alan Devlin), the principal of St. Jude's Reformatory School, appoints William Franklin (Aidan Quinn) the only lay teacher among a staff of Catholic Brothers.

My thoughts

There is a reason why the Catholic church has taken such a fall in Ireland. There are many accounts and movies about the Magdalene laundries that depict the plight of the vulnerable young women in Ireland. This movie shows the plight of young men. It's not that all Catholic priests are rapists and monsters, but the Catholic church due to its vastness and power, had attracted some rather vicious characters over the centuries. I don't believe that these men had ever sought God. They had always viewed the church as an opportunity to indulge their lust and greed for power. It's not like they started off as idealistic novices and then became corrupt. No, they went in fully aware of the opportunities for indulgence. In terms of the narrative style, what makes the movie chilling is the fact that scenes of abuse and violence are interspersed with scenes of childish joy. You see kids running around the city in the snow on Christmas eve, laughing and playing. That makes the subsequent scenes all the more horrifying.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bye Bye Blackbird - a glimpse into early 20th century circus

Greetings, commies!

What makes this film unique is the juxtaposition of decorated acting veterans like Derek Jakobi and performers who are dancers/acrobats but not really actors (and it shows). This is what happens when you place a really great Actor with a capital A next to those for whom acting is a peripheral discipline, like Izabella Miko. I was intrigued by the setting of Bye Bye Blackbird - early 20th century England ... circus .. industrial workers. 


A period drama set in the early years of the twentieth century. Josef, a former construction worker who delighted in dancing on girders high above the city, who now sweeps up at the circus. Once the big top's owner spots the young roustabout defying gravity on the trapeze, however, he endeavors to pair Josef with his aerialist daughter Alice in a perilous sky-high pas de deux. Offers a romantic view of big top life, with a moth-eaten angel in his feathered, tattered costume.

My thoughts:

I had such high hopes for this film. It could have been a visual masterpiece. A wistful Bohemian setting in early 1900s - what's not to love? A makeshift family consisting of social misfits. An ethereal aerial performer. A day laborer who becomes an acrobat. A manipulative patriarch/ringmaster who has a way of bending his fiercely loyal performers to his will. The burgeoning love triangle. If you have a romantic/Bohemian bone, the concept should hit every major nerve. And this is where the bliss ends. The bud never opens. What could have been a great storyline quickly devolves into absurdity. The producer must have run out of money and found a quick way to wrap the story up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

White Lies: the many colors of savagery

Greetings, commies!

Racial relations seem to be a hot topic.  The lot of the Maori people in New Zealand is not frequently explored in literature and film. At least it's not on the radar for American audiences who deal with conflicts of their own. I really hope you take the time to watch this great historical film White Lies.


White Lies is a story about the nature of identity: those who deny it and those who strive to protect it. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a medicine woman. She is the healer and midwife of her rural, tribal people - she believes in life, but new laws prohibit unlicensed healers. On a rare trip to the city, she is approached by Maraea (Rachel House), the servant of a wealthy woman, Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), who seeks her knowledge and assistance to hide a secret that could destroy Rebecca's position in European settler society. If the secret is uncovered, a life may be lost, but hiding it may also have fatal consequences. Paraiti, Maraea and Rebecca thus become players in a head on clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.

My thoughts: 

I hope you have the patience and restraint to sit through this movie. Resist the temptation to draw conclusions and make judgments on the characters as they appear in the first 20 minutes of the film. I have a pretty strong stomach, and I will say that I was very tempted to abandon the film. The reason for it was fear of the film turning into a tear-jerker that demonizes the collective Westerner. I am glad I did not walk away. One of the most intriguing moments about this movie is that the main Bad Guy - the infamous white colonial man - never makes a stage entrance. After the opening scene with the soldiers you never really see the "patriarchal tyrant". Mr. Vickers, whose rage Rebecca dreads, never shows his face. That makes the viewer wonder if he was truly as horrible as the Rebecca's servant portrayed him. I thought it was wise on behalf of the director to keep him behind the curtain. A little bit of mystery and ambiguity only add to the overall air of dread. Mr. Vickers almost becomes a boogeyman. I also applaud the writer for highlighting that tyranny, in this case male and western, is not possible without compliance and participation from women. In this particular situation, a working class Maori woman, serves as the guardian of that toxic regime. She internalizes her sense of social and racial inferiority and somehow turns it into weapon. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Vivarium: open-ended psychological horror

Greetings, commies!

If you are in a mood for a psychological sci-fi horror flick, consider Vivarium. Imagine if David Lynch and Rod Serling co-authored a plot. Jesse Eisenberg is the king of beta-males, and the role of a subdued suburban newlywed fits him perfectly. The quest for domestic bliss leads Gemma and Tom into a circle of hell. 


A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.

My thoughts

I see many viewers complaining about the 'lack of resolution'. This is a subtle, thought-provoking psychological horror piece, not a superhero flick where the good guys cross the T's and dot the I's in the end. This movie is comparable to David Lynch's works. Anyone with imagination and ability to think abstractly will find plenty to analyze and contemplate after watching it. Those who complain that the movie leaves too many unanswered questions - God forbid - should get themselves some buttery popcorn and watch the next Marvel blockbuster.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Berberian Sound Studio - a study in atmosphere development

Greetings, commies!

If you are up for a moody, artsy psychological pseudo-horror flick without jump scares or teen scream queens in tank tops, consider Berberian Sound Studio.

This movie does a great job of setting intriguing atmosphere, but ... there is no real plot. Or maybe the plot is so subtle, you don't notice it. It's not really a film in its own right but rather a study in light and sound. There is a lot of implicit horror - tell, don't show. It's what you don't see that is more terrifying than what you see. Despite the many Giallo references, the film has a strong Lynch-esque tone. The protagonist, stuck in a claustrophobic sound studio, begins doubting his own sanity. I wonder if the lack of resolution was due to the director's fatigue / lack of funds and imagination, or if it was intended. If you are a film student, you should watch this movie not for the plot but for various tone-setting techniques. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ao, the Last Neanderthal - an inter-species adventure romance

Greetings, commies!

Ao, the Last Neanderthal is a one of a kind speculative anthropological film set 30,000 BC in prehistoric Europe. When his clan, including his wife and baby girl Néa, are massacred, Ao, a desperate Neanderthal, decides to leave the North country where he has been living for the South where he was born. His aim is to join his twin brother, from whom he was separated when he was nine. On his long and adventurous way home, he meets Aki, a Homo sapiens woman.

My thoughts

The movie is based on an actual novel that I hope to read some day. Hopefully it will be translated into English. Given how little is known about the psychology/physiology of Neanderthals, this is a highly, highly speculative piece of historical ... no, more like prehistorical fiction. The author of the novel takes certain genetic and anthropological differences pairing a Neanderthal male with a Cro Magnon female. It's yet to be determined if those alliances took place and if they led to viable progeny. I think the split between the actual articulated speech and the internal speech worked well. You have characters, both Neanderthal and Cro Magnon, spout incoherent beastly sounds at each other, but then you hear their internal voices that bridge the genetic and cognitive differences between the species. Despite the overt violence, the spirit of the film is strangely life-affirming, almost naively so, if you don't look beyond the first layer of the happy ending. It's a happy ending - but an ending nevertheless, for a whole chapter of human evolution.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Othello-san - a challenge to Western thinking

Greetings, commies,
I imagine, in light of recent events, some of you have been watching various Othello adaptations. Here is a powerful short film about a young African American actor trying to establish himself in Japan - pigeon-holing himself into the token role of the Moor of Venice. There is so much talk about black-white relations, it was a breath of fresh air to see a different racial dynamic. 

My thoughts
I wrote a perfectly respectful, reasonable review, and it wasn't posted the first time around on Amazon. Not sure who is policing these reviews. Anyway, take two. 

This kind of movie should be shown in American acting schools. It touches upon the concept of American - and Western in general - hubris. It's not about an African American student going to Japan. It's about a Westerner going to an Asian country. I must say, I was not convinced when the young actor talking about being cast as a thug or a slave. He is too refined to be typecast in those roles. Though I have no trouble believing that many talented African American actors are held back from achieving their full dramatic potential by being pigeonholed into those token roles.  All and all, it's 20 minutes well spent. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"A Senseless Act of Beauty" - it's "Island of Dr. Moreau" meets "Avatar"

Greetings, commies!
There seems to be so much discussion around race, colonialism and privilege lately, and not all discussion as civil. Understandably, those are pretty hot and sensitive topics. Imagine exploring them in a sci-fi novel! Now would be a perfect time to visit John B. Roseman's "A Senseless Act of Beauty". It's so much more than just another space opera! Rosenman is known for his eloquent, multi-layered, philosophical sci-fi. 

Aaron Okonkwo, a Nigerian scientist, travels with a crew in the 24th century to evaluate Viridis, which proves to be a beautiful and fabulous world. There, Aaron discovers a strange, alien species and amazing machines and technology left in a vast underground complex by a mysterious race called the Creators.

Aaron soon falls under the irresistible, seductive spell of Nightsong, a green alien female with ominous and bewitching powers. However, an even greater danger rises. He will be forced to fight for the planet’s survival against a ruthless invasion of many ships to conquer and enslave the planet – just as Africa itself was once enslaved. Aaron knows it’s A Senseless Act of Beauty to try to reclaim his ancient warrior heritage and fight back against such overwhelming odds, but he knows he must try.

My thoughts:
John B. Rosenman demonstrates once again that originality lies in the clever combination of familiar topics and images. He likes to take an archetype and twist it a little to fill it with new meaning. In his philosophical space travel sci-fi novel "A Senseless Act of Beauty" the readers will her echoes of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and the movie "Avatar". The concept of experimenting with nature and the ethical implications of this practice is at the core of the works by such sci-fi icons as H.G. Wells. On one hand, our instinct tells us "don't mess with nature". On the other hand, science would not progress if not for a few daring maniacs who were willing to push the boundaries, not fearing judgment from their colleagues and contemporaries. "A Senseless Act of Beauty" opens on earth in a scientific facility in Nigeria. Aaron, on of a scientist, takes a leisurely hike with a human-enhanced male monkey. The hike nearly costs Aaron his life, for he discovers that his companion has murderous tendencies. The intricate experiment came with hidden dangers. The experience piques his curiosity and sets him on the path of interstellar colonization and interspecies sexual affairs. The line between human and animal/alien is very fine. What happens when you cross it? 

It is refreshing that the main character, a conqueror and a colonist, is not the so frequently demonized white man. Aaron is African - and privileged. His color is of little significance on the new planet. I commend the author on raising certain ethical and philosophical questions without passing judgment. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Fall of Eagles - a must see for political science students

Greetings, commies!

If you have any history buffs or aspiring political science majors in your family, this amazing box set is for you! Fall of Eagles examines the demise of several European empires condensed to 13 episodes.

Series summary
In the latter half of the 19th century, three ruling houses dominated Europe: the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Romanovs of Russia and Hohenzollerns of Germany. Centuries of despotism, a continued lack of social reform and the advent of the devastating First World War caused the vultures of revolution to start circling. This 13-part epic drama features an all-star cast including Patrick Stewart, Gemma Jones, John Rhys-Davies, Gayle Hunnicutt and more!

My thoughts
This brilliantly cast and acted BBC gem is an absolute must-see for every political science and history student. A very discerning examination of "what went wrong". The series breaks down the toxic and complex chemical formula that had resulted in WWI and ultimately the demise of several European empires. The dialogues are rich, lush and profound. Your jaws will drop. Of course, it's BBC, so the content is not dumbed down or made more palatable for wider masses. In my humble opinion, the highlight is Patrick Stewart's rendition of Lenin. It's amusing to hear the Bolshevik leader speak with a cultured British accent. Here is your chance to be the proverbial fly on the wall and hear the conversations that determined the fate of Europe. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"Simple Prayers" by Michael Golding - a medieval sitcom

Hello, commies!
Another oldie but goody. I read this novel the old fashioned way: actually picked up a paperback at Waldenbooks (does that name ring a bell?) At any rate, if you want to add another gem to your pandemic list, consider Michael Golding's Simple Prayers

The novel, even though it is sat in Medieval Europe, is structured very much like a sitcom. There are stereotypical characters that one may expect from a sitcom: the town stud (Gianluca), the town geek (Albertino), the fat girl (Ermenegilda), the mysterious hottie (Miriam), the mandatory abusive single mom (Valentina) and the freaky child (Piarina). The interaction between the characters is very generic and stylized. You can predict right away who will fall in love with whom. What you can not predict is the horrible outcome of the novel. The plot takes a sudden turn, and the small town idyll falls apart.

I have no idea why the book critics called it "delightful". "Delightful" is not the word that comes to mind when you think about plague wiping out a whole village. There is nothing life-affirming in this book. If the reader expects a happy ending, he/she will feel deceived in the end. The book does not end with a wedding. It ends with a mass funeral.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Horseman on the Roof - a forgotten "epidemic" novel

Hello, chaps!
Nobody can get enough of Covid19 media. Here is another unfairly underrated novel by an equally unfairly underrated Provencal author Jean Giono - Horseman on the Roof. Giono had fallen in and out of favor with college professors and mainstream readers over the past century. 

The 1995 film adaptation is also worth seeing. Angelo, a young Italian patriot is trying to get home in the midst of a cholera outbreak in early 19th century France. On the way he meets a beautiful married Frenchwoman named Pauline. The "woke" crowds will be particularly pleased with the courtly manner in which he handles their mutual sexual interest. Spoiler: there are no steamy sex scenes. The idealistic young stud with a sword remains a gentleman, even when Pauline becomes vulnerable and receptive. There are, however, some stunning panoramic shots of the French countryside. If you are sensitive and easily triggered, it's probably not the best idea to look at piles of corpses. You can't have a cholera epidemic without them. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Into the Closets - a coming of age mystery!

Greetings, commies!
If you want to take a break from the depressing news, consider picking up this entertaining and insightful coming of age mystery Into the Closets set in the archive rooms of the Buckingham Palace. 

A former Buckingham Palace employee recounts her time working at Buckingham Palace, through the eyes of her fictional character Aurelia Macintosh. With anecdotal observations of what really goes on at Britain's most famous residence, this novel, while a tale of fiction, draws an entertaining and enlightening portrait of life at the Palace the public rarely sees.
Aurelia goes to work for the Royal Collection, cataloguing the contents of several famous palaces. Her colleagues are a mixed lot of aristocrats, almost normal English people and foreigners. Security is a big issue in the palaces and when things start to disappear, they are all suspects.
The famous Holbein watercolour is stolen and Aurelia and her boyfriend Nick are asked to try to help finding the thief. But before they find any helpful clues they discover that Aurelia's workmates are not all what they seem, and their sexual preferences as well as their inherited problems can lead them into trouble. Above all the invaluable works of art in the palaces have to be protected from evil forces.
Click on the BUY NOW button to get your copy today.

My thoughts
To a recent art history grad, cataloguing artwork at the Buckingham Palace might sound like a dream job. Well, Aurelia Macintosh, the protagonist of the novel doesn't seem to think so. If you have read/watched "The Devil Wears Prada", you'll understand the predicament. A bright, serious young woman, who is apparently overqualified for the job, views it as a stepping stone. If anything, it's a flashy resume filler. A candid and open, someone socially awkward individual, Aurelia learns to navigate the world of her colleagues, learn to read between the lines and interpret subtle sneers. Her observation and analytical skills will come in handy when several pieces from the collection go missing. 

I have already read this author's historical novels set in Norway and Germany during WWII. This novel is semi-autobiographical, set in the 1990s. It's important to be mindful of the setting, because the world was different back then in terms of available technology, forensic tools as well as morals and sensibilities. It doesn't sound like a long time ago, but we're talking quarter of a century difference. The author does a good job keeping you in that period. You don't easily forget that the novel is set before the internet was at everyone's fingertips. LGBT individuals were more likely to hide their orientation from the world. Coming out could mean alienation from your family and unemployment. So many liberties and privileges that we take for granted in 2020 were still out of reach to many. 

The reader should be ready for many political discussions and references to the Parliament and the royal family. The title itself "Into the Closets" is such a loaded and intriguing title that evoke so many potential conflicts. I would not classify this novel as a straight up mystery. It's a coming of age story more than anything. A wide-eyed, sometimes overreaching Aurelia undergoes an emotional maturation process. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

We All Fall Down - a pandemic anthology

Greetings, commies!
If you are sick and tired of reading about COVID19 in the news, switch gears and read about a different pandemic that was a lot deadlier than the one we are facing now. We All Fall Down is an anthology of stories revolving around the plague epidemic in Europe, featuring some of the most eloquent indie voices in historical fiction. You may recognize some of these names!

Plague has no favorites.
In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown.
Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.
* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property—
* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost—
* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future—
* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—
* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante's son—
* In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—
* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—
* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—
* And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate. 
Nine tales bound together by humanity's fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time.

My thoughts
I am surprised that more reviewers did not mention the fact that the release of this anthology coincided with the corona pandemic. Perhaps, the Black Death is the last thing people want to read about. Toilet paper hoarders will probably feel a little ashamed. Even the title of the anthology is "We All Fall Down", taken from an English folk song, the message of the anthology is about rising up. I am already familiar with most of the contributors to the anthology, having followed their other works in various historical fiction groups. This anthology serves a dual purpose. In addition to giving you a collection of delectably literary yet readable stories about a particular tragic even in European history, it gives you a sample of each author's writing. If you haven't read their novel length works, maybe the short stories in this anthology will whet your appetite. This is what a pandemic looked like before globalization and social media, before diagnostic and curative advancements. That should put things in perspective. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Road to Montfaucon - a novel about the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris

Hello commies!

We are approaching the 1 year anniversary of the bizarre fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the high profile Catholic landmarks. In light of my personal attachment to that cathedral, I wrote a mystical thriller The Road to Montfaucon. It weaves in the realities of modern urban life and fragments of Victor Hugo's celebrated novel. Special thanks to Jenna Meuer, the beautiful cover model who embodied the 21st century Esmeralda.

Modern Paris. The fire at Notre-Dame has unleashed an eerie force and awakened the ghosts of Victor Hugo's novel. Dr. Molendino, a jaded psychologist with a penchant for the occult, finds himself ejected from the clinical community for publishing controversial articles on the subject of past lives. To his colleagues he is a heretic, who compromises the prestige of the clinic.

After losing his job he immerses himself in private practice and research. Among his patients is Thomas Dimanche, a young journalist who suffers from dysmorphophobia and despite being handsome, considers himself hideous, avoiding human contact. Thomas makes a living by hosting a radio show called Parisian Toll, a criminal review, where he often features one of the city's most gruesome crimes -- the murder of an indie performer Annaïs Guybertot. The teenage girl was found strangled in the basement of an underground nightclub aptly called Montfaucon.

With help from an experimental drug, the doctor and his patient dive into a hallucinatory world where a deformed bell ringer and his arrogant master rival for the heart of a gypsy dancer.

Will they stop in time, or will they repeat the fate of Hugo's characters?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

3022 - nothing wrong with B sci-fi

Greetings, commies!
If you are in a mood for a low-key, low-budget but intellectually stimulating sci-fi movie, consider 3022. I know the title is cryptic. It doesn't refer to a year but rather to the number of days the main characters have been in space. 

Halfway through a 10 year mission in deep space, a group of astronauts awaken to find Earth has suffered a catastrophic event. The already unstable crew desperately races to repair their deteriorating space station and fight off unforeseen threats.

My thoughts:
I am not sure why this movie got negative feedback for being "low budget". You don't need a huge budget to create a quality sci-fi piece. Not every sci-fi movie aspires to be the Star Wars. This one is one of those 3022 is one of those small budget - notice, I don't say cheap - sci-fi movies. The idea is very simple and has a lot of potential for exploration. What happens if your home gets destroyed while you're in outer space? I'm sure many astronauts ponder that question before they take off. This movie explores this common nightmare. What if you are one of the few human beings left in the universe? Do you continue to adhere to the principles of human dignity? What do things like loyalty and self-sacrifice mean? I really hope that you give this movie a chance. There are some things I would've liked to see done differently, like some of the special effects handled in a more creative, suggestive manner. Overall, it's a solid B+ movie.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Flesh and Bone - killed by annoying secondary characters

Greetings, commies!

If you don't have the budget to see ballet in New York, consider watching Flesh and Bone - it comes with Amazon Prime. The dance sequences make it worth watching - you can always fast forward through the clumsy trying-too-hard drama sections. If anything, it's a lesson to aspiring writers on what NOT to do. 

"Flesh and Bone" follows a young ballet dancer, Claire, who has a distinctly troubled past, as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. The dark, gritty, complex series unflinchingly explores the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world and New York's inherent drama. Claire is emotionally wounded, sexually damaged, and possesses self-destructive tendencies amid her vaulting ambitions.

My thoughts:
I don't know how many people contributed to the development of the plot, but it looks very patchy, like a quilt sewn together by a team of schizophrenics. It's almost like the series was meant to be 18 episodes, and they had to cut it down to 8. So many vital questions were unanswered. And so many secondary characters got too much screen time. The homeless guy Romeo is incredibly annoying. He's not sympathetic at all. He's a caricature of a socially disenfranchised person. Same can be said for the ballet-loving strip club dancer with that horrible fake Russian accent. There was too much of him, and he was redundant. And don't get me started on the creepy looking old lady with her little dog, who is supposed to be an assistant choreographer. Why, why introduce so many characters that contribute nothing to the plot and distract from the main story, whatever it is?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Emperor's Assassin: #MeToo in Ancient Rome

Greetings, commies & SJWs!
If you want more of the same old, same old, women's historical fiction fueled with "wokeness" and man-bashing, here is a well written novel by Autumn Bardot, The Emperor's Assassin. Don't let the in-your-face title deter you. Here is a hint: the Emperor doesn't show up until later. It's an endless angry girl aria, an estrogen fountain.   

History paints her as the first female serial killer.

Locusta is the daughter of a winemaker in the Roman province of Gaul. She enjoys the indulged childhood of the elite, her concerns only about the day’s amusements. She rides gentle ponies, attends parties, reads Ovid, and learns the herbal arts from her servant. But the day after meeting her betrothed, Locusta discovers the consequences of possessing such dangerous knowledge.

Ordered to leave her pastoral life, Locusta is thrust into a world of intrigue, scandal, and murder—where treason lurks behind every corner and defying an emperor means death.

Locusta’s life changes forever when a young Emperor Nero requires her herbal expertise. And commands her to be his personal poisoner. Caught in an imperial web, Locusta must embrace her profession or die.

Or is there another way out?

History has nothing good to say about this woman. Or is that because men wrote her story?

My thoughts:
Storytelling merits apart, this novel is a blatant, unabashed #MeToo fest. You'd think the author was writing a "woke" sitcom. You can find every key ingredient: the autistic brother, the demented father, the LGBT best friend, the bratty materialistic younger sis, the hunky one night stand boyfriend, the arrogant-sadistic-entitled patrician. Those are well developed stock characters. It's a 2020 ABC-worthy prime time drama set in ancient Rome. Obviously, I cannot get inside the author's head, but my guess is that she was catering to the ultra left modern audiences to create a string of "relatable" characters. A part of me is rolling my eyes: Here we go again, demonizing men. But a part of me is humming and nodding: the book has literary merits. The premise and the delivery are not astonishingly original. A woman in the man's world, fighting for survival, validation, etc. Blah, blah. That's what 90% of historical fiction is about these days. So I am not going to knock it. It's really hard to write something original for the #MeToo audience.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Death and Nightingales - an unapologetic, authentic BBC masterpiece

Happy New Year, commies!

If you are tired of artificial "woke" or "empowering" costume dramas that aim to appease the left wing viewers and leave them with a feeling of "triumph", consider this BBC miniseries.

The BBC adaptation of Eugene McCabe's literary slow-burning thriller Death and Nightingales is extremely satisfying and faithful to the original. I actually read the novel first, so it was very gratifying to see all the key scenes and quotes included into the script. No unnecessary liberties, no frivolities, no attempt to put a "woke" spin on the story or infuse it with "girl power" to make it more palatable to modern audiences. I don't see Hollywood producing this film. The subject matter is probably too regional and not universal enough. There is not much material to entertain global audiences. Eugene McCabe is a contemporary author who dies a stellar job recreating the Ireland of the 1880s. It definitely helps to possess some rudimentary knowledge on the political and economic climate of the era. Even if you are totally new to the painful Anglo-Irish, Catholic-Protestant conflict, it will not take you long to catch on. 

The narrative is not always linear, so the director had to rely on flashbacks, which were done seamlessly and never took the viewer out of the moment. The novel spans the events of one day in the life of a young woman whose fragile world is about to collapse. 23-year old Beth Winters is not by any means "feisty" or "defiant". She does attempt to defy her guardian as a contemporary woman would - instead, her frustration takes a homicidal twist. Under certain circumstances, it is easier to murder your oppressor, or get someone else to do it, than attempt to defy him in a battle of wills.