Atomic Ranch Magazine: Mid-Century Immersion

Atomic Ranch Magazine – Midcentury Marvels – Two-Year Subscription (8 Issues) @ $36.95 (US).

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See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Targets Boomers who lived mid-century.  Monthly features such as Home Page and Ranch Dressing connect to readers.  Contains a subtle application of relevant advertising.  Superb photography and feature articles make this an archival-quality publication.

Cons: Not all Boomers who lived it loved it.  Aside from the purpose of historical documentation, some aspects of Mid-Century Modernism are unattractive, impractical or otherwise forgettable.  Published quarterly – fans have a long wait between issues.  Per-issue pricing is $6.95 (US/Can) at the newsstand – though the two-year subscription discount drops this to $4.62.

In my quiet suburban hometown, North Street Circle was the place to be.  The tiny, two-bedroom ranches that appeared to satisfy the housing needs of returning veterans had since been modified to accommodate the protracted gaggle of Boomer babies.  Across town, the Veteran’s Project offered more of the same.

Living Larger

In the 1960s, local cornfields became the venue for treeless yards featuring dwellings of brick, steel, stone and glass.  Both the disposition and square footage of the lowly ranch was now raised – allowing for game rooms and wet bars in which to entertain within the new-found freedom of the open-concept.

What may appear to be an era of conformity to some was remarkably creative in its architectural diversity.  Atomic Ranch Magazine artistically documents the romance and reality of this pivotal, post-war period.

Summer 2015

Using the latest issue as a guide, we find publisher Jim Brown’s tribute to the ultimate episode of Mad Men – the elegant, period-suspect soap opera (with a great opening credit sequence) that I abandoned post-first season.  Four well-illustrated pages of letters-to-the-editor follow.  To their credit, those with a gripe (can such a magazine be too upscale?) receive no short-shrift.

Back issues of Atomic Ranch gather appropriately before my period Laurel Brutalist lamp.
Back issues of Atomic Ranch gather appropriately before my period Laurel Brutalist lamp.

The first of five featured articles uses fourteen uninterrupted pages to illustrate and describe two California homes that fit the Mid-Century Modern (MCM)  profile.  Many of the dwellings that have seen print in previous issues are period-correct – down to the original blue linoleum countertops – though many with MCM bones are hybrids that feature modern kitchens and updates to heating, plumbing and electrical systems.  In the profiles that follow, similar descriptive competence is bestowed upon homes in Michigan, Toronto and Houston.

My pick for Best Feature is a ten-page spread titled Domestic Goddesses – where period (1948 through the 60s) print ads for home appliances surround informative text.  For all its nostalgic appeal, the Art Deco Cool of the 1948 Kelvinator fridge does not necessarily extend to the freezer compartment.

Did you know that the Kelvinator Foodarama, introduced in 1955, was the first side-by-side refrigerator-freezer?  To my surprise and delight, the stainless industrial look of my contemporary, counter-depth Fisher & Paykel bottom-freezer unit mimics the mid-50s Thermador Masterpiece that appears on page 40.

Does my 5-year-old Fisher and Paykel look 60 to you?
Does my 5-year-old Fisher and Paykel look 60 to you?

Books and Backs

A bit of deserved self-promotion occurs with a page of available AR back issues.  A pair of Atomic books from the team that brings you AR magazine are forever dwelling upon Palm Springs Architecture and Atomic Interiors.

Cool Stuff

The GE Monoblock MicroKitchen (which is still in the R&D stage) is the current occupant of this occasional feature.  Available for the cost of a decent used car, this product is essentially an update of the semi-successful 1950s conglomeration that squeezes all your appliances into a solo module for dwellers who suffer a dearth of kitchen footprint.

Ranch Dressing is a fun feature that allows befuddled fans of MCM to submit a photo and description of odd or obscure flea market finds for clues from whence they came.  The staff does the legwork, but readers often impart their wisdom, in subsequent issues, as to an item’s origins.  Anyone who has ever perused the MCM inventory at eBay will appreciate RD‘s potential.

Can the experts at Atomic Ranch unearth the history behind my epic eBay lighting discovery?  Stay tuned - better yet... subscribe!
Can the experts at Atomic Ranch unearth the history behind my epic eBay lighting discovery? Stay tuned – better yet… subscribe!

House Rules

Every cool Atomic Ranch needs a sharp lamp.
Every cool Atomic Ranch needs a sharp lamp.

If your current dwelling qualifies as MCM, show your pride and send a photo and brief description.  Home Page publishes three such summaries per issue.

Mid-Centurions Unite

Atomic Events combines upcoming gatherings of interest to Mid-Century Modernists.  This issue includes a total of ten occurring from early June through November – all located within the continental United States.

Atomic Ranch Magazine is available at select newsstands and bookstores for the $6.95 (US/Canada) cover price.  A one-year subscription (4 issues) is currently $19.95 (US) – two-years (8 total issues) for $36.95 – one-third below the cover price (Canadian rates higher).

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My Mid-Century Mindset

Atomic Ranch Magazine – love it for its quality, lush and romantic approach, but keep that level head below the clouds.  If MCM lifts your poodle skirt, be informed of the potential pitfalls.  Many period examples suffer from issues related to age, poor upkeep and the initial application of sub-par materials and build-quality.

Despite these obstacles, preservation is essential – the razing of period architecture for the space to accommodate the scourge of McMansionism is a sad footnote to the era as a whole and to our childhood memories, in particular.

Five stars for the entertaining and informative Atomic Ranch approach to historic preservation.

All images generated by the author.

Atomic Ranch Magazine
P.O. Box 9624
Ft. Lauderdale, FL  33310-9624
503-771-4171
503-771-4172

www.atomic-ranch.com

The Lutron Toggler CL: Dimmable Brilliance

Lutron Toggler CL Dimmer for CFL and LED Bulbs – Model # TGCL-153-PH in Ivory.

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Works with compatible LEDs – as well as with most lesser, obsolete bulbs.  Toggle style resembles a standard switch.  Low-end of dimmable range is adjustable.  Satisfies single-pole or 3-way applications.

Cons: Multiple product revisions require consumer research before purchasing – early production runs had quality issues.  Consumer must match LED/dimmer compatibility by brand and model.  Like LED bulbs, premium prices prevail.

The appropriate selection and application of lighting can enhance whatever period or style of abode you prefer.  When constructed, my current contemporary surroundings were fitted with the most basic of fixtures, due to cost overruns incurred by the original owner.  Since taking possession, my challenge has been to execute a quality lighting upgrade to enhance the interior’s architectural assets.

Recessed ceiling cans provide an economical, effective light source - but their lack-of-character screams 1980s.
Recessed ceiling cans provide an economical, effective light source – but their lack-of-character screams 1980s.

Bulbous Banter

The current state of LED lighting is one of perpetual flux.  The high cost of LED bulbs is easing as research and development costs are recouped by manufacturers as the technology improves.  Superior in nearly every way, the LED (light emitting diode) has rendered the incandescent and compact fluorescent technology to that of the 8-track tape player, circa 1980.

Mid-Century Mania

My level-3 dining area is part of an open-concept floor plan.  The former owner hung a huge Art Deco fixture over the dining table that over-lit the space and blocked the site-lines toward the mountain views beyond.  Fact is, I strongly disliked it and hardly ever put it on.  I recently changed this out for a more compact, Atomic-era down-light pendant that would make George Jetson proud.

The Glow-In-The-Dark Retro Atomic Pendant Light is the current light of my life.
This Vintage, Glow-In-The-Dark Retro Atomic Pendant is the current light of my life.

Glow And Go

My LED of choice was the 2700K, 15-watt Philips A-21, delivering 1180 lumens (equivalent in output and color temperature to a 75-watt incandescent).  Due to design discrepancies among manufacturers, dimmable LEDs require the use of ‘leading edge dimmers’.  I chose the Lutron Toggler C-L dimmer because of its broad availability (Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe’s) and the inclusion of the A-21 on the Lutron list of compatible bulbs.

The Philips A-21 in orbit.  [Image:  Philips via Amazon.com]
The Philips A-21 prepares to dock. [Image: Philips via Amazon.com]
Toggling-On

Both the switches for the dining room pendant and the recessed bar cans share a plastic 2-gang box.  Until recently, the dimmer switch for the bar’s ceiling lights shared space with a standard switch.  With the dining room pendant now in play, the challenge was to fit the pair of wider dimmers into the box.

My 2-Gang gang in their new home.  The subtle difference between the Ivory [left] and the Almond [right] seems to have escaped me at the time of purchase.
My 2-Gang gang in its new home. The subtle difference between the Ivory [left] and the Almond [right] seems to have escaped me at the time of purchase. Note black dim-adjustment dial upgrade to the right of the switch.
[Image:  mathix.org]
[Image: mathix.org]
Using both sides of the 16 x 16-inch sheet of trilingual instructions, I successfully wired and installed the new dimmer.  Not only did the new UFO-inspired fixture shine bright upon the tabletop, its frosted, plate-glass rings of Saturn glowed in all directions.  My formerly gloomy corner was now space-alien approved.

Buyer Beware

Due to early production bugs, the Lutron Toggler C-L 153-PH has been subjected to at least three revisions since its introduction.  I was never totally satisfied with the first dimmer purchased.  At certain settings, the Lutron-approved Philips BR30 LED Floods would exhibit a subtle flicker – though they never experienced drop-out or buzzing, as some consumers have claimed.

The Philips 13-Watt BR30 at rest.  [Image:  Philips via Amazon.com]
The Philips 13-Watt BR30 at rest. [Image: Philips via Amazon.com]
There was also a quality issue with a failure of the inadequate dim-range adjustment wheel, which is used to fine-tune a particular bulb’s lowest possible setting.  The latest model upgrade sports a more durable and practical black adjustment dial and a green ground wire in place of the original white wheel and green ground screw.

The simplest method of verifying a dimmer’s update status is to check for the presence of a black adjustment dial.  A slight separation of the packaging’s flexible plastic cover will allow for this inspection – the dial is located to the right of the switch.

White Dimmer Adjustment Wheel indicates undesirable early production version.
White Dimmer Adjustment Wheel indicates undesirable early production version.

While installing the new dimmer, I changed-out the problematic, early-production model for one of the current generation.  Both of the new dimmers have a more quality feel to the slide and allow the LED to deliver a stable illumination throughout the dimming range.

 

Don’t Be A Dim Bulb

Early Production Green Ground Screw was replaced by a Green Ground Wire - which makes more sense in a 2-Gang application.
Early Production Green Ground Screw was replaced by a Green Ground Wire – which makes more sense in a 2-Gang application.

The key to success lies in the details.  Find the style of dimmer you prefer, then check the ratings and LED compatibility for that brand and model.  For example, if you click on the above Amazon link and scroll down to Technical Specification, you will find two PDF lists that are organized alphabetically by bulb brand and model.  All brands of dimmers will feature a similar list at their respective websites.

The Lutron Toggler C-L 153-PH is currently available at Amazon.com in White and Ivory.  These colors plus Almond are available at the aforementioned Big Box Hardware outlets.

The Mother Ship upon re-entry.
The Mother Ship upon re-entry.

A One-Year Warranty is standard with a complimentary 2nd year granted upon product registration.

The One-Year Warranty becomes a Two-Year just by registering your Lutron Dimmer online.  [Image:  Lutron Electronics]
The One-Year Warranty becomes Two just by registering your Lutron Dimmer online. [Image: Lutron Electronics]
www.lutron.com/ecoregistration

Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.
Coopersburg, PA  18036
1-800-523-9466
www.lutron.com

Dostoyevsky’s breakthrough?

Dostoevskij_1863Notes from the Underground

 

(2/5)

Pros: ?

Cons: style, content, etc.

My Russian-born, Russian-literature-loving violin teacher, Odelia Erdos, first introduced me to the standard Russian literature question: “Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy?” As a high school student I had not yet read Turgenev, but was already able to answer: “No! Gogol!”

I recently was disappointed reading a new translation of Dead Souls, and prompted by the movie adaptation with Jesse Eisenberg of Dostoyevsky’s novella “The Double,” read it, and reluctantly went on to (re?)read “Notes from Underground.” I would now answer the “eternal question”: “No, Turgenev!” and still prefer the fictions of Nikolia Gogol (1809-52) (and the stories of Alexander Pushkin [1799-1837] and A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov [1814-41]) to the fictions of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81), knowing that many lovers of literatures, including Mrs. Erdos admired Dostoyevsky very much. (Her answer was “Dostoyevsky” over Tolstoy. She read them in Russian, whereas then I had to read both in translations by Constance Gannett who made them sound the same, that is, in her style (as Joseph Brodsky complained, “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”*). I now have the more accurate 2009 Penguin Classic translation by Ronald Wilk with an illuminating exposition of Dostoyevsky’s philosophy by Robert Louis Jackson.)

I feel that I am in danger of drowning in some of the multipage paragraphs of tortured musings of “Notes from Underground” as in the earlier (1846, pre-Siberia) “The Double”. If only I could read them as satire rather than self-lacerating dread! (as I am able to do in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, influenced though Ellison surely was by “Notes from Underground”)

“Notes from Underground” was published in 1862 in two installments in Dostoyevsky’s magazine Epokha (Epoch). Though both are in the voice of a painfully socially inept retired (at age 40) and unnamed minor civil servant in St. Petersburg, I don’t see the first part as having a narrative, even sort of alternatingly rambling and strangled account of the second part. Rather, it is an attack on rationalist utilitarian philosophy, in particular What Is to Be Done? by Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, an 1863 response to Turgenev’s 1862 novel Fathers and Sons. Part One derides utopian visions (Chernyshevsky ‘s Crystal Palace, an example that will return at the end of Part Two).

Part 2: “Apropos of the Wet Snow” recalls humiliations: first an officer who moved the narrator out of his way without acknowledging him, a dinner party of some 30-something men who had been schoolmates (an event whose starting time has been changed without telling the narrator and moves on from where it moved onto before he arrives at the second venue) and a hysterical (very male hysteria) account of first interrogating then lecturing a young prostitute named Liza. The debacle of the party is very similar to the one into which the awkward low-level bureaucrat protagonist of “The Double” barged into and through.

Near the cessation (the novella cannot be said to have an ending) of the memoir, the narrator provides an auto-critique that I endorse:

“It seems that writing them [the notes from underground] in the first place was a mistake. At least I felt ashamed the whole time I was writing this tale. That means it is not literature, but corrective punishment… Telling a long story bout how I missed out on life in my corner through moral decay, through lack of human contact, through losing the habit of living and through my narcissistic, underground spite—God, that’s of no interest! A novel needs a hero but I’ve deliberately gathered together all the features of an anti-hero”… one less interesting to me than those of later writers like Camus and Sartre, all the more since the narrator then expands from “I” to “we.”

*In The Translator and the Text, Rachel May frames translations into English of Russian literature “less as a substitute for the original works than as a subset of English literature, with its own cultural, stylistic, and narrative traditions.”

(Photo of Dostoyevsky at the end of 1862, long in the public domain)

getTV: Sony’s Post-Columbian Renaissance

getTV Network

(4.5/5)

Pros: Free-TV – Broadcasting vintage Columbia films via digital sub-channel.  Columbia Pictures produced a quantity of quality entertainment in their glory days.

Cons: Repetitive showings.  Mid-scene commercial placement.  Columbia Pictures includes a few forgettable films in the schedule rotation.

The age of 21st century broadcasting has given birth to the digital sub-channel.  By government decree, your local station has scrapped its clunky analog signal for the sleeker, slimmer digital version – liberating sufficient bandwidth to allow for a spawn of surrogate channels to proliferate.

Can you getTV?

The 1989 acquisition of Columbia Pictures by Sony Electronics included a catalog of feature films and short subjects whose numbers are estimated to be in excess of 3,500.  On February 3rd, 2014, Sony entered the sub-digital fray with the introduction of getTV as the catalog’s catalyst.  Despite efforts to reveal any applied acronymic significance to the getTV name, it simply appears that factors such as memorability and brevity were paramount.

As of this posting, getTV network is available in nearly 80 markets, nationwide.

Cast & Crew

Despite its Poverty Row origins, superb directors and performers such as Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck promptly positioned Columbia as one of the industry’s premiere studios.  Though M-G-M had an unbeatable stable-of-stars, Columbia‘s slouch-proof rookie ranks featured the likes of William Holden, Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak.  Veteran refugees from RKO –  including Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Robert Mitchum – offer an additional degree of gravitas.

Content

While RKO Radio has its fine film noir catalog and Universal its horror, Columbia mogul Harry Cohn (1891-1958) favored no particular genre – resulting in a prolific cross-section of most.  Early horse-operas were the low-budget cash-cows that filled theater seats.  Sony now hopes that otherwise idle weekend viewers will once again partake of their white-hatted Durango Kid – and the often incongruous comic relief of singing cowboy Smiley Burnette – with its dedicated Saturday marathon of oaters.

Until recently, Thursday prime-time featured the films of one particular performer per month.  Most notable were the dozen-plus noir mysteries from the Boston Blackie series (1941-47), where Chester Morris plays the reformed jewel thief with tongue-in-cheek and a heart of gold.

RKO Radio did film noir proud, but so did Columbia.  Image:  Columbia Pictures
RKO Radio did film noir proud, but so did Columbia. Image: Columbia Pictures

Perhaps less notable was Bogie’s recent turn.  One of his early films – Love Affair (1932) – was produced at Columbia – and later his Santana production company used the studio as distributor – but his best years were spent at Warner Bros.  This notwithstanding, Columbia enables a memorable cinematic moment such as occurs in Dead Reckoning (1947), when Bogart and Lizabeth Scott (driving a now-priceless, hand-built Lincoln Continental with a deceased bartender in the trunk) are stopped by a motorcycle cop for running a red light – as they chain-smoke and vamp through some equally classic dialogue.

Layout

Resplendent in lapping waves of muted orange and silver, the getTV format is jazzy, upscale and unique.  This motif is repeated as the foundation of its excellent website, where comprehensive movie schedules, featured players and a list of participating markets can be accessed.

The Good

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die - A Columbia Classic.  (Image:  Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons)
Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die – A Columbia Classic. (Image: Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons)

Free-TV and the subsequent broadening of one’s options are most always an asset.  Though referred to in this household as the All Columbia All The Time channel, many of the more obscure films featured would be otherwise unavailable in any format.  I was sufficiently enamored with the Dino De Laurentiis spy spoof Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die (1966), that I checked its format availability at Amazon.com.  To my disappointment, only the theatrical lobby poster emerged as the result of my search.  If not for getTV and a trickle of electricity, I would be a substantially less entertained human than I currently am.

The Better

Considering their collective ages, the films broadcast on the getTV network are in excellent physical condition.  To our viewing pleasure, there’s no telling what obscure, bizarre or previously unknown cinematic nugget may appear.

“When Gidget goes Hawaiian, she goes all the way” – Title theme lyric from Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961).

Don't try this without Annette!  (Image:  Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons)
Don’t try this without Annette! (Image: Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons)

The surf was up in a major way at Columbia in the early sixties.  A gaggle of Gidgets (including Deborah Walley and Sandra Dee) lined-up to romance the ever-warbling Moondoggie (James Darren), while teen idols Tab Hunter, Fabian, Shelley Fabares and Barbara Eden gathered for the semi-classic Ride The Wild Surf (1964) – one of the better genre entries of the period.

The Irksome

Despite witnessing the occasional Screen Gem, we have all experienced one or two performers who underwhelm.  Couple this with a serious bout of repetitive airings and a second-helping of The Way We Were (1973) assumes all the digestibility of last night’s batter-fried squid.

Ride The Wild Surf - One of the best of its genre and a getTV standard.  Image:  Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons.
Ride The Wild Surf – One of the best of its genre and a getTV standard. Image: Columbia Pictures via Wikimedia Commons.

We current attendees of Columbia U are cool with the fact that Free-TV funding requires the requisite commercial load.  What isn’t cool is the random insertion of said pauses – frequently in the midst of a pivotal performance – while the less traumatic between-scene insertions have been the standard since 1948.  In an otherwise successful enterprise, the getTV professors of profit placement are currently in a state of flunk.

Comparatively Irk-Free

The aforementioned quirk-or-two aside, Sony has assembled a consistent, quality showcase for its acquired legacy catalog – and if you can’t stay awake long enough to catch a particular ending, the film in question is sure to run again and again before the month is through.

Check their website for local market availability.

The getTV logo is a trademark of Columbia Pictures Television Holdings, Inc.

www.get.tv

Pursuit – Karen Robards – decent premise, but flawed book

Pursuit by Karen Robards

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See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5)

Pros: reasonable premise that held promise

Cons: ridiculous romance angle

Starts out OK but quickly slides downhill.

I’m talking about Pursuit by Karen Robards.  This is the debut novel of the Jess Ford series.  It’s where we meet Jess and secret-service agent Mark.

When rookie lawyer Jess is given an assignment that includes meeting the First Lady, she’s thrilled.  This might just be the career-boost she’s been waiting for!  But things go terribly wrong that night.

Jess doesn’t remember too many details, but she remembers being in a car with the First Lady.  Now the car lays crumpled in a heap, and Jess is the only survivor.  While the American public is saddened by this terrible tragedy, Jess has a nagging suspicion that the crash was no accident.  Worse, anyone who might have a clue what happened that night is suddenly turning up dead.  Jess knows the only thing keeping her alive right now is her faulty memory. But if it should start coming back…

Well that’s where secret-service agent Mark comes in.  He’s trying to protect Jess from forces – known and unknown – who want to make sure the truth about that fateful night never comes out. But is Mark all he says he is?

The premise, itself, was fine.  I was definitely interested to find out what really happened that night. What was the First Lady doing just before the crash… And who benefits from her death?

But here’s the part of the story that annoys me.  Everyone who gets anywhere near Jess is turning up dead.  Clearly something huge is going on and Jess needs to be on alert.  So what does she do?  Jump into bed with the secret-service agent, of course.  Worse, declare 10 minutes later that she’s in love with him.  Yes, that’s right, the man she just met an hour ago is now her lover and “the love of her life”.

I get so tired of authors who think that every thriller requires a romance angle no matter how far-fetched its inclusion.  In this case, it was blatantly ridiculous for Jess to act as she did.  She wasn’t thinking straight, and it could have gotten her killed, not to mention causing harm and danger for others.

Once that happened, the book became tedious for me.  Jess fretting over how she looks, what she says, what he says, etc.  It was like reading a story from the point of view of a love-sick teenager.  And, I don’t mean to offend love-sick teenagers, but if I want to read a young adult novel, I’ll do so.  For me, I want my thrillers to thrill, and that’s it.

In the end, once we have all the pieces of the puzzle, the story was just OK for me.  It seemed to me that a lot of hassle ensued just because someone – somewhere – made some awfully dumb decisions.  The whole thing could have been avoided if common sense were just a bit more common.

So, no, I don’t recommend Pursuit.

Wicked Ways by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush

Wicked Ways by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush

 

pic1b

See it at Amazon 

(1/5)

Pros: pretty much nothing

Cons: pretty much everything

Bleh.  Just not a good book.  Not good at all.

I’m talking about Wicked Ways, part of the Wicked series by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush.  This is the first book in the series that I’ve read, so I really can’t comment on the series as a whole.  But this book was definitely not one I’d recommend.

Meet Elizabeth.  Adopted, so she’s never known her biological family.  But she’s always had weird feelings – an ability to see danger right before it actually happens.  And, lately, people she’s wished harm to have ended up dead.  Like the police officer with a bad attitude who gave her a ticket and was extra-nasty to boot.  And her husband.  And a few others.  People who’ve pissed her off to the point where she wishes them gone. Then, suddenly, they find themselves dead.

Meet Ravina.  Elizabeth’s biological cousin.  Has never met Elizabeth but has a “feeling” that Elizabeth might be in danger.  So she takes off on a trek to find her cousin and warn her.

There you have it – the plot – such as it is.  Not my favorite type of plot, but I would have been Ok with it, if the characters had been at all likeable or interesting.

But instead we have two leading ladies I could do without.  Elizabeth is a scared, whining, weak individual.  Does she really believe she can “wish” people dead?  I mean, c’mon — really, truly believe it?  She spends her time hanging out with “friends” who are obnoxious and pushy.  Even Elizabeth doesn’t seem to like them very much, but she hangs with them anyway.  Why?  Because Elizabeth can’t say “no”.  Ever.  This also explains why her daughter is a Brat.  With a capital B.

Then there’s Ravinia.  In her own way, just as annoying as Elizabeth.  But in her case, we’re told of her “less than traditional” upbringing, so at least we can understand why she’s a little “off”.

Add in some paranormal events, some horrid insight into the “bad guy’s” thoughts, a ridiculous and inappropriate romance angle and a “big reveal” at the end that makes very little sense, and you have a book that’s best left on the shelf.

Like I said, I can’t comment on the rest of the series, but Wicked Ways gets a major thumb down from me.

 

‘Skin Trade’ is a slave to tedium

Skin Trade

download

See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: A couple of decent action moments

Cons: Mostly a wash considering the talent involved

It used to be that one could expect to get their money’s worth when they saw a flick that boasts the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa, and Ron Perlman; for good measure there is even a cameo by Peter Weller. Sadly, all of these elements end up being a wash thanks to some uninspired fight choreography and an almost complete lack of urgency in the film’s pacing.

Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa play Nick and Tony, law enforcers from opposite sides of the world running parallel investigations against notorious human trafficker, Victor Dragovic (Ron Perlman– looking like lethargy itself), who eventually find themselves partnered up after a rocky Martial Arts Meet Cute.

A Martial Arts Meet Cute, you say? Allow me to explain.

After successfully arresting Dragovic, Nick’s is left for dead in an ambush that killed his family. He is conveniently given information about what the authorities intend to do next, and he follows them to Thailand  to mete out his own form of justice.

Nick’s FBI buddy, Reed (Michael Jai White) has been working with Dragovic and frames Nick for the murder of Tony’s partner in order to distract Tony. I assume this will make Reed’s sabotaging the case easier. Spoiler: it’s not. In spite of all this, Nick is so single minded in his focus that following him doesn’t hinder efforts to find Dragovic at all. In fact, once Nick gets to Thailand it’s all too easy for any and everyone to run into something or someone around every corner that is absolutely essential to moving the plot forward than dragging it out in a belabored fashion.

So eventually Nick and Tony meet in an old grain warehouse, Tony ready to duel to the death and Nick willing to show a little mercy to prove he isn’t the killer he’s been set-up to be. The fight has more close-ups and medium shots than I was expecting. It rarely works to display the grace of Jaa, but the fights do serve Lundgren better. The close-ups serve to underscore Lundgren’s intimidating size, making the fight seem all the more intense and claustrophobic.

But I’m really searching hard to find positives. The direction doesn’t do the actors any justice. Violence is not an art that is lost on Lundgren, Jaa, or White and yet no one really takes advantage of the assembled talent. The shootouts are rote and I can’t help but feel like the action is mostly designed to obscure the fact that the talent is getting old. To be perfectly honest, the few elbows to the head, cartwheel kicks, broken limbs, throat stabbings, and other acts of violence that aren’t as well displayed as they could be aren’t going to do much to disabuse anyone of that notion.

In the end, I’m much more comfortable taking an alternate, more cynical approach. That the makers didn’t have much more to their vision beyond “let’s get a,b, and c together for a movie and see if the damn thing makes itself.” I was more than ready to enjoy this film and what I got stuck with was a movie that seemed thoroughly disinterested in carving an identity for itself out of the gifts it was given.

Betrayal In Death by J.D. Robb – starts out slow but steps it up

Betrayal In Death by J.D. Robb

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: ended up being an exciting story

Cons: a bit slow to get started

Betrayal In Death is the 12th book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series.  Set in the 2050’s, this series follows Lieutenant Eve Dallas in the NY Police Department.  In each book, she’s dragged into a case – usually a homicide or two – and with the help of her co-workers, friends, and ever-present husband Roarke, solves the cases, and saves the day.

In this case, the first victim is a chambermaid in a swanky hotel.  It’s weird – who would possibly want to hurt a young lady who doesn’t seem to have any backstory that would attract a killer.  As for the hotel where she works… Who’s the owner?  Roarke, of course.  After all, he’s a gazillionaire who owns half the real estate in the world, it seems.

Victim number two is another employee of Roarke’s.  Ah, a connection, at last.  Still, why would someone be targeting Roarke’s employees?  Worse, could he be the actual target?

Eve has her hands full, solving the cases, trying to keep Roarke safe, and getting in the middle of a squabble or two amongst her co-workers.

I enjoy this series, for the most part.  Eve is fascinating character.  Smart, amazing at her job, and funny (in her own cranky way).  The cast of surrounding characters rounds out the balance of humor and compassion.  I enjoy keeping up with their shenanigans, as their stories unfold.  In this book, for instance, we get a bit of an update on Trina, a woman who figures prominently in some of the other books.

As for the various cases, some are certainly better than others.  I admit that the case in this book started out a bit slow.  It seemed to take forever to figure out the connection among the victims in order to get a clue about who the bad guy is, and how to capture him.

But once it got going… I’d say the final third of the book… things really kicked up a notch.  Suddenly the story got exciting, and I even enjoyed a twist or two (and trust me, I’m not easy to surprise!)

I also love the way the Robb makes sure that the titles of the books are not wasted.  I.e., in this case, “Betrayal”.  Betrayal is a theme that runs rampant throughout the story.  In more ways than one, and in a way that isn’t directly black or white, but leaves a trail of grays for readers to consider.

Overall, a terrific book in the In Death series.  Give Betrayal In Death a read.

 

Other books in the In Death series

Born In Death
Betrayal In Death
Celebrity In Death
Ceremony In Death
Concealed In Death
Divided In Death  
Glory In Death
Haunted In Death
Indulgence In Death
Innocent In Death
Interlude In Death
Judgment In Death
Midnight In Death
Missing In Death
Naked In Death
Origin In Death
Rapture In Death
Reunion In Death
Salvation In Death
Strangers In Death
Treachery In Death
Vengeance In Death

Mood Over Matter in the Worthwhile but Messy LOST RIVER

LOST RIVER

image-placeholder Find it on Amazon 

(3.5/5) decent

Pros: Commanding visuals and overall weirdness make it fascinating for those with adventurous tastes Cons: Lacks a strong story and narrative; absolutely NOTHING like the typical Gosling movie

Featured prominently at 2015’s South by Southwest Film Festival after having premiered at Cannes in 2014, Lost River, Ryan Gosling’s debut effort as a director, has polarized audiences ever since, and it’s not difficult to see why. A vaguely futuristic (is this what America is going to be like in a few years???) and very dark tale about a single mother and her two sons who live in squalor in a section of America that’s clearly been passed over during any supposed economic recovery, Gosling’s film is about as far removed from the sort he typically acts in as can be imagined, reminding me of something Harmony Korine might make. That alone should tell you something about what to expect here: this would have positively no appeal to the rom-com crowd – or those who enjoy blockbuster films in general for that matter. iInstead, Lost River might just be the grimy and unsettling piece that fans of David Lynch’s peculiar brand of cinema have been looking for, an artistically satisfying, visually striking piece that’s as perplexing as it is clumsy. lost-river-01 Living in a dilapidated, graffiti-covered section of America (the film was made in Detroit – and it shows), single mother Billy is about to lose the rundown house she lives in with her two boys due to foreclosure. A particularly seedy banker gives her a potential way out however, offering her a job at a weirdo nightclub that he operates which caters to, well, specific tastes. Meanwhile, her teenage son named Bones is having troubles of his own – a vicious crimelord named Bully has put a stop to his copper-stripping operation, leaving him to fend for himself in an effort to make a few bucks. While talking to a female neighbor named Rat, Bones learns that a nearby reservoir hides the remnants of a town which was flooded during its construction, and eventually comes to believe that the flooded town may hold a sort of mystical power that can provide his family with the means they need to escape their troubling surroundings before it’s too late.

To be completely honest, Gosling’s story is very difficult to come to grips with while watching the film and his script is easily the worst element of the picture. Confused and plain messy, it seems to be a cut and paste collection of scenes more than a consistent or remotely coherent narrative, and the fact that so much of what is seen in Lost River was tackled in works by the likes of Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn, and others winds up being problematic – viewers well-versed in the dark side of cinema would have seen much of what’s here before. Hell, I could make an argument that Gosling’s picture very much resembles Refn’s Fear X, an intriguing little film which was universally misunderstood by critics and audiences to the point that it nearly ended the director’s career, or even Andrei Tarkovsky’s divisive Stalker. Like those pictures, Lost River is much more concerned with establishing a quietly creepy atmosphere than with giving the audience much in the way of answers or even a logical story arc. This ultimately means that many viewers will simply be baffled by this film – it’s just not at all designed for viewers with mainstream tastes. lost-river-official-stills-billy-04 Those willing to allow themselves to fall under the spell cast by the film are likely to enjoy Gosling’s effort quite a bit however. Photographed extraordinarily well by frequent Gasper Noé collaborator Benoît Debie, the film is plain gorgeous to look at, chock full of astounding and memorable visuals which include many repeated motifs which foreshadow events that happen later. Odd camera angles and vantage points are utilized extensively, a fact which only accentuates disorienting nature of the picture and heightens its level of eerieness. Since a large portion of this film takes place in underlit or flat-out dark environments, instances of vivid color are all the more arresting and eye-catching. Considering the way in which many of today’s directors relish shots of gore and bloodshed, I appreciated the fact that, although there are some scenes of intense violence, Gosling chooses to show the effects of the violence more than the act itself  – which actually makes these moments more shocking since a viewer’s imagination fills in the gaps. maxresdefault I thought the acting here was generally decent. Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks seems a bit overwhelmed playing Billy, appearing to be as confused in her portrayal as some viewers are likely to be with the film. Some of this is intentional and works in context, but I’m not entirely convinced that Hendricks knew where to go with the character at certain points – more the fault of the muddled script and unsure director than hers. Iain De Caestecker, playing her son Bones, is frankly given more to work with in the script and fares better in his performance. While Billy is left to go about her business, the film mainly focuses its attention on how Bones views and is affected by what’s going on around him and DeCaestecker is up to the task of relating the character’s fragile emotional state. Saoirse Ronan (playing Rat) provides about the only genuinely bright character in the piece, and though she comes across as a fairy-like being who guides Bones toward his destiny, it’s refreshing that the film didn’t go overboard with the inevitable romance between the two. As the villains, we have Matt Smith playing Bully and Ben Mendelsohn as the slimy and nefarious banker named Dave who makes the viewer’s skin crawl whenever he’s onscreen. Finally, former scream queen Barbara Steele appears as Rat’s comatose grandmother – it’s cool to see her here, but she’s wasted in a very minimal, thankless role. cdn.indiewire.com Boasting a wonderful, John Carpenter-like soundtrack from electronic producer Johnny Jewel, Lost River clearly positions Gosling as a director of note and is a more-than respectable first effort. The film has an almost uncomfortable air of desperation throughout, and is quite harrowing to watch at times. Still, it’s problematic in many respects particularly with regard to the script, indicative of a director’s ambition exceeding his actual ability at an early point in his career. Idiosyncratic and just plain weird, this is a ready-made cult film that will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in many viewers’ mouths – and may be downright shocking to those accustomed to seeing Gosling involved in more wholesome, mainstream entertainment. Personally, I liked this film but it seems tailor-made to suit my (admittedly outlandish) tastes. Though I’d certainly recommend Lost River to adventurous viewers looking for something unusual, those in the market for a sure-handed, purposeful piece may as well avoid it like the plague. lost-river-film-ryan-gosling blood & guts 6/10 : Though not nearly as graphic as some films out there, the violence in this film is rather disturbing and the film as a whole is very unsettling. smack talk 7/10 : Generally pointless use of harsh four-letter profanity: almost seems like a case of having the language thrown in to secure an R-rating right off the bat. fap factor 4/10 : What it lacks in actual nudity or onscreen sex, the film tries to make up for in sleazy implications. whack attack 8/10 : A genuinely strange movie (and ready-made cult film) that would be an acquired taste – at best – for many. That said, I dug it. GI JOE “Everybody’s looking for a better life somewhere…maybe you will find some, someday…”

Claymation Gone Horribly Wrong: BARBIE GETS SAD TOO

BARBIE GETS SAD TOO

a.k.a. Barbie también puede estar triste

See it at IMDB 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: Outrageous and crude

Cons: In the end, it’s fairly pointless

Ever wonder what happens behind closed doors in the Barbie universe? Argentinian filmmaker Albertina Carri (yes, a female) lets the viewer behind that curtain in her Spanish-language 2002 short Barbie También Puede Estar Triste, most commonly known under the English-language title of Barbie Gets Sad Too. The film plays out as a sort of pornographic soap opera revolving around the characters of Barbie and Ken, the main two dolls in the well-known toy line.

43__FK_Barbie_gets_sad_too.indd

While usually thought of as the perfect couple, Carri’s script places this pair into a sort of sex-obsessed melodrama in which hotshot businessman Ken fools around with every female in sight while his wife Barbie sits at home moping. After reaching her breaking point when she learns of Ken’s most recent tryst with a floozy named Arbie (virtually all the characters in the film are named after some variation of “Barbie” or “Ken”), Barbie seeks solace in the arms of the maid Teresa, who turns out to have some interesting romantic habits of her own since she shares her flat with a transsexual named Trabie and her bisexual butcher of a husband named Keno. In a world gone completely horny, will anything work out for the relatively “normal” Barbie?

Produced using stop-motion techniques and featuring manipulated, anatomically-correct figures topped with heads pulled off of Barbie dolls, Barbie Gets Sad Too is probably among the most crude and outrageous animated productions ever made – Ralph Bakshi’s controversial and frequently X-rated features from the ‘70s don’t got nothing on this short. Carri’s film packs in more jaw-dropping sex scenes than most any film imaginable this side of a Japanese pink film and is exceedingly graphic – and downright tasteless – to boot, this despite the fact that the action revolves around jerky manipulation of clay effigies. When a viewer witnesses a three-way between two males and a transsexual playing out to laid-back island music or a scene in which Ken violently assaults his girlfriend with a rubber phallus, one can only stare at the screen in disbelief. The short actually reminds me a bit of the very politically-incorrect pornography from the late ‘70s, and the prevalence of close up “action shots” makes the comparison with actual pornography all but inevitable.

Barbie-Gets-Sad-Too

In terms of the technique on display here, Barbie Gets Sad Too is down and dirty filmmaking at its most amateurish. While the actual manipulation of the dolls is handled in clever manner and the foul-mouthed voice acting is arguably the most humorous element of the production, the stop-motion animation overall seems to have been photographed at a relatively slow speed, leading to a very jerky sense of flow. Additionally, though the dolls themselves are decent in terms of their construction and the miniaturized “interiors” seen during the film are genuinely nifty, matte drawings used to depict the outside world are undeniably lousy, adding a level of sloppiness to the piece that gradually becomes bothersome.


If you have to ask, you’ll never know…

The biggest problem for me, however, was the fact that several amusing moments couldn’t disguise the fact that there didn’t seem to be much of a point to the short. It’s worth noting that Barbie Gets Sad Too is actually writer/director Carri’s second adult-oriented animated doll short, so maybe it would work better in the context of the first part, which I haven’t seen. Regardless, as would be expected from an individual episode of a soap opera, the story is never truly resolved. Even if no one is likely to get bored during the film’s scant 22-minute runtime, the program as a whole ultimately lacks substance, seeming to be a piece that’s outrageous just for the sake of being outrageous.

In the end, I’d call this a moderately enjoyable oddity that’s probably worth a look for the viewer out there who’s seen it all. Carri’s film is also something that seems to have been a bit ahead of its time – this is exactly the sort of thing that I could see becoming a viral hit in today’s internet-dominated cultural landscape, particularly among those who get a kick out of those “worst of the worst” type videos of the “Two Girls, One Cup” variety. Barbie Gets Sad Too is no masterpiece, but there’s undoubtedly a crowd out there who would find it of interest.

barbie_001
It’ll never be the same again…

disc deets
Essentially unreleased, this underground film can be viewed in its entirety on the internet.

blood & guts
5/10 : Despite the fact that it deals with clay figures, this is definitively adult in terms of its themes and imagery.

smack talk
8/10 : Plenty of spicy language, including strong crude dialogue and profanity.

fap factor wha
10/10 : Intense, very graphic sexual situations though I can’t see much of anyone getting turned on by this.

whack attack what?
10/10 : It’s no wonder that Mattel tried to have this film banned due to the “damage” it could wreak on their lineup of popular toys.

GI JOE
“Can’t you see that you’re sick?”

Click here to watch the film:  WARNING –

EXTREMELY NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK OR CHILDREN!

A COLLECTIVE OF TOP REVIEWERS