Not worth buying this ‘House’...but maybe renting someday

(Updated on Sept. 28)

- By Teddy Durgin -


“The House With a Clock in Its Walls” may have been a great book by John Bellairs. But as a movie, it’s quite confused about what it wants to be. From my perspective, it tries to be three films in one -- a supernatural mystery, a serious drama about losing one’s family, and an outright horror film. Director Eli Roth just can’t bring them together to form a cohesive whole.

There are definitely things I admired about this movie. I liked that it didn’t update the story from 1955 to the modern day. Because it takes place in the ‘50s where the local cinema plays a cheesy creature feature and boys and girls thrill to the new invention of TV and their serialized sci-fi and adventure shows, there is a certain gee-whiz element and belief in magic untainted by 21st century cynicism that comes across in its best passages.

I also liked that the film took its time to set its table. It has some faith in its audience to not want to get to the spectacle and pyrotechnics right away and instead introduces three intriguing characters — Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), a newly orphaned 10-year-old boy; Jonathan (Jack Black), Lewis’ oddball uncle who has been charged with taking of the kid after his parents died in a car accident; and Mrs Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), Jonathan’s mysterious neighbor.

Most of the action takes place in the titular manor that Jonathan maintains — a house that is full of clocks, features a large stained glass window that changes images with the twists of the plot, has a chair that seems to be the family pet, and a large cabinet that Jonathan tells Lewis to never open. And, yes, the house seems to have a certain consciousness with weird groans at night. Could the ticking clock in the walls possibly be a beating heart? A trapped soul? Or something more ... sinister?

Lewis is our through line into the story. We see things unfold through his eyes. Through him and with him, we discover that Jonathan is an actual warlock and Mrs. Zimmerman is an actual witch. Fortunately, they’re really just a couple of bickering friends who seem to be protecting the secrets of the house in order to safeguard their small Michigan town and possibly the world.

This is all good stuff ... eh, to a point. The problem is indeed balance. For me, the most interesting element was the character dynamics. Lewis lost his mom and dad, and Mrs. Zimmerman somehow lost her husband and daughter. We learn a lot about Lewis and his trauma, but very little about Zimmerman’s tragic past. The key relationship in the film really should have been the two of them instead of Lewis and his uncle. In fact, the film only half-heartedly brings them together as kindred spirits late and keeps Blanchett on the sidelines for a key part of the climax.

Similarly, the relationship between Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman remains vague. Black and Blanchett don’t have enough chemistry for the film to convincingly put them together as romantic interests, even though that’s what’s hinted at late. It doesn’t even really go into specifics about how these two wound up living next door to each other or how deep or long their friendship goes back.

The mystery of the house and the film’s central villain (played by Kyle MacLachlan) works well. But Roth goes a bit too intense with the scary movie/horror elements here. Best known for his garish, often sickening, and extreme horror flicks like “Hostel” and “The Green Inferno,” Roth is just not the guy to be goosing your kids with jump scares, re-animated corpses. and apocalyptic doomsday scenarios. His action climax is pretty relentless, and at least a couple of young overwhelmed kids had to be led out by their parents at the screening I attended.

A mixed review, for sure. For a movie with a clock at its center, it sure did have a lot of people around me checking the times on their cell phones. That’s always fun for the old corneas. But, hey, at least it kept my eyes from getting sleepy.

‘The Nun’ is one twisted sister

(Updated on Sept. 28)

- By Teddy Durgin -


So, I finally got around to seeing the latest horror film with a shrieking, hysterical ghoul at the center Hellbent on scaring the heck out of the audience and warning of the end of days. But enough about “Fahrenheit 11/9.” What I really want to review is “The Nun,” the latest addition to “The Conjuring” horror universe that’s been making piles of cash the last couple of weeks!

So far, there have been five films in this series that, interestingly, didn’t start out by design as a series. But the overarching storyline has been getting deeper and creepier with each passing installment. “The Nun,” which chronologically takes place before the other four films, is the least of these films. It’s good for some really terrific jump scares and some very heavy Gothic dread throughout. You’re never quite comfortable watching it. But I was hoping for more connectivity with the other films. Except for a prologue and an epilogue that ties in with the first “Conjuring,” this is pretty much a “skulk around the dark in a haunted house for 90 minutes” kind of flick.

It’s good and watchable while it lasts. But it doesn’t last very long, and it doesn’t linger very long afterwards either. Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga star as Father Burke and Sister Irene, respectively, who are dispatched to a remote Romanian convent in the early 1950s after a nun hangs herself there. Father Burke, we learn, is the man the Catholic Church summons when there’s something strange in the neighborhood ... something weird ... and it don’t look good.

It soon becomes clear that their mission is not to investigate the possibility of an ancient evil, it’s to assess whether an ancient evil that had been imprisoned there has actually escaped. This leads to many, many scenes where the two leads and the audience wishes they had packed a LOT more flashlights. Seriously, Burke and Irene conduct nearly their entire investigation via candlelight at night. And the titular evil “Nun” flat-out loves, loves, LOVES blowing out those candles just before she appears.

She also loves just going around a corner of the shadowy, cloistered abbey a second or two before the priest and/or nun see her. So, she’s always drawing them deeper and deeper in. It’s effective for a while, but then becomes repetitive. Fortunately, I really like Bichir and Farmiga as actors. The former reminds me of Gabriel Byrne during his mid-1990s heyday, while Farmiga looks and speaks so much like her older sister (and original “Conjuring” star) Vera Farmiga, it’s the most eerie thing in the flick.

Ooooh, and I liked Jonas Bloquet as Frenchie, a hunky delivery man who discovers the dead nun and transports Father Burke and Sister Irene to the abbey. He’s the one dude in the film that serves as the surrogate audience member. And I love that one of his first reactions upon returning to the local village after getting the you-know-what scared out of him is to ... arm himself to the teeth before going back!

“The Nun” is watchable, but disposable. But if you are a “Conjuring” completionist as I am, you gotta see it!

Teddy's Fall Movie Preview

(Updated on Sept. 13, 2018)

- By Teddy Durgin -


I’ve seen a bunch of good and really good flicks this year. But not a lot of truly great ones. I’m hoping some of the films below will qualify as exceptional. These are the 10 that I am most looking forward to between now and Christmas/New Year’s (in order of release dates, which are always subject to change):

1) “The Old Man & the Gun” -- By all accounts, this will be Robert Redford’s last film in which he appears as an actor. What a remarkable run! But you wanna know something more remarkable? He’s never won a Best Actor Oscar. In fact, he’s only been nominated once! Here’s hoping this comedy-drama about a legendary bank robber nearing the end of his life gets the former Hollywood Golden Boy his golden statue. (Sept. 28)

2) “A Star Is Born” -- All eyes and ears are on Lady Gaga as the lead in this remake of the ‘70s-era Barbra Streisand rock musical (which was a remake of the 1950s-era Judy Garland musical that itself was a remake of the 1937 original). But for my money, I’m looking forward to seeing what Bradley Cooper does with the Kris Kristofferson hair and beard … er, role. (Oct. 5)

3) “First Man” -- It’s just stupid that director Damien Chazelle didn’t include Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon. It would have taken all of three or four seconds of screen time. It’s just created controversy that never needed to be there, it’s hung Ryan Gosling out to dry in interviews, and it mars what I’m hearing is an otherwise exceptional dramatization of the historic moon landing. (Oct. 12)

4) “Bohemian Rhapsody” -- I really, REALLY hope this film is as good as it looks as I’m a big Queen fan and the group’s story -- and Freddie Mercury’s story -- has been a movie waiting to happen. (Nov. 2)

5) “The Front Runner” -- If I was ranking these 10 films in order of what I want to see the most, this would be my ... er ... “Front Runner.” Hugh Jackman stars as Gary Hart, who was a candidate for President in 1988 when his campaign got derailed by his marital infidelity. Before that, those running for office could have their way with secretaries, interns, Hollywood starlets, or whoever and the press would simply ask, “So, Senator ... did you get a good night’s sleep last night?” (Nov. 7)

6) “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” -- This is the second prequel to all the seven “Harry Potter” sequels. Right now, it’s being sold on the star power of Johnny Depp in the title role and Jude Law as a young Dumbledore. I just want more of those wonderful beasties. (Nov. 16)

7) “Creed 2” -- I love that this new series of films set in the Rocky Balboa universe is taking “Rocky IV” SO seriously! When I was 15, that movie was THE most hard-core dramatic film I’d seen with the whole U.S. vs. Russia theme, Apollo Creed getting killed in the ring, Rocky’s vowing Siberian Christmas revenge. And now 33 years later, the son of Creed gets to fight the son of Drago?! Oh, if only Survivor was still making music! (Nov. 21)

8) “Ralph Breaks the Internet” -- I agree with the characters in the trailer. This sequel should have been called “Ralph WRECKS the Internet!” (Nov. 21)

9) “Mary Poppins Returns” -- I hope today’s young ‘uns know who Mary Poppins is, that she was once on the big screen, and now she’s indeed returning. I mean, 21st century kids know Batman when he returns. They know Superman when he returns. And they certainly know whenever a Jedi returns. But Mary Poppins? Fingers crossed that the box office returns will be good. (Dec. 19)

10) “Welcome to Marwen” -- What do you get when you cross the heady kookiness of “Being John Malkovich” with the post-traumatic stress dramatizations of “Born on the Fourth of July” and “The Deer Hunter” and throw in some ... wooden dolls? This movie! (Dec. 21)

AND 10 MORE THAT COULD BE SPECIAL: “Venom” (Oct. 5); “The Oath” (Oct. 12); “Halloween 2018” (Oct. 19); “The Hate U Give” (Oct. 19); “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Nov. 2); “Green Book” (Nov. 21); “Mary, Queen of Scots (Dec. 7); “Aquaman” (Dec. 19); “Holmes and Watson” (Dec. 21); and, last, “On the Basis of Sex” (Dec. 26).

R.I.P. Burt Reynolds

(Updated on Sept. 13, 2018)

- By Teddy Durgin -


The world lost Burt Reynolds on Thursday, Sept. 6 ... and so did my family. In all of my years of writing a movie review column, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that the great star of “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Deliverance,” and “Boogie Nights” was my cousin. My great-grandfather’s sister, Fern, was Burt’s mother. My great-grandma used to baby-sit him when he was a tyke. Years later, when he became a Hollywood leading man, he escorted my grandma and mother to the Washington, D.C., premiere of “100 Rifles” in 1969 where they also got to meet Raquel Welch and Jim Brown.

Did I know the man? No. My grandma stayed in touch with his mom for a number of years. But Burt definitely went Hollywood. I only spoke to him once over the phone when he was in D.C. years ago to receive an award at the old Touchdown Club (he had been a running back for Florida State University in the 1950s before ripping up his knee). The conversation was brief. At first, he was on the defensive, thinking my grandma and I had only dialed him up to get free tickets to the event. We had no interest (OK, of course we did). When he realized we weren’t hitting him up for anything, he was pretty cool, even chatty. The highlight for me was personally getting to thank him for giving me some serious “playground credibility” when I was a kid growing up in the late 1970s.

You see, during that time, Burt was THE biggest box office star in the world. Hits earlier in the decade like “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard” paved the way for the huge action-comedy blockbuster “Smokey and the Bandit” and such subsequent money-makers as “Hooper” and “The Cannonball Run.” He was a sex symbol of the highest order, with his chiseled features, legendary mustache, and manly chest hair. When a “Gone With the Wind” sequel looked to be in the works in the early ‘80s, he was BY FAR the choice to play Rhett Butler in a public poll at the time (Timothy Dalton would ultimately play the part in the 1994 mini-series). And who could forget the 1972 spread in Cosmopolitan, in which he appear nearly nude, that shot his star into stratosphere (and prompted a mortified Fern to ban him from the family home for a time)

Burt, his personal life, and his career definitely had its share of stop-and-start moments. He married twice (to Judy Carne and Loni Anderson), and both did not end well. He dated Dinah Shore in the early to mid-1970s, who was 20 years his senior, before falling for “Smokey and the Bandit” co-star Sally Field hard, who never said “Yes” to any of his reported multiple proposals.

On the movie side, he turned down three huge, HUGE roles. The first was Han Solo in the original “Star Wars” (thank God, he did). The second was Jack Nicholson’s Oscar-winning turn as the astronaut-next-door in “Terms of Endearment.” And the third was John McClane in the original “Die Hard.” He also turned down “Boogie Nights” a reported seven times before agreeing to play pornography director Jack Horner, which garnered him his only Oscar nomination despite clashing with the director and firing his agent over what he thought was going to be a humiliating disaster.

Burt also starred in his share of stinkers. But he always came back. After a string of especially terrible films in the 1980s, he nabbed one of his best roles as the lead on “Evening Shade.” The CBS sitcom was a ratings hit and a critical favorite, and Burt won an Emmy.

Sure, I wanted to meet him in person. In the early 2000s when I was doing New York and L.A. press junkets every month for various entertainment publications, I had hoped to snag an interview with him. But his films during that time were ... eh ... spotty at best. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been some brown-nosing relative, that we would have hit it off, and maybe kept in touch over the phone from time to time. And, of course, I would have hoped he left me the Trans Am in the will. But it’s truly been an honor to be of the same blood as Burt Reynolds and to be in his distant orbit for all these years.

10-4, cousin, you are East Bound and Down...

'Operation Finale' puts a period on one of the exclamation points of history

'Operation Finale' puts a period on one of the exclamation points of history
(Updated 9/3/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


This December, Universal Studios will be re-releasing "Schindler's List" in theaters to commemorate that Oscar-winning film's 25th anniversary. In the movie, the great Ben Kingsley played Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who worked for German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and helped him in his rescue activities during the Holocaust and World War II. It was a quiet and beautiful performance in which Kingsley was the calm, controlled conscience of the film and, ultimately, of Schindler himself as he sparred with the Nazis day in and day out and ended up saving hundreds of Jewish lives.

It is now indeed a quarter-century later and Kingsley has since proven his range as one of the cinema's finest actors in such subsequent films as "Sexy Beast," "House of Sand and Fog," "Shutter Island," "Hugo" and "The Walk." And now, how is this for range? In the new historical thriller, "Operation Finale," he plays a ... Nazi! And not just any Nazi, but Adolf Eichmann, who was tasked with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during WWII.

Eichmann was one of the Nazis who escaped and had to be hunted down in subsequent years to answer for his atrocities. The film tells the story of that hunt under the direction of Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), who travels to Argentina in 1960 and finds his target. The movie is a bit oddly paced. I am not spoiling anything by giving away the fact that Malkin and his colleagues do capture Eichmann. That happens sooner in the picture than I thought it would. The meat of the movie, and where "Operation Finale" is at its best, is in a whole middle section that delivers a verbal sparring match between Malkin and Eichmann with both lead actors up to the challenge. Matthew Orton's screenplay really jumps to life in these scenes, and you can tell it's where he and director Chris Weitz (and Isaac and Kingsley) are most engaged.

And while it's good to get a film in 21st-century theaters to remind today's shoot-first-aim-later partisans and pundits what real Nazis really were and are, unfortunately, the thriller aspects of the flick come off as slack and perfunctory and bring the film down. Hey, I wasn't looking for a Jason Statham action flick. But if you look at flicks like "Munich" and "Argo," there are ways to ratchet up tension in based-on-real-life thrillers of this type that will keep you engaged throughout. Weitz, whose credits include "American Pie" and one of the "Twilight" flicks, just isn't up to the task in delivering a complete film here (even though his intentions are completely noble throughout).

But when "Operation Finale" is good, it's really good. The back-and-forth middle stretch that I love here takes place during a 10-day flight delay in which Malkin must coerce or persuade Eichmann to sign off on his willingness to be transported to Israel to face what he regards as a show trial. The tension between the two men crackles, like old-school "Homicide: Life on the Street" whenever Andre Braugher or Clark Johnson or Ned Beatty would get a suspect in "The Box" and interrogate him/her for a suspected murder. In this way, "Operation Finale" might have worked best as a stage play. Maybe someday it will...

"Operation Finale" is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language. read more

Teddy's Summer Movie 2018 Recap

(Updated 9/3/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


OK, some of you may read this summer movie recap of mine and think it's incomplete because I didn't include "Avengers: Infinity War" for consideration in any of the below categories. The flick came out in late April. I'm sorry. That's NOT the summer. I was still dealing with spring pollen allergies when I saw that flick. My daughter was like, "Awww, look at Dad. He's crying because Spider-Man just died." And I was like, "Uh, I'm cryin' because MY Spidey senses are on fire with all of this oak pollen!"

At any rate, they say that all good things come in threes. They also say celebrity deaths come in threes. And whoever had John McCain, Aretha Franklin and Neil Simon in the pool ... wow, you hit the trifecta this past week! Alright, enough small talk. Here's one last look back at the 2018 summer movie season that was (in threes):

Three best movies of the summer: 1) "The Incredibles 2;" 2) "Mission: Impossible - Fallout;" and 3) "Crazy Rich Asians."

Three favorite movies of the summer: 1) "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again;" 2) "Solo: A Star Wars Story;" and 3) "Deadpool 2."

Three most disappointing movies of the summer: 1) "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom;" 2) "Oceans Eight;" and 3) "The Equalizer 2."

Three movies more people should have seen: 1) "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies;" 2) "Disney's Christopher Robin;" and 3) "Won't You Be My Neighbor."

Three movies nobody should have seen: 1) "Slender Man;" 2) "Action Point;" and 3) "SuperFly."

Three movies I wanted to see but didn't: 1) Eighth Grade; 2) "BlacKkKlansman;" and 3) "Tag."

Three favorite performances (male): 1) Donald Glover in "Solo: A Star Wars Story; 2) Ryan Reynolds in "Deadpool 2;" and 3) Henry Golding in "Crazy Rich Asians."

Three favorite performances (female): 1) Lily James, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again;" 2) Zazie Beetz in "Deadpool 2;" and 3) Awkwafina in "Crazy Rich Asians."

Three favorite scenes: 1) The "Waterloo" song-and-dance number in the French restaurant in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again;" 2) Baby Jack-Jack Vs. the Raccoon in "The Incredibles 2;" 3) Han speaking Wookiee in "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Three best lines: 1) "I'm your father. Your momma didn't tell you?" - Denzel's Robert McCall to a drug dealer asking "Who the [bleep] are you?!" in "The Equalizer 2;" 2) "With this collar on, my superpower is just unbridled cancer. Give me a bow and arrow and I'm basically Hawkeye" - Wade Wilson in "Deadpool 2;" and 3) "You put a dime in him, you got to let the whole song play out" - T.I.'s Dave talking about Michael Pena's rambling Luis after being given truth serum in "Ant-Man and the Wasp."

Three coolest cameos: 1) Brad Pitt in "Deadpool 2;" 2) Darth Maul in "Solo: A Star Wars Story;" and 3) original ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again."

Three more cool cameos: 1) Shaobo Qin in "Ocean's Eight;" 2) Stan Lee in "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies;" and 3) James McAvoy, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Kodi Smit-McPhee in "Deadpool 2."

And, finally, three movies I am most looking forward to next summer: 1) "Avengers 4;" 2) Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood;" and 3) "John Wick 2: Parabellum."

'The Happytime Murders' is no master of puppets

'The Happytime Murders' is no master of puppets
(Updated 8/27/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"The Happytime Murders" is a movie that could have worked and worked brilliantly if the people involved had just gotten a handle on their concept, their story, the story's tone and … well … a lot more. Yes, dear readers, it's that R-rated comedy you've probably seen commercials and trailers for, featuring Muppet-like puppets smoking, drinking, gambling, cursing, fornicating and (yes) murdering.

Now, I grew up with The Muppets. Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the gang. Fans of those beloved characters should know that they are NOT in this film. They're never referenced. Their legacy is safe over at The Walt Disney Co. and completely separate from this story, even though the actual puppets featured have the same physical characteristics of those that lived on Sesame Street, once solved a great caper themselves, took Manhattan and (of course) worked at the Muppet Theater.

"The Happytime Murders" is directed by Brian Henson, son of Muppets legend Jim Henson, and it's produced by a division of the family business known as "Henson Alternative." I understand the need to stretch creatively. Years ago, Jerry Zucker wanted to take a break from his and his brothers' parody gagfests like "Airplane!" and "Top Secret!" So, he made "Ghost." And it was wonderful. Wes Craven was known for years as the director of "Scream" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." But two-thirds of the way through his horror career, he decided to direct "Music of the Heart" about one teacher's struggle to teach the violin to inner-city youth. It starred Meryl Streep and it was legitimately touching. Sure, it would have been great to see Freddy Krueger just once stalk Streep in her sleep. "No more choices for YOU, Sophie!" "Kramer Vs. Krueger ... and you lose!" "The Devil wears..."

Ahem, I digress.

"The Happytime Murders" plays less like Henson and Co. stretching creatively and more like them trying to prove they can be every bit as crass, edgy and profane as people like Seth MacFarlane and Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The resulting film plays like an unearthed gag reel the various puppeteers might have spliced together working late nights over the years and then shown at parties - a gag reel featuring their puppets doing naughty things. "Hey, what would a Muppet orgy look like?" "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to take shotguns to the Muppets and blow their heads off?" And so forth.

"The Happytime Murders" indeed tells a "Roger Rabbit"-like story that's set in a world where humans co-exist with sentient puppets. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is a puppet that used to be a cop, but lost his badge when he accidentally shot an innocent bystander while trying to save his partner Connie's (Melissa McCarthy) life. He now works as a P.I. in the seedy part of Los Angeles and spends his days chain smoking and gulping down cheap whiskey.

His life changes when he becomes mixed up in a series of murders targeting the cast of a long-canceled sitcom that starred his former human girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) and a majority-puppet cast. He teams up with Connie, who has become bitter towards puppets over the years, to try and find the killer. Meanwhile, Phil also is working a blackmail case involving a nymphomaniac puppet named Sandra (Dorien Davies) that begins to tie in with the Happytime Murders.

Henson and Co. are all over the map tonally with this one. Phil narrates the film like he's some kind of foul-mouthed Humphrey Bogart circa 1940s film noir. But when he and Connie team up, the film shifts to an '80s-era, mismatched buddy cop flick. And themes like racial inequality and entertainment industry exploitation are touched on early, but quickly abandoned to devote more screen time to puppet raunch.

Now, I'll be completely honest here and acknowledge there are some very big laughs delivered throughout this film's merciful 90-minute running time. The Phil and Sandra sex scene is hilarious. And behind-the-scenes footage that plays over the end credits showing how the puppeteers filmed this scene is just as funny, right down to the puppeteers staying in character between takes.

But after a while, the novelty of "Muppets Gone Wild" wears off and you realize this would be a really bad movie if a cast of entirely human stars were acting out the same story. This is pretty empty entertainment, folks.

"The Happytime Murders" is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. read more

A 30-year look back at the comedies of 1988

(Updated 8/27/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


OK, dear readers, we REALLY need to laugh these days, don't ya think? And by that, I mean we need a string of good, sustained comedies on the big screen to counteract all of the negativity being vomited 24/7 out of the Internet, TV, radio and the corner store. Sweet Caviezel, I've never seen so many humor-deprived sourpusses!

What we need is a year like 1988. I'd thought about re-running a tribute I wrote 10 years ago to that late, great year in film because, first, everything released in theaters then is celebrating its 30th anniversary now, and second, it truly remains one of my favorite years ever. It was an innocent time for me personally. It was the year I turned 18, went to my senior prom, graduated high school and started college. It was also the year I first met Charlie Babbit, Roger Rabbit, John McClane, Prince Akeem and Chucky.

Looking back at the flicks of that year, you could almost argue that comedies could have darn-near made up the five Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards. Even the actual Best Picture winner, "Rain Man," is a very funny movie in long stretches. Sigh. Thirty years. Hard to believe. Here's a look back at the best big-screen laughfests of 1988 (in alphabetical order):

1) "Big" - Great flick. Tom Hanks, the former "Bosom Buddies" TV star, got his first Oscar nomination for it. And thus began what I remember was The Peter Scolari Watch. When would his former sitcom cast mate also break through, start getting the movie parts and reaping the awards season notice? Unfortunately, Scolari stayed … er … "Small."

2) "Biloxi Blues" - One of the most underrated films of the 1980s. This was Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical story of his time in the Army in the waning days of World War II. So many great scenes: Sgt. Toomey dressing down the troops, the soldiers' wager over what to do with one week left to live, Eugene and Rowena, Eugene's dance with Daisy at the USO, anytime "How High the Moon" plays in the film. I love this movie. Somewhere there's music, indeed.

3) "Bull Durham" - Kevin Costner lived out some serious baseball dreams in the late '80s. In 1988, he starred in this classic about a journeyman catcher ("I'm the player to be named later") assigned to a minor league team to tutor the franchise's hot young pitching prospect (Tim Robbins). In turn, the two men vie for the affections of Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy, a local woman who's made a career out of bedding the team's top prospects and making them better players. One year later, Costner would make what I consider to be the finest baseball film ever, "Field of Dreams."

4) "Coming to America" - Eddie Murphy's best movie. Yup, I said it! Better than "48 Hours." Better than "Trading Places." Better than "Beverly Hills Cop." Nothing else left to say except ... "Just let your SOUL GLOW!"

5) "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" - Quick "Star Wars" trivia: This is the movie where the galaxies converged and Yoda (Frank Oz) directed The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid, who played Caine's snooty butler). For real!

6) "A Fish Called Wanda" - Comedy rarely gets Academy Award notice, but Kevin Kline's demented, pro-American thief Otto was so sublime a comic creation, he just had to be honored with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Great dialogue ("We didn't lose Vietnam! It was a TIE!"), too. And let's throw some love to John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin. For my money, only the "Seinfeld" team have made for a better comedy quartet.

7) "Funny Farm" - Quite possibly my favorite comedy. I just love the story. Two Manhattanites move to the rural town of Redbud so Andy (Chevy Chase) can write the Great American Novel and his wife (Madolyn Smith) can live the quiet, country life. But everyone in the town is either insane, crooked or hates them. So to sell the house, Andy and his wife pay each of the residents $50 to act like the people in Norman Rockwell's idyllic Saturday Evening Post cover paintings. The climax is brilliant, and the early scenes with the movers are comedy gold.

8) "The Great Outdoors" - John Candy eating that 96-ounce steak was funny in '88. Today ... so sad.

9) "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" - It's impossible to watch now for the dated humor and the presence of Orenthal James Simpson in a major supporting role. But I still love the flick, especially the bit with Queen Elizabeth at the ballgame, hocking a loogie, and throwing out a sick curve ball for the first pitch.

10) "Working Girl" - If you ever get wistful for the World Trade Center, no film has a more loving look at the Manhattan skyline that was than this film's beautiful opening credits sequence. I always get a little choked up watching the Staten Island Ferry making its daily journey into Lower Manhattan while Carly Simon's Oscar-winning, hymn-like "Let the River Flow" plays over the soundtrack. Other than that, the film is darn funny, with great comic performances by Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford.

Ten more funny '88 faves (also in alphabetical order): "Beetlejuice," "Crossing Delancey," "Hairspray," "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," "Married to the Mob," "Midnight Run," "Scrooged," "She's Having a Baby," "Twins" and "Without a Clue."

And, ahem, 10 comedy misses from '88: "18 Again," "Arthur 2: On the Rocks," "Big Business," "Caddyshack 2, "Crocodile Dundee II," "Ernest Saves Christmas," "Johnny Be Good," "License to Drive," "My Stepmother is an Alien," "Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach."

'Crazy, Rich Asians' welcomes new faces to the American rom-com

'Crazy, Rich Asians' welcomes new faces to the American rom-com
(Updated 8/20/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


There's been a lot of talk recently that once Daniel Craig vacates the role of James Bond after the next 007 movie in November 2019, the producers and studio will go with their first non-white actor in the role. Idris Elba has been floated as the most likely choice given that he's British, has the physicality to play the part, and is quite charming on and off screen.

After seeing "Crazy Rich Asians," I have another name to throw in the ring: Henry Golding! Golding, who is of British-Malaysian descent, makes his film debut in this romantic comedy based on the best-selling novel. But he has been known for several years in Europe and Asia as a model and the host of BBC's "The Travel Show" and Discovery Channel Asia's "Surviving Borneo." Elba, currently 45, is the right age for a traditional casting of Bond. But if the Powers That Be are going to go non-traditional, why not consider the younger, 31-year-old Golding who is suave, masculine and delivers the goods here in one of the most impressive debut performances I've seen in some time.

I do think "Crazy Rich Asians" is being a touch over-praised by some reviewers. It's the first majority-Asian movie made by an American studio in 25 years. But it's a bit too long for my tastes, and I didn't care for the fact that the lead female character, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu of TV's "Fresh Off the Boat"), spends much of the movie reeling from lies and half-truths fed to her by both her boyfriend (Golding's Nick Young) and her mother (Tan Keung Hua). Meanwhile, everyone in her orbit is either a kind-hearted bunny rabbit of a supporter or a dark-hearted snake out to sabotage her and Nick.

The film is broadly played, for the most part, and flirts with being campy. But director Jon M. Chu wisely pulls back in the third act and allows the characters to emerge as more three-dimensional, thinking, feeling people. It also allows the Rachel character to go from being reactive to proactive, and Wu hits some really effective notes.

Until then, the film gets by on its beautiful cast, terrific locations and gaudy excesses. These are, for sure, some kooky and incredibly loaded Asians. Even those who aren't in Nick's wealthy family have wealth beyond any dream of avarice I've ever had. There are also some big laughs, too, most of which are provided by Awkwafina as Goh, Rachel's brassy buddy who seems to have a dress for every occasion ready to go in the trunk of her car.

The film centers on Rachel, an NYU professor, being asked to accompany her boyfriend, Nick, to Singapore where he will be the best man at his best friend's wedding. This will also be the first time Rachel meets Nick's family, which she senses will move their relationship to a whole new level. What she doesn't count on is Nick coming from the wealthiest family in Asia and him being the most eligible bachelor in Singapore. His return home is an event (the fact that she didn't Google him once in the months they've been dating or been witness to one moment where he was recognized in Manhattan is just something you have to ignore for the enjoyment of the film).

Once in Singapore, Rachel tangles with Nick's domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh), his formidable grandmother (Lisa Lu), his scheming former girlfriend (Jing Lusi) and more. She also attends a lavish bachelorette party, is victim to a cruel prank and gets the stink eye from any and all who believe Nick to be nothing short of royalty.

It's Cinderella and the Prince with different wrapping, but the formula still works. And Golding - who gets ample screen time to be strong and sensitive and frequently shirtless - gets launched into the stratosphere. A decade ago, I might be talking him up as the next great Bond villain. In a few years time, he may indeed be the next great Bond.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. read more

Slender Man botches an already thin story

Slender Man botches an already thin story
(Updated 8/13/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


The only question that should be asked and answered regarding any new horror movie is "Was it effective?" In the new terror flick "Slender Man," we are told the titular villain will make those who see him feel a constant sense of misery and dread, exhibit feelings of hopelessness and extreme regret, and those victims will get to a point where they will make a great sacrifice just to escape his hold. So, in that respect … yes! Yes, "Slender Man" was effective in that it made me feel ALL of those things while watching it! This is one of the worst movies of the year, dear readers.

The film follows four deadly dull high school girls (Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclar and Annalise Basso) as they gather one night to go online and watch an internet video that summons the Slender Man, a faceless stick-figure boogeyman who looks like the shared nightmare of Guillermo del Toro and Karen Carpenter come to life. The whole mythology of this baddie is muddled and pretty much altogether botched. He is apparently some ages-old demon who can control bio-electro-magnetic energy and appear to his prey in both their dreams and daydreams. He can also Facetime and scramble your cell phone. Oh, and he seems to have control of … trees - at least those with very thin branches and long trunks that look like his scrawny arms and elongated torso.

By design, his victims - and, thus, the paying public - never really get a good look at him. And even if director Sylvain White opted to give everyone a clear glimpse, it wouldn't have been possible with Luca Del Puppo's murky, extremely amateurish cinematography. The actual movie theater I sat in was better lit than the entirety of this film, my friends. And I mean, nowhere in this small Massachusetts town where the film is set is there anything resembling a well-lit home, school, hospital, library - you name it. There is not a single light bulb used in this film that is above 40 watts. And everything outside looks like it takes place at dusk, whether it's the beginning of a school day, the end of a school day, a class field trip, sports practice, etc.

The film borrows heavily from "The Ring," "Candyman" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." But, whether you liked those films or not, they at least had well-drawn origin stories, clear rules and at least one professional adult actor at their cores. The parents in the "Charlie Brown" holiday cartoons have more of a presence than the moms and dads in this flick. And the Slender Man is basically this pop-up demon who's one great, sinister move is he's able to stand up slowly and then break into a desperate sprint. Or maybe that was me when the end credits finally rolled.

"Slender Man" is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language. read more

'The Meg': A shark movie without bite

'The Meg': A shark movie without bite
(Updated 8/12/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


I heard some people at my recent screening and read some others online saying that it's unfair to compare "The Meg" to "Jaws," because "Jaws" is a classic that can never be equaled in many movie fans' minds. The common refrain seemed to be: "What?! Should they never make another shark movie?!" They were already preparing themselves for disappointment. Actually, "The Meg" doesn't have the "Jaws" comparison to worry about. No one's expecting this to top Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic in terms of narrative tension, cultural impact, acting and writing. What the filmmakers really need to be worried about are the comparisons to those wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful "Sharknado" movies!

Because when your posters and trailers and commercials basically tout Jason Statham Vs. Giant Prehistoric Shark, the crowds you're going to get are going to expect an over-the-top, cheesy fun action-horror spectacle. "The Meg" has its moments of fun. And it certainly delivers some spectacle. But it's a bit of a confused movie, too, trying to be serious and silly. And that makes it hard to recommend.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Statham was miscast. Oh, he does his best... uh... "Jason Statham" in this flick. But the whole time he's on screen, the moviegoer's natural instinct is, "I want to see him karate chop the shark! I want to see him punch the predator right between his black, doll-like eyes!" Imagine if Statham was cast in Sam Neill's Dr. Grant role in "Jurassic Park" or, hey, Roy Scheider's Chief Brody part in "Jaws." We'd have a whole different set of expectations for those characters and those movies. And we'd never really fear that either was gonna get chomped on by a raptor or a great white.

One of the Chrises - Pine or Evans - would have been better served starring here, I think. Because the film is actually a bit more serious-minded (in stretches, at least) than your pick of the "Sharknados" or the over-the-top (and sorely underrated) "Piranha" remake of a few years back. When people are eaten in "The Meg," it's kind of sad. Because it's all CGI and the Meg can move with the speed and agility of a video-game/cartoon character, the victims are eaten up in the blink of an eye. No one suffers like Quint or the skinny-dipper did in "Jaws."

For the most part, the film strikes a serious tone in the classic monster movie plot of scientists burrowing too deep into the Earth and unleashing a long-dormant, ancient monster. The classic stereotypes of the genre are all presented here in an international box-office, demographic-friendly cast, with China's Bingbing Li as the plucky heroine, Page Kennedy as the "Aw, hell no!" black guy, Australian hunk Robert Taylor as the pessimistic man of science, Rainn Wilson as the ignorant billionaire only out for profit and so forth.

There are moments when the characters grieve, moments when they are temporarily paralyzed due to past traumas and fateful decisions, and moments when the cutest kid y'all ever did see is placed in mortal jeopardy. But then there are some goofy one-liners that are meant to cut through the tension, but land flat. There are lots of dueling accents and people who have accents in real life trying not to have an accent in this movie.

And ... and ... and I really wanted the shark to have more personality! More menace! This shouldn't be "The Meg." This should be "THE MEG!!!" I either wanted to completely fear and root for his death or feel for him like I always do Godzilla and King Kong and hope he gives some good destruction before meeting his doom. He's almost too big. When he eats people, he indeed pretty much just swallows 'em whole in an instant. No shakin', no tenderizin'; it's just down you go.

Ah well. If you want a serious shark movie, go with "Jaws" or "The Shallows" or "47 Metres Down." If you want a goofy shark flick, I recommend "Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens" as it has both David Hasselhoff AND Bo Derek. But if you want something in between, this is your undemanding, middle-of-the-road shark flick.

"The Meg" is rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language. read more

New 'Teen Titans' movie is for teens, tweens, AND grown-ups

New 'Teen Titans' movie is for teens, tweens, AND grown-ups
(Updated 7/30/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Two weeks in a row, something completely surprising has happened to me at the movies, and I couldn't be happier or more rejuvenated in my job. Last week, I was floored by how much I enjoyed "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again." I never thought I'd ever love a sequel to a movie I absolutely despised. And this week? I was tasked with seeing "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" based on a Cartoon Network show I'd never seen. It seemed like the kiddie version of the superhero flicks we're all kind of overdosing on right now.

But guess what? The "Teen Titans" flick is ALSO terrific! With a clever, biting script and a super-tight running time, it rather efficiently deflates the about-to-burst balloons of both the DC Comics and Marvel movie universes.

Superhero cinema is SO ripe for the skewering right now. For the past couple of years, there has been at least one (often more) Marvel or DC Comics movie playing at your local cineplex on any given day. DC Comics movies are well below Marvel in quality, mostly because the flicks so far - save for "Wonder Woman" - have been dark, gritty, big-screen tragic books. But DC has also been responsible for licensing out two of the funniest takes on all things Pow! Boom! Bam! A couple of years back, "The Lego Batman Movie" sent up the Caped Crusader and his many big-screen incarnations with wit and flair. And now "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" takes the skewering up at least a couple of notches in not only goofing on superhero flicks, but also on the movie biz itself that churns them out.

The Teen Titans are a group of young heroes with powers and abilities, who are often relegated to sidekick status. They're trying to be seen as legitimate superheroes, led by Robin (voice of Scott Menville), the youthful ward of Batman who's grown tired of his mentor getting movie after movie while he waits for Tinseltown's call.

The other Teen Titans - Cyborg (voice of Khary Payton), Raven (voice of Tara Strong), Starfire (voice of Hynden Walch) and Beast Boy (voice of Greg Cipes) - all support him on his quest for Hollywood riches because that will make them legit, too. What the Titans lack is a bona fide arch nemesis, like Superman's Lex Luthor, Batman's Joker and so on. They find one in Slade (voice of Will Arnett), who aims to steal a special crystal to power a machine that will allow him to mind control the entire planet.

The cleverness of the screenplay does not wane throughout. Slade's mind-control device is in the form of a new content streaming service that will feature all of the superhero movies ever made and all of the ones yet to come. Since the planet is in love with all things superhero, it will be easy to take control of wide swaths of the population and have them do Slade's evil bidding. The world depicted in this movie is one where the actual superheroes star in their own movies. So, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman and the others have gotten to a point where they are much more interested in pursuing their next three-picture deal and less interested in pursuing the latest megalomaniac.

Robin and Co., meanwhile, sneak onto the Warner Bros. back lot to give their pitch to the studio executives. They even jump in time machines and travel back to the past to undo the various superheroes' origin stories in some of the film's funniest moments. But when they return to the present and realize the world has been taken over by super villains, they have to undo what they previously did with even more time travel - like no longer stopping Krypton from exploding, pointing the Wayne family once again down the wrong alley ("And here, wear this pearl necklace, Mrs. Wayne!"), etc.

The film's action isn't nearly as eye popping as "The Incredibles 2." And that Pixar film had the one-two punch of not only riffing on comic-book lore, but also suburban family drama. "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" goes solely for today's oversaturation of superheroes. The end result is truly a super marvel.

"Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" is rated PG for action and some rude humor. read more

The truly impossible mission is ... how does Cruise stay so young?!

The truly impossible mission is ... how does Cruise stay so young?!
(Updated 7/30/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Tom Cruise is 56 years old. What's the best thing he gives to this world, good movies? No. Committed performances? Nope. Autographs and selfies to fans at his red carpet premieres? Not even that. He gives hope, my friends - hope to a very wide swath of pathetic, aging men. Hope that I ... er ... we can somehow still be action heroes, bashing bad guys, falling off cliffs and surviving helicopter crashes.

The dude does an insane amount of his own stunt work. For the most part, that's not a bunch of Poindexters back in the lab, pointing, clicking and digitally putting Cruise's head on the bodies of stuntmen and stunt drivers half his age. Cruise really climbed that big Dubai skyscraper in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." That was all him hanging onto the side of that freakin' jet as it took off in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation." And that's him jumping out of another plane in "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" with the camera following him until he catches an unconscious guy in mid-air.

Normally, I'd just be impressed that a dude at 56 has all of his hair. And those chompers! Those are really Cruise's teeth! Like, how is that possible?! Has the man EVER drank coffee?!

Watching a Tom Cruise movie this last decade or so has just made guys like me in their 40s (and those in their 50s) feel young. We can't look at the other action heroes of our Gen X youth - everyone from Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas to Schwarzenegger and Stallone - and not see ... well ... old men. Granted, they're all older than Cruise. But, uh, have ya seen the rest of "The Outsiders" lately? Except for Ralph Macchio (and, uh, Swayze), they pretty much look like an AA meeting!

But not Cruise. There's just something about seeing that man on a motorcycle that makes you feel like you're back in high school or college again and the world hasn't changed that much. His "Mission: Impossible" series is one of the best and most consistent movie franchises going right now. And "Fallout" continues the string of great action cinema. The storylines are convoluted, for sure, and I really can't remember what Cruise's Ethan Hunt saved the world from from one movie to another. But, man, does this series deliver the stunts and major set pieces in the way old school James Bond movies used to back in their days.

"Mission: Impossible III" had that amazing bridge attack. "Ghost Protocol" had the Dubai tower climb and the Russian prison escape. "Rogue Nation" had that stunning airplane take-off. I've already spoiled the skydive sequence in "Fallout." But this sixth installment has at least three other big-time action sequences that you'll just marvel at.

And in the moment, the plot is pretty involving, too. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, it centers around Ethan Hunt and his IMF team trying to retrieve three potential nuclear devices on the verge of falling into the wrong hands. Although, as with any good spy movie, even the right hands might also be the wrong hands. Hunt and his colleagues have to figure out who to trust as they globe-trot around Europe, leaping buildings and crashing various modes of transportation.

My only nitpick is I wish the Powers That Be would shake up Cruise's team a bit more with each flick. Ving Rhames' Luther can barely move at this point, and Simon Pegg's Benji is starting to wear just a bit thin. The one newcomer who shines is Henry Cavill as Walker, a younger, more bruising operative who CIA boss Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett) orders to tag along with Hunt and his team because she doesn't trust them. Walker goes from foe to friend to foe several times over the course of the film and is always a character that has to be accounted for.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about "Fallout" is, by the end of it, you SO want to see another film in this series. That would make seven. And with about three to four years between installments, that would make Cruise about 60 when the next one comes out. And that would make me ... uh ... first in line to see that movie!

"Mission: Impossible - Fallout" is rated PG-13 for violence, action and language. read more

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel
- By Patrick Taylor -

Recently, East County Times writer Teddy Durgin, who many recognize for his film reviews, released his first novel. Titled “The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor,” this murder mystery is a fast-paced, action and humor packed tale that will keep you glued to the pages.

Set in Laurel in the summer of 1986, the story follows 16-year-olds Sam Eckert and his friends Chip and Buddy (think the geek crew from the seminal show “Freaks and Geeks”). With summer work at the mall beginning, it looks like all will be relatively dull until the school year began - until a car explosion kills Muffy McGregor, one of the more popular, attractive girls in their school.

From there Sam and Chip get roped into the world of private investigation with the help of a mall regular, Mr. Rabinowitz. Suspects pop up one after the other, with McGregor’s classmates, co-workers and lovers all under the watchful eyes of Sam and his crew.

Those who have consistently read Durgin’s reviews over the last few years won’t be surprised that the book is filled with pop culture references that capture the time period perfectly. Whether it be discussing the films that made 1986 stand out or paying tribute to cultural touchstones such as the M*A*S*H finale, Durgin perfectly captures what it was like to grow up in that era.

“The thing about throwing references in is that you try to make them true to the character, and you don’t want to overdo it,” said Durgin.

Of course, given Durgin’s love of film, it should come as no surprise that this book often has a very cinematic feel to it.

“The premise of the book started with a simple question - what if John Hughes had written a murder mystery? It kind of went from there,” said Durgin. “That’s what was part of the fun of writing it.”

In typical John Hughes fashion, the book features many of your high school archetypes - jocks, nerds, pom-pom shaking cheerleaders. It also features some of the truest dialogue between teenage boys that I’ve read in quite some time. Seeing as how the boys are 16, it should come as no surprise that the book is littered with swears and moments of characters speaking before they’ve thought about what they’re going to say. A particularly awkward exchange early on between Sam and his new boss, a former plus-sized model named Collette, ends with Sam asking if she has any copies of her old magazines lying around.

“Some of those conversations are actual conversations from my youth,” Durgin said. “Before I really started writing the book, I had a lot of funny lines and interchanges between characters so I knew where to put lines.”

But the best dialogue comes when Rabinowitz is in the picture. An elderly Jewish man who often wonders aloud why he didn’t choose another field of business over private investigating, Rabinowitz is often trying to keep Sam and Chip in line during the investigation. After all, you can’t be making noise gushing about Magnum P.I. while you’re breaking and entering looking for clues.

For Durgin, writing this book was something that has been on his mind for a while, with the characters bouncing around in his head for ages.

Last year, he took about three or four months to plot out what the story would be, figuring out what should happen in each chapter. Around September, he decided that he was going to start really writing and dedicated himself to a chapter per week for the next 16 weeks. The book was finished around President’s Day this year.

“It was the most fun I ever had writing,” said Durgin. “I love doing the film reviews for the Times and for other papers, but this was something I just had to do. I had started and stopped novels before, so it felt really good to get this done.”

For Durgin, setting the story in the summer of 1986 felt natural. Much like Sam Eckert, Durgin was born in 1970, and 15-going-on-16 in the summer of ‘86. The nostalgia for this time period drips from the pages, but it never comes off as forced or insincere. The dialogue, references and struggles seem very true to the time.

“This book will appeal to anyone who has a twinge of 80s nostalgia, anyone who has lived in Maryland and anyone who enjoys a good whodunnit,” said Durgin.

“The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor” is available now on Amazon and for Kindle, and it couldn’t have been released at a better time.

This book is the perfect companion for travel, beach days, lounging by the pool and more. It’s a quick, easy read, but one that will keep you interested and engaged. When I first picked up the book I had a plan to read half of it on a Saturday, half on Sunday. Instead I finished it in one go.

The payoff is absolutely wonderful, and one that I did not expect as I made my way through the book. This might be Durgin’s first mystery novel, but it reads as if he’s been crafting these types of tales his entire life.

With elements of John Hughes, Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers (Durgin compared a particularly poignant scene to the highly underrated “Burn After Reading”), this story is a wonderful blend of mystery and humor that really brings suburban Maryland in the 1980s to life.

“If the East County Times readers have enjoyed reading me in the past, I think they’ll really enjoy this book,” said Durgin. read more