Ronald Kidd - February 25, 2022

Capsule Reviews

Catching Up

Sorry I didn’t post last week. To make up for it, here are my thoughts about some current books and movies.

Mad at the World
by William Souder

Recently I finished this new biography of John Steinbeck. I’ve read other accounts of his life but was excited to read more, because he may be my favorite author. The book has much to commend it—thorough research, good anecdotes, and fine writing—but in the end I had mixed feelings.

The title will give you a sense of the problem. Steinbeck’s stories are full of life and joy, but Souder spends most of the book describing his troubles and shortcomings, making it clear he thinks Steinbeck was basically an unhappy person.

That may have been true—he certainly was self-centered and had periods when he was miserable—but to me the fascinating question is how such a person could have produced the beautiful things he did. Yet Souder never addresses that question.

At the end of the book, Souder states that the key to Steinbeck’s writing is anger. Whereas I would say that the key is love.

More about Mad at the World


This is quite simply a wonderful film.

Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, it’s a fictional memoir of his childhood during the 1960s, when Northern Ireland was torn by political and religious conflict. As a result, the story has violent scenes in addition to warm, intimate scenes. In fact, I thought that was the movie’s strength—showing that even in terrible times, there are interludes of sweet family moments and rich neighborhood life.  

Some reviewers felt the film was too sentimental, but it was that contrast that I found so appealing. Terrific acting by all involved, especially Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds, Judi Dench, and young Jude Hill.

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Licorice Pizza

I was predisposed to enjoy this movie because it was set in the time and place where I grew up—the San Fernando Valley during the 1960s. In fact, many of the scenes could have been filmed in my neighborhood.

In the end, though, I was disappointed. There were elements of a fine coming-of-age story, with excellent acting by Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, but these were crowded out by a number of extraneous, almost random scenes that made the film a half hour longer than it should have been. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but I dont think that would have happened if the director hadnt been the (justly) famous Paul Thomas Anderson.

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Now Available

  • Lord of the Mountain
    The “big bang” of country music in 1927 at Bristol, Tennessee.
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    Edgar Allan Poe returns and gets the glorious death he deserved.
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