Tipping Point: Our picks and pans
Turns out, you CAN have too much of, well, too much. “Babylon” is a LOT. Writer-director Damien Chazelle had taken a sunnier look at L.A. in "La La Land" and, with the three-hour behemoth “Babylon,” he focuses on the underbelly of Hollywood. It's a debauched world occupied by high-strung, self-obsessed people who are decidedly two-dimensional. The exceptions, thanks to wonderful performances, are a young man who works his way up the ladder (Diego Calva, who conveys so much with merely a look) and a superstar on the way down (another pitch-perfect turn by Brad Pitt). Chazelle wants us to think of this era in Hollywood as a magical time, but everything he shows us is messy and heedless. Sometimes, it seems Chazelle is aiming for affectionately satirical comedy, but he has a heavy hand where a Coen Brothers touch is what's needed. Chazelle tends to set things at a manic, almost hysterical level.
— Kristina Dorsey
Over the holidays, while waiting for our flight on Southwest Airlines, I had the chance to recline against the wall in the airport terminal and read 16 novels. Most restful vacation I’ve had! One of the books was this extraordinary 2015 stand-alone work by mega-superstar Slaughter, best known for her Will Trent series. “Pretty Girls” is a story of a missing young woman and how her disappearance destroys her family. The plotting is superb and the pacing is almost cruel in its ability to DEMAND you keep going and read one more chapter. For the faint of heart: this is a BRUTAL novel; Slaughter doesn’t pull any punches in her depictions of an ongoing series of abductions. But the characters are totally compelling and your heart breaks for them.
— Rick Koster
Shrines of Gaiety
Such a good yarn. Atkinson seems to be having great fun writing this tale set in post-WWI London, where the Coker family runs a string of nightclubs under the iron rule of mother Nellie. A couple of innocents from outside the city arrive — one looking for adventure, another for fame. Gwendolyn Kelling leaves her job as a librarian to search for her best friend’s little sister, a teenaged girl named Freda. Freda, with stars in her eyes, has run away to become a stage performer in London, with her dangerously naive friend Florence in tow. When Gwendolyn meets with a police detective about Freda, he says he’ll help her find the missing girl if Gwendolyn infiltrates the Coker nightclubs, a suggestion that thrills Gwendolyn. Nellie Coker has a half-dozen children, one of whom, Niven, becomes drawn to Gwendolyn. The beginning of “Shrines of Gaiety” introduces so many characters in such quick succession that you’d be justified to be a little confused. But they all become clear — and intriguing — beings soon enough.
— Kristina Dorsey