Bunuel Takes On Death in the Garden

DATELINE: Signoret & Marchal in the Garden

death in the garden

Director Luis Bunuel’s reputation after he made Robinson Crusoe in the 1950s was an art-house director in the United States, but a film genius elsewhere. He was all the rage at Harvard’s Brattle Theatre crowd.

So, he was sent back to the jungle in 1956 to make a Mexican-French survivors facing the elements, a subject quite popular back in the ‘50s when a spate of these plane crash movies and South American headhunters took center stage.

Death in the Garden differed a bit. It started out as a political rebellion in a small mining town in the Sierra Madre—and threw together a prostitute who is a bit hard-edged, an adventurer, a priest, an old man and his deaf daughter, into the steamy jungles.

They are chased by military police for reasons both right and wrong, depending on the guilty party.

Bunuel had a couple of curve balls in his arsenal. He had a young (mid-30s) Simone Signoret, fresh off Diabolique and not yet the international star, and a French lookalike of Sterling Hayden, the tough guy Georges Marchal.

Bunuel avoided headhunters, but went for the jugular in the jungle. His characters were literally animals:  Shark, Birdie, Father Lizardi, and no one is truly innocent or nice. So, you can expect characters to be picked off, but may have a harder time predicting who will be done in.

Just when it looks like the jungle will do them in, they discover a crashed airplane (from one of those other jungle movies) filled with provisions to give them another chance.

The film is subtler than most American versions of the story circulating in drive-ins of the day—and its cynicism and politics likely keeps it in the sphere of film aficionados, not movie fans. It remains minor Bunuel, but intriguing nonetheless.

 

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So-So-Soviet Solaris

DATELINE:  Solaris (1972, Russian version)

solaris  Breughel painting

The original Andrei Tarkovsky film called Solaris has been hailed by many sci-fi fans as the greatest fiction ever made. This is the Soviet version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, according to many.  It was remade with George Clooney in recent years to great jeers.

This Soviet three-hour epic drama of dreams and memories takes place mostly in a space ship orbiting a mysterious planet called Solaris. There an ocean of living mass can take human minds and create ghosts or hallucinations of flesh and blood to haunt the three cosmonauts.

We must be losing our touch because, though the film deals with quantum physics and string theory decades before they were discovered, the Soviet film is largely a snooze-fest.

Parts of the film are intriguing, and much of it is highly cerebral. However, there is a 90-minute movie lurking among the ponderous and pointless scenes of traffic jams and nature walks.

Made before computers changed the landscape, the film manages to ignore the Kubrick innovations with computers, a film made several years earlier. Both films share an existential crisis or two, and puzzling moments of metaphysics, if that’s your thing.

One might laugh at the notion of shooting thousands of books into outer space nowadays. The payload must have been a killer. There is quite a library aboard the Russian spaceship.

Our favorite scene must be the three-minute sequence that lingers silently on one of our favorite paintings by Breughel, ‘Hunters in the Snow’, which hangs in the Soviet ship as some kind of commentary on the difficulty of survival. We have a copy in our library and ponder it now and then.

The payoff of the film is hardly Twilight Zone worthy and may not satisfy the previous exposition. Yet, maybe you are among those who will see this as a great movie. We, alas, are standing in the other line, waiting for Godot.

 

Peter O’Toole on TV in 1986

DATELINE:  Rare Appearance

Banshee

In one of his rare acting performances on the small screen, legendary Peter O’Toole took a role on a Ray Bradbury Theatre production of a short story called “Banshee.”

This anthology series ran for several years and featured notable stars in a thirty-minute Twilight Zone-style show.

Most of the summaries of the episode with O’Toole are oddly incorrect on various websites.

The man who was Lord Jim, Lawrence of Arabia, and Henry II (twice), plays an eccentric film director living in Ireland on his remote estate. He plays John Hampton, which clearly is a play on the real eccentric legendary director who lived in Ireland on his estate.

That was, of course, John Huston. The dialogue even has that lilt of Huston’s—and O’Toole wears jodhpurs and boots with swagger, to suggest Huston.

He is visited by a nebbish writer played by Charles Martin Smith who comes for a spooky interview with a script that O’Toole shreds to pieces.

Greeting the writer in the dead of night, the flamboyant director is more than a little unsettled by the cry of a banshee, an Irish female ghost, out in the dark, forboding woods around his estate. While he urges the writer to go out to find this creature who cries for death, Smith locates an ethereal beauty near a graveyard who wants O’Toole to come out.

The story was written by Ray Bradbury and seems a trifle, though highly moody and atmospheric. The show falls short of Twilight Zone quality, but who can complain when Peter O’Toole enlivens every scene.

 

 

 

 

Why Him? Why This Movie?

DATELINE: More Francophobia

why him?

James Franco stars here. As we know, Franco alternates between serious, literary movies, and mindless, nuthouse comedies. This falls into the latter.

Here he plays an exasperating, offensive, foul-mouthed extreme version of his most irritating persona. Opposite him is Bryan Cranston playing a curdmudgeon father of a beautiful Stanford co-ed who is cohabitating with this lout.

He wants to marry her, though she is so conservative we can never figure out why they are together to begin with. Franco is so appalling that we wonder why anyone wants to be in the same movie.

Of course, the fly in the ointment is that Franco’s Laird Mayhew is a video-games entrepreneur billionaire who cavorts with the likes of Elon Musk. Yes, he appears.

In a twisted way, Cranston’s befuddled father is perfect and the air-headed script flies by with tasteless scene following even more tasteless scene. We have been watching too many high quality, artistic movies, and have been brought down to earth in a crash with this picture.

Franco must win over Cranston to win over Zoey Deutch. Megan Mullaly, Cedric the Entertainer, and Griffin Gluck are around for the ride. Keegan-Michael Key steals the picture largely as the overgrown “houseboy” (via the Inspector Clouseau movies, proudly plagiarizing Pink Panther).

In its own way, this is a perverse Xmas movie, complete with references to Macauley Culkin being home alone to make the entire concept completely incongruous.

You may laugh as the Millennials truly make the Baby Boomers take one on the chin.

In case you wonder, the hideous art hanging in Laird’s house all were done by James Franco, who else?

Stuffed shirts always loosen up in face of a James Franco onslaught. The film defies you not to laugh.

 

 

 

 

Johnny Cash: Up Close with His Manager

DATELINE:  Country Star Revealed

man in black  Director Holiff with Johnny Cash

In the first ten minutes of this documentary, with its realistic reenactments, you might think you are watching some outrageous fiction. But, it’s all true. You are about to enter the world of My Father and The Man in Black.

Saul Holiff was Johnny’s manager for nearly 15 years, through some of the worst moments of his addictions, black-outs, and temperamental snits.

Holiff alienated many people with his brash character, but he loved being in show biz, even on the outskirts. His business ties to Cash, like all personal management ties, were tenuous—and inevitably broke.

Yet, his son Jonathan never knew his father. He left home as soon as he could at age 18—and they almost never spoke. When his father committed suicide in 2005, he left no note.

But Jonathan’s mother said he left something else: boxes of audio diaries of his relationships with Cash and his sons. And herein lies a tale both shocking and fascinating.

Writing, directing, and producing this “tribute” to his misunderstood father seems an extraordinary feat by Holiff.

Even as a child, he often thought Cash was his father because every sentence spoken in front of him always contained father and Johnny Cash. They were inseparable. Saul introduced June to Johnny.

Cash wanted to overcome his drug-addled past and prison persona for being born-again. He became as addicted to Jesus as he was to pills.  He even made a religious film in the Holy Land, but it was cruel to ask his long-time manager, Jewish atheist Saul to play Caiaphas in one scene.

The break between them was not long after.

Using careful crafted re-enactments and voice imitators to read Johnny’s letters to Saul, this documentary seems to have melted into oblivion when it demands to be seen. Don’t miss it.

Boy Culture TV: Sequel for the Ages!

 DATELINE:   Producers Wanted!

 BC

One of the cleverest and surprising films of 2006 is prepping to have a ten-years later style sequel with all the original cast.

If you remember the delightful novella by Matthew Rettemund turned into a top-drawer comedy of manners by Q. Allan Brocka, you may be in for a big treat. Boy Culture wants to return.

They have a deadline of 29 days to find movie producers to contribute to a new Los Angeles production that will be short TV episodes transformed into a feature-length film.

Yes, Derek Magyar will be in the film as X, with Darryl Stephens reprising Andrew, and Jonathon Trent returning with his extra-long tongue. We are being tongue in cheeky, for sure.

If you ever wondered about all those people who are thanked at the end of a movie, here is your chance to join the conga line that passes quickly while most people are ready to hit the remote button. Well, if you are on the list, you may stick around to the utter end.

It doesn’t cost much to become a recognized Hollywood producer on a big production like this. Immortality seldom reaches out to movie fans, but the filmmakers have gone the Kickstarter way. It’s how small budget, big heart movies are put together:  with love of fans.

If you have a big wallet, you might even end up with a walk-on cameo in one of the scenes. Talk about becoming a Hollywood legend. It might repay you with dinner invitations for years to come—as you explain the thrill of it all.

We hate to say what it costs to be one of the co-executive producers but the benefits of being with the cast may be your last chance for groupie rights that only X would appreciate.

Quite frankly, our favorite character was Gregory Talbot in the original: the wonderful actor Patrick Bauchau played the reclusive, well-heeled patron of the extended family of boys.

Yes, we want in on this. But we want to see the movie produced successfully and be part of a legendary hit.

When they call action, Boy Culture TV may be your calling.

Shooting the Messenger?

 DATELINE:  Drama at Its Most Gripping

intense

In 2009 director Owen Moverman teamed up Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as captain and staff sergeant whose onerous duty is to inform people that their loved one has been killed in action. The story is The Messenger, about those who deliver the worst news to the official next-of-kin of America’s fallen soldiers.

It is horrific duty and makes compelling drama. Foster takes on a sympathetic and unusual role of heroic character, next to hard-ass officer who also must keep up regulations as a defense mechanism as civilian next-of-kin receive life-altering news.

The job is standard operating procedure, militarized and standardized. In years past there was only an impersonal telegram of bad news. Today it is the human face on inhumanity.

Everyone acts differently to the news, just as everyone acts different to death. They don’t know these people and enter only as minor, nearly dehumanized, figures delivering major news.

Ethics, pity, and duty, come to a crossroads as these soldiers face the most painful of all parts of a solider’s life: his death from combat.

You could say this is an actor’s film, and Moverman is clearly an actor’s director. He gives the performers some highly charged, internal and external emotional moments. It is riveting to watch heroes suffer and do what most of us could never want to face. The actors prove their abilities.

Young Staff Sergeant Montgomery has difficulty with maintaining an impersonal and unemotional attitude. On the other hand, Captain Stone, with a name to symbolize what looks like a callous demeanor, takes his job harder and buries the pain deeper.

Without characters making bad decisions, you likely never have a conflict in war movies. These are not automatons, but real men re-living post-traumatic events repeatedly. 

The film is too emotionally charged to be depressing or sad. An ultimate catharsis makes this a literate man’s war film.

The Akashic Record and the Ghosts of Mill Circle!

 DATELINE:  My Friend from the Titanic

Richard with Author selfie Author with Richard

Ancient Aliens struck gold again with a recent showing of “The Akashic Record,” the tenth episode of the twelfth season.

In case you missed it, this one raised the issue of a fount of knowledge, from all beings and creatures of the universe, stored like our modern computer cloud, floating out in the shimmering quanta of the universe.

Though Akashic Record has been accessed mostly by mystics, prophets, and artists, using a portion of matter at the back of the brain, Ancient Aliens had its own focus:  strictly focused on the predictive element of the cosmic cloud library.

They saw it strictly as a means to give that crystal ball some legitimacy when you do readings of future events.

They only briefly mentioned, in passing, the ability to draw information from the cosmic library about the past. The Akashic Record may be the best way to explain the memories, ideas, and knowledge, of history being mined by artists, poets, and writers.

Some call it channeling. Others dismiss it as meditation from a swami, but a few of us believe strongly that we have often reached a memory of a past life and a past vision to write down on a page for a book.

For years we were always amazed at our ability to see what some historical person saw and put it in one of our fictional—and lately, nonfictional—books.

We have drawn on Billy the Kid, John Wilkes Booth, and even Dr. Francis Tumblety, who claimed he was the Ripper of Whitechapel.

Those books are available on Amazon.

Lately, we discovered that we have been able to reach a spirit of someone who died on the Titanic. Indeed, we only learned about this after we purchased one of the homes he once lived in. His name was Richard and he was on Titanic, as a gift from his father, for graduating from Bowdoin. He perished with his father.

For years in a college classroom where I taught, there was a little bronze plaque commemorating Richard and his father’s heroism in helping others on the Titanic.

So, it came as a shock when a psychic named Nicole told me that the spirit of Richard was following me around for decades, wanting me to write a book about his life. She saw him hanging over my shoulder. It rattled her. I never see him, though he does make noises to communicate with me in recent years.

How could I write a book about a dead person who left no record of his life?

Richard worked in strange ways, coincidentally bringing people to my attention who had personal papers, photos, and knew his descendants. The result was a book called Tales of a Titanic Family. It’s all true, and Richard directed me to find a treasure trove of info on his life.

Now, it seems my discoveries were based on the Akashic Record.  I have now written a book on my experiences with Richard at my home. It’s called Ghosts of Mill Circle, mainly because the street he lived on, where I now reside, has many spirits clinging to their old haunt.

The recent show on Ancient Aliens has explained, obliquely, why I have been able to write this true account.

So, forgive me for using this blog for something out of the ordinary, but it now seems connected to everything else in the cosmos.

Bob Hope Takes Sweden

DATELINE: Long in the Tooth?

long in the tooth?

In 1965 Bob Hope was still wise-cracking his way through movies, but he was mostly a TV star by then, or his popularity among young people was nearly at its nadir over his political stand on Vietnam, defending soldiers.

So, the film I’ll Take Sweden casts him as a smart aleck father of a California girl with eyes for a motorcycle driving, guitar-strumming, poverty-stricken young man.

The solution is to break them up by moving to Sweden.

The boy and girl could have been Elvis and Ann-Margaret, or Fabian and Annette, or some other early 1960s icons who were out of touch with the growing anti-war, hippie, Beatles-loving American baby boomers.

The film was also directed by Fred DeCordova of My Three Sons, Burns & Allen, and Johnny Carson TV fame. It looks like a TV movie with Tuesday Weld and Frankie Avalon playing the teenagers, when they both were already slightly past Dobie Gillis and Beach Party.

Yet, 50 years later, Hope is rather droll, wise-cracking and looks marvelous for a man in his 60s, even doing a few stunts.

This was not the vintage Hope of the 1950s when he was priceless and at his peak. Yet, he’s still risqué, bemused and cynical at the world, and you can’t beat that. He throws out those one-liners with aplomb.

He’d soon be replaced by the new generation with liberal Woody Allen who used the same jokes and attitude with a New York disdain.

If you put Woody Allen and Hope side by side, we still will take his Sweden movie with Hope’s smug and topical comments. He was a master.

 

 

Long Live King Kong

 DATELINE:  Still Kicking 85 Years Later

kong

 

If you want to be enchanted and taken back to childhood, the little documentary on the history of King Kong is pure escape and delight.

Kong! What an actor. They literally don’t make them like him anymore.

A bunch of Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes creative people were most influenced to go into the artistic end of movies because of their experience with the 1933 stop-action classic that still amazes and thrills nearly 85 years later.

Oh, yes, they have clips from all the major rip-offs and poor productions, which are somewhat enjoyable, but all the subsequent Kongs were dwarfed by the original.

There are anecdotes about people knowing Fay Wray over the years—and what a devotee she was to Kong, ever faithful to the ape who loved her.

Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake follows most closely as an act of love, updated, to pay homage to the Merriam C. Cooper version. The film omits the latest Kong movie called Skull Island, which features some interesting actors, all willing to play co-star to the big monkey.

Brady in Manhattan

There is no real answer as to why Kong remains beloved, despite the carnage he creates in New York for Carl Denham, the hilarious Robert Armstrong’s legendary performance as a rapacious movie producer.

Kong holds up as the eighth wonder of the world because the filmmakers managed to give a puppet all the range of emotions and powerful communication skills that are often missing in most action stars.

Long Live King Kong is certainly not the best documentary of the year, but it is one to most likely give you a smile of long-ago fun when monster movies defied your kid’s understanding of special effects and gave you mesmerizing appreciation for film.

 

Rebel in the Rye Catches Nicholas Hoult

DATELINE:  See You in September, Release Date

REAL SALINGER   hoult

Real J.D. Salinger and the Real Nick Hoult

If we were to pick our favorite recluses, J.D. Salinger is up there with B. Traven and Greta Garbo.

Now comes forth an intriguing film about the years before Jerome David Salinger went private-mad.

Nicholas Hoult has sent out a Facebook message about his new movie, Rebel in the Rye.

The handsome young British actor has perfected his American accent enough to go for playing a New York writer in the 1940s.

J.D. Salinger famously published but one novel and preferred the genre of short story and novella. Who can blame him? His greatest hit is titled Catcher in the Rye, which a few people have read over the past 60 years.

Salinger would never let Hollywood ever come near his cherished novel. And, they threw oodles of money at his feet, but he was adamant.

So, how would J.D. feel about a movie depicting his post-traumatic experiences in World War II as the backdrop for writing his “grand” novel. Heavens, Holden Caulfield would have a fit over calling his story grand.

And, boy, would he throw a fit over this movie! Privacy is certainly dead nowadays.

Nicholas Hoult is always fascinating to watch, but he may seem a touch different here. It’s the brown contact lenses to cover up those startling blue eyes that vaulted him to fame among devoted distaff viewers.

With Kevin Spacey as his demanding editor, Hoult’s Salinger comes across as chummy, not reclusive. Ah, youth.

The best we can give you at this point is a trailer. So here goes.

So here goes.

A Quiet Passion: Emily Dickinson Revealed

DATELINE: Dickinson in Amherst

Nixon with Jennifer Ehle

So seldom do we find a movie made out of the epheremal that we want to celebrate. A life of Emily Dickinson is bound to be considered still-born by many modern types.

Cynthia Nixon stars as Miss Dickinson, a reclusive poet whose internal life was as intense as it was empty.

A strong individual, she eschewed church and social niceities for the grandness of her poetry, which was disparaged and ignored during her lifetime.

In an age of movies for noisy and thoughtless audiences, this film will test the true mettle of those with interior lives. It is magnificent in wit, genteel details, and brilliantly directed by Terence Davies who also wrote the script.

This contributes to a singular vision.

Just the bravura scene where they age before a photographer, morphing Emily from Emma Bell to Cynthia Nixon is stunning.

This is a film of nuance, and the actors have the opportunity to show how the lives of the Dickinson family and friends were inspiration enough to make Emily a great poet, unknown to those who lived with her. She considered her life “minor.”

Standouts among the cast certainly must acknowledge Keith Carradine as Emily’s stern, but supportive father—though their differences and debates on God and church are touched by wit and deeper insight.

One might compare this film to the classic great films of Ivory-Merchant so many decades ago. And, those were made for a miniscule audience of literate film lovers. How few of us are left today?

Let’s just feel some joy that a magnificent movie has been given to us: it’s a great gift to enjoy privately. It provides a chance to avoid computerized cartoons based on that weird genre of the “graphic novel” that dominates movie production in the 21st century.

A warning to sunshine poetry lovers, Emily led a most unhappy life–and the film does not flinch from that fact.

 

Point Blank: Right on Target

DATELINE:  Unusual Film Resurfaces

 point blank

Can it really be 50 years since John Boorman gave us his curious precursor to Twin Peaks, long before David Lynch had a brainstorm?

Point Blank confounded audiences in 1967 who were far less prepared for the kind of stuff Lynch gave us 25 years later. This film essentially introduced Boorman to serious audiences. It took a crime film and made it arty.

Lee Marvin is the dead Walker, left to die in haunted, empty Alcatraz after a botched crime pickup. Some undetermined time later, he is looking for revenge, in a gray suit with white hair. No one knows him by any other name, and everyone asks, “Aren’t you dead?”

Indeed.

Boorman films Marvin through screens, drapes, and other opaque filters. He even grapples with a ghostly sheet after he drives his nemesis off the penthouse roof.

Walker wants his money as well as revenge—and a litany of marvelous actors plays the hierarchy of the Mob, befuddled by him. John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, and a marvelous and hilarious Carroll O’Connor, are his lineup.

Angie Dickinson spends a full minute trying to beat him up, slapping and punching the impervious Marvin in an amazing bit.

Marvin is indestructible and single-minded as Walker.

The film is short in minutes, but long on violent moments that were a revelation 50 years ago. The film plays with haunting memories repeatedly as Walker seems obsessed with reliving them, like a residual spirit.

It’s a tour de force by Lee Marvin and John Boorman. Just wonderful and fresh 50 years later.

 

 

 

Charming Caper: How to Steal a Million

 DATELINE:  Masterpieces on Satire

 

 How to

If you look at this movie’s pedigree, you cannot go wrong. How to Steal a Million was a bit of fluff and a trifle from 1966 when stars were really able to carry a movie.

Audrey Hepburn can be forgiven for some of the ridiculous 1960s Givenchy outfits, but she is perfect in them—and her costar Peter O’Toole matches her every step of the way, even commenting it is time to give Givenchy a day off.

A wealthy socialite, Hepburn must orchestrate a theft from a Paris museum of a fake statue she owns but puts on loan in error! The museum is about to have the priceless fake examined—and she will be found out—and her father sent to prison.

O’Toole was escaping his epic dramas, for some fluff, with this film.

Director William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver, Ben Hur, Roman Holiday, The Heiress, and countless other classics) knows how to deliver high class and high quality. On top of that, it is one of John Williams’s first music scores (Jaws, Star Wars, etc.).

Combine this with top-of-their-career performances by Hepburn and O’Toole and you will forgive some of the anachronisms of the 1960s. O’Toole even gives us a quick impersonation of one of Hepburn’s earlier leading men (Humphrey Bogart, Sabrina).

Hugh Griffith is Hepburn’s reprobate father and Charles Boyer is around for a laugh, but Eli Wallach surprises as the wealthy boorish American billionaire art collector.

Filmed in Paris for atmosphere, the clever caper unfolds under the aegis of O’Toole who is actually a detective who uncovers art forgeries.

 

 

30 Days of Night: North to Vampires

DATELINE: Beautiful Josh Hartnett Alert!

 Josh Hartnett

Director David Slade gave us the pretty vampire of Robert Pattinson in that sugar-pop vampire series, but has turned in an uglier version with 30 Days of Night. Here in Barrow, Alaska, when the sun sets, the vampires have a long winter’s feast.

It’s a claustrophobic experience to be cut off from the rest of the world with an army of hungry vampires.

Josh Hartnett has never looked prettier in this 2007 movie, but he seems to fall apart, as the film proceeds, thanks to makeup effects. He’s the sheriff of a cold, little town in the northern most latitudes of the United States. He goes from clean-shaven to scraggy, to—well, we won’t say.

Most of the residents don’t have a clue what the plague is that is attacking them as night must fall.

These are Nosferatu Nasty vampires, led by black-eyed Danny Huston speaking some weird language of vampires, in sub-titles no less. Huston wins the creepy award.

As one of those pick’em off one by one movies, you watch the little town of 150 or so dwindle to a precious few.

Ben Foster starts things off in one of his patented creepy roles, but once those superhuman vamps start flying like flakes in a blizzard, you figure that the movie will be over in thirty minutes.

Humans are resilient—and fight back, rather hopelessly.

The film is a little different than you might come to expect from the genre, and that makes it highly watchable, despite the blood-letting.

This didn’t win any Oscars, but it might have entertained a few people over the years. We have discovered it later than it deserved. But, better late than never. Go north, vampire hunters.