Death at a Funeral: DOA Either Way

DATELINE: British or Black?

Dinklage (with friend in coffin) Dinklage with Friend in Coffin

In case you did not realize, there are two versions of this movie, made within a few years of each other. The first was your classic British dark comedy, and the second is your black-face remake in American ghetto mode.

Both movies are called Death at a Funeral, which certainly makes sense when you see how it all plays out. The Brit version is from 2007, and the American from 2010.

You can flip a coin, or perhaps you prefer Ivory-Merchant to Madea.

We went across the pond for ours. There are familiar faces, but we’d probably know more of the cast in the American version. However, one small face stands out in a big part: Peter Dinklage came up to snuff in both films as the blackmailing small guy.

He is rather good, for sure. The rest of the cast is obtuse, but we must confess that Rupert Graves is always a joy as the successful brother returning from America for his father’s sendoff.

We are not sure how funny the central concept is that some poor benighted fools are given LSD by accident by those who think they offer valium. Is that really funny?

Beyond that, there are some jokes about oldsters, women, and sex-starved creeps among the mourners. It’s all directed by Frank Oz, hardly anyone’s idea of Ivory-Merchant, unless you see in big screen Muppet. Peter Dinklage apparently is playing Kermit in this film—and in the other too. He is marvelous.

We aren’t sure how this comes off with Chris Rock, et al, when the British posh types seem more suited for deadpan comedy.

 

 

 

Westworld 2.6 Goes to Hell

DATELINE:  Westworld 2.6

  who's Arnold? Who’s real?

You have now entered Robot Hell in Westworld’s Season 2.

The dirty little coward Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has shot the Jesse James Western story into a moldering grave. You can’t tell the guests from the hosts without a scorecard, and staff may be just as confused as the audience.

We may be wondering after 2.6 just who the true villains are. Those who were rotten for the entire series show too much heart as we come to a climax. And, those Dopplegangers from Shogun World are gone, thank heavens. However, we are seeing William (Ed Harris), head honcho of the Westworld operation having a change of heart.

Since no one ever really dies in a Jonathan Nolan series, we know everyone will return in some shape or form. You can probably expect that there are host versions of everyone, and you can’t tell them apart without one of those fancy tablets Elsie (Shannon Woodward) plays like a Chopin nocturne.

If there is a theme here, it is that pursuing a dream is the stuff tragedy is made of. Bernard, or is that Arnold, dreams of returning to the past, or is it the present?

The more the storylines change, the more they remain the same. We know that guests and hosts are converging on the Pearly Gates of the grande finale of season 2.  What we don’t know is how hell-bent they are to have a Last Supper.

In this episode we see one robot “crucified” with spikes by uncaring humans in an effort to learn what is truth. Good centurion Luke Helmsworth stands by in growing horror, as Nolan unravels his gospel according to a Person of Interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tesla Paranoia Grows on Tesla Files

DATELINE: History Channel Series

 Old Man Tesla Old Man Tesla!

The conspiracy theory is not just in old man Nikola Tesla’s mind during his last decades. It’s clearly in the brains of the series stars and producers, as the Tesla Files moves closer to other conspiracy theory shows on History Channel.

We expect a guest appearance from Bob Baer and the guys over at Oak Island next.

In this week’s thrilling episode, one of the researchers rides in an original Tesla car while the other watches. Neither is allowed to drive it.

They also don military camo-fatigues and fly in an Osprey based on Tesla’s designs. We are meant to be thrilled for them.

Our intrepid researchers seem to be working in this show for Tesla biographer Marc Seidel. No one told him that they’re the stars of the show. So, he meets with a government leaker and discovers that there was a mole among Nikola Tesla’s research friends.

Yes, someone named Bloyce Fitzgerald, an MIT student during WW2, befriended Tesla in New York and was feeding the Office of Strategic Service all kinds of info on Tesla experiments. That was the proto-CIA.

Indeed, Bloyce will be bloys and may have helped organize the raid on Tesla’s New Yorker Hotel room, taking all those missing files at the moment the old man croaked. President Trump’s fake news uncle is featured prominently here.

Our researchers have a fascinating detail, but don’t seem to do much with the info—except cluck over it.

Doc Travis Taylor does give himself credit for suggesting that the entire New Yorker Hotel was a replacement for Wardenclyffe—and was in and of itself a giant communication device.

We are either heading toward a death ray weapon created by Tesla in the 1920s and 1930s, or we have cross-purposes and cross-pollinate with Ancient Aliens and end up with Martian communications via the Nazi Bell on next season’s Hunt for Hitler.

Stay tuned as the research heads back to the New Yorker next time. We expect to hear that Tesla and Orson Welles co-produced the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

Lance, Mason & Friend Lance,  James Mason, & Friend!

When in 1979 we heard James Mason was doing a Stephen King TV movie, we were appalled. We refused to watch one of our perennial favorites demean his career in its last years by doing something as cheesy as Salem’s Lot.

Today we eagerly watch it and devour his every screen moment.

Who would have guessed that James Mason slumming on TV could be so delightful?  With Tobe Hooper directing like he is doing an imitation of Vera Miles approaching Hitchcock’s Bates mansion, you throw in some performers we always liked: Lance Kerwin, Ed Flanders, Elisha Cook, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Kenneth MacMillan and Fred Willard!! What a juicy little horror—just a tad silly around the edges.

It’s a little perverse too. James Mason is the procurer for some kind of Nosferatu in Maine, finding little boys for him to devour. Lance Kerwin seems ripe, but he has eyes only for David Soul. Their smoldering subtext is off the charts in its own way. Did anyone making the movie understand the word ‘latent’?

James Mason and Lance Kerwin share only a couple of glances in their scenes, but it may be that they saw something utterly disdainful in the other.

With an uncut three-hour version of the old TV miniseries now available on streaming, you can sit back and wallow in low-rent horror that remains top-drawer compared to the junk of today. There is no needless blood and/or off-the-computer special effects. Here actors rely on their wiles, not on the blue screen.

James Mason is the full show here, delivering lines with an inimitable throwaway snobbery. Wait till you hear him pronounce, “expertise.”

Most of the movie he is either entering or exiting doorways and looking askance. He clearly enjoyed making a movie with his wife, Clarissa Kaye, and chewing the scenery. You will enjoy it too.

Trump’s Great White Hope

DATELINE: Rocky & Jack Johnson

pardon us

We are always delighted to see movie history made, whether it’s an archeological dig looking for the lost set of Cecil B. DeMille’s silent Ten Commandments or joining Kenneth Anger looking for Hollywood dirt.

So, this week we had the spectacle of President Donald Trump giving a pardon to long-dead, champion black boxer Jack Johnson, a turn-of-the-century victim of racism. He was convicted of committing the Mann Act, taking a white woman across state lines for sexual purposes. It was the moral equivalent of taking a knee at an NFL football game.

No, Trump did not offer Colin Kaepernick a pardon. Wait a hundred years for that.

Sylvester Stallone has made it a personal cause to have Johnson exonerated with a presidential pardon. Barack Obama never did the trick, but Donald Trump was Johnny on the Spot, ready to offer a pardon when he heard Obama dropped the ball.

So, hungry for anything to keep the news off his soon to be pardoned family members Don, Jr., Ivanka, and Kushner, the often-labeled racist president invited Stallone to the White House for the big pardon.

Ken Burns who directed a 2004 documentary on Jack Johnson also was a no-show.

No one told Stallone or dumb-bell Trump that a pardon infers guilt. And those who accept pardons usually accept their guilty role. Oh, well, let’s not quibble.

We also thought it interesting that Trump is the Great White Hope to pardon black athletes when he wants to throw them out of the country for exercising free speech.

No, the man who made a career out of playing Jack Johnson, James Earl Jones, did not show up at the pardoning ceremony.

The star of the Great White Hope on Broadway and movies, was conspicuous by his absence.

Ancient Aliens Between Rock & Hard Place

DATELINE:  Geo Giorgio! 

Ramy  Ramy!

Episode 13.5 of Ancient Aliens dealt with 10,000 year old geoglyphs, or large (we mean big) desert drawings.

You thought the Nazcar lines were the ultimate, but they are merely the tip of the rock berg. With satellite photos now mapping the world in detail, you can find these no-longer unique stones all around the world from South America to the United States to the Middle East.

Iraqi walls extend from Syria to Saudi Arabia, hundreds of geometric shapes made 10,000 years ago. There are 400 at last count, but the onerous narrator intones that this is “astonishing” not moments after mentioning that some of these are about 10,000 years old. Ancient Aliens always has its cake and its plenty too.

The big geoglyphs are king-size versions of petroglyphs, swirling designs on smaller boulders. They now are finding even more of these creations by using HD cameras.

Of course, one of the over-excitable guests insists these were made by ancient alien civilizations to alert us of an important connection. Apparently, they could not leave the message on a CD.

They locate one design called the Cosmic Egg, which may be a code like semaphore. Those giant aliens felt we needed simple, cartoon-like messages or we may miss the message.

Ancient Aliens also points out that there is a rocky parrot design on the surface of Mars, matching a particular dirty bird on Earth in 17 points.

This week’s heart throb is Ramy Romany, who makes Giorgio look like Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

 

Reel History: Day of the Outlaw

DATELINE: Big Daddy Burl Ives

 

outlaw day Burl Ives center stage

When movies had to compete against 40 weekly Western TV shows, you had to do something special.

Day of the Outlaw immediately hit a nerve: it was black & white when all the TV westerns were the same and movies were all in glorious color. This film put the action out in a real snowstorm in Wyoming, and it also featured a brutal horse caravan through deep snow. Music is minimalist, but effective. The film was lost in the shuffle back then, but is a stunner today.

We felt sorry for the horses who seemed to be suffering in the harsh weather and cold location scenes, including filming in a real snowstorm. However, the actors were out there for real—and looked just as frozen amid the ice-covered tundra. Only Burl Ives looked holly and jolly, riding hard and heavy on his long-tortured horse.

The other draw here was Robert Ryan, one of the most under-rated tough guys the movies ever created—as Blaise the hard-as-nails rancher who goes up against Big Daddy Burl Ives’s gang.

The faces (good guys & bad) are all familiar—from the gang to the beset upon townsfolk. Yes, that was William Schallert in small role.

We particularly were impressed with Ozzie & Harriet’s son, David Nelson. While his brother Ricky was a musical heartthrob, David tried his hand at real acting. He is quite impressive in his two-day beard as one of the bad guys.

The film is slow as a character study, but director Andre DeToth knew how to move his camera and create a grand entrance for Burl Ives, which is marvelous to behold.

Oh, yes, Tina Louise is here as a love interest before her career was shipwrecked on Gilligan’s Island.

This adult Western is uncompromising and ultimately no TV show. It’s worth the watch.

Mother Whistler’s Son

DATELINE: Butterfly on Social Media

Mother Whistler

Whistler’s mother worried about her son. James McNeill Whistler was not your average 19th century artist.

James McNeill Whistler and the Case for Beauty, an unwieldy title, makes an interesting little documentary on his life and work by director Karen Thomas who offers the viewer more than a few surprises.

For openers, though he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, he spent most of his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father worked for the czar!  Whistler was not your average boy in the 1840s. After he tried West Point as a cadet and failed, he moved to France and England, taking up a brush and a pot of paint for the rest of his life.

He was, however, the epitome of an American Oscar Wilde. He cultivated being dandy.

Yes, with a bleached streak of white hair in his massive curly locks, often tied with a red ribbon bow, he predated outrageous art for art’s sake by decades.

He was wild before Oscar.

Witty, snippy, and living the life of a bon vivant ahead of his time by a 100-years, he held Sunday morning salons that were the delight of London. He had collector rivalries with Dante Gabriel Rossetti over blue and white porcelain. And, he painted his mother for instant fame. Whistler would have loved social media.

He was a young man still when the old lady showed up in London, forcing him to clean up his act for a time. If you ever wondered why that mundane painting caused a stir, you likely will learn from this film.

Whistler knew how to stay in the public’s eye and attract the attention of rich patrons. After all, that was the name of the game. He clashed with critics frequently, extolling the virtues of art and the lack of knowledge of critics.

He took famous British art critic John Ruskin to court for libel when he claimed Whistler was overcharging for his art.

Those were the days when civilized men learned the powers of litigation. Whistler was ahead of his time that way too.

Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

Play the Devil, Billy Budd in Trinidad

DATELINE: Another Budd Movie

tormented petrice Petrice Jones, a Face to Watch!

Director Maria Govan’s intriguing character study will not be acceptable to those viewers who want someone else (director, actor) to telegraph who’s the bad guy. The film is Play the Devil. Govan is playing Devil’s Advocate.

You have to think when you watch this movie, and you may not be happy with your decisions. What seems on the surface to be one of those May-December gay romance stories, set in the poverty-stricken island of Trinidad, turns into Billy Budd.

Beautiful and naïve, young Gregory (Petrice Jones) is the promise of his family. Approached by an older (but not old) businessman (Gareth Jenkins) with plenty of money, he finds himself flattered by the attention—at first.

Here is a chance to escape poverty, receive an education, and live in indolent luxury. It is tempting, but the young man has second thoughts—and needs space. Perhaps he is not gay after all. However, his obsessed older fan won’t take no for an answer and begins insinuating himself into all aspects of Greg’s life.

Feeling more and more trapped and cornered, Greg sees how such a relationship will ease the burdens of his family and open up a new world for him. Yet, his stalker knows better—and insists that the young man is merely fighting his nature when he should give in to it. It’s enhanced by two remarkable performances by the leads.

You know this is heading in a negative direction, but perhaps you will not see how it must conclude.

Set against the Carnival of Trinidad where young men paint themselves in blue and act the role of devils, chaotically racing through the streets, you have a clear case of possession. You may not have just another gay movie here.

Director Govan is not making this easier with her parallels to Billy Budd, and her film becomes an un-gay parable.

Off the Wardenclyffe: Tesla Files 1.3

 DATELINE: Bell Tolls for Tesla

Stapleton Stapleton 

The Tesla Files continued to impress with the latest episode in the series.

Several investigations followed the pattern Tesla took after he returned from Colorado in 1900. At this point he went to the New Yorker Hotel as his new headquarters. An interesting trip three floors below street level revealed a major tunnel system.

The hotel also had its own power source, which likely convinced Tesla that his experiments might be better served by the proximity to a major city. Around this time, he also made a deal with J.P. Morgan that floundered and caused the tycoon to lead a movement to discredit Tesla and his inventions.

It was out on Long Island that he used much of the funding from Morgan before it ran out. Here he built a tower for communications or power, no one knows which, and perhaps too an elaborate tunnel system, over 100 feet below the surface and extending out to the ocean.

The show cannot investigate the shut-down lab because of deadly mold, but they can send in a drone, giving insights into the workplace of Tesla.

Also intriguing is the parallel to the German World War II “Bell,” which might have been a time machine or anti-gravity device. The footprint of Tesla’s tower on Long Island matches exactly the footprint shape of the Nazi experiments in Poland.

Our journalistic investigator, Jayson Stapleton, with tattoos and a down-payment/goatee (known as an imperial in some circles) has become a man quite sure of himself. Having both a goatee and down-payment is sort of like wearing a belt with suspenders.

Who said TV wasn’t educational?

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Aliens: 13.4, Paint It Black

 DATELINE: Holes in the Plot

kaku Kaku Bird!

The latest fascinating episode in the series of Ancient Aliens theorizes that black holes, not gravitational ones, are all around the Earth as electro-magnetic portals.

The episode is entitled “Earth’s Black Holes,” and it hints that we may have had secret openings to pass through time and space right here on this planet, both on land and under sea.

Vortexes may be at the center of the dimension-shift, as in the Bermuda Triangle.

Heaven knows what can come and go through these doors to somewhere. Though the episode did not suggest paranormal, they were about two steps away.

Regular David Childress went on a re-enacting plane trip with a man who claims in 1970 he entered one of these electrical storm tunnels and was accelerated 2000 miles per hour in his little airplane to his destination. They hit turbulence, but don’t re-stage a trip through the Bermuda Triangle.

Dozens of black hole portals can be found, according to Ancient Alien theorists, all along the southern hemisphere and in certain countries. They even suggest that Moses was taken away for forty days atop Mount Sinai.

More recently, a young man from Deerfield, Mass., was gone for fourteen months—and returned with amnesia from his disappearing act.

We particularly enjoyed seeing one of our favorites, Dr. Michio Kaku, the notable scientist, joining the usual birds of a feather to offer his insights. He has legit and real credentials but noted that the line between science fiction and science fact may be thinner than you’d expect.

The latest season has had some boffo episodes, and this one joins the list.

 

Re-fighting the Battle of the Sexes

DATELINE: Gay Lib, Not Gay Lob

Bobby & Billie Truly a Doubles Match!

Many viewers may not know the story of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs and their ridiculously hyped tennis match of the early 1970s.

The earlier TV movie was called When Billie Beat Bobby. This new version is the Battle of the Sexes, but it’s more of a coming-out story.

Many may not know that an earlier cable movie effectively told the story with all the limitations of small screen propriety. If you wonder about the differences, there was no hint of gayness in Billie or her marriage. She had no bedroom scenes with a female hairdresser.

She did not have a gay best friend (marvelous Alan Cumming as Ted). She did not have a cantankerous relationship with Margaret Court in the first movie who is always holding a baby in the remake.

You did not see Bobby Riggs’ nude layout. You did not see his marital problems, or his hilarious attendance at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

You had a greater sense that Bobby and Billie were, above all else, “good sports” and actually remained lifelong friends.

The big screen smash has magnificent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell, looking more like their real counterparts. Carell is making an industry out of playing peripheral sports characters (Dupont in Foxcatcher). There are some marvelous effects too, bringing Howard Cosell back to life to play himself.

This is a big budget film with a great music score, pictures of celebs of the times, and the Houston Astrodome itself.

We recall the match was a grand joke, only taken seriously by those who’d be willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Bobby Riggs. How could anyone think that old man could beat a young athletic woman?

Well, as we recall, yes, there were men crushed by the defeat. This movie brings it all back to us.

Boston Hits a Low Spot: Trolley Cars Underground

DATELINE: Boston’s First Big Dig

dig down No-park Street Station

American Experience presents some interesting little films that collect amazing movie clips and photos. They then intersperse them into literate narratives.

This one is narrated by Michael Murphy and tells the fascinating history of how Boston became the first major subway system in the United States. The documentary is oddly titled The Race Underground, which is misleading and has unfortunate connotations outside the point.

Explaining how people associated the underground with dead bodies six feet under, there was a general belief that travel beneath the Earth was unnatural, if not demonic. The electric trolley ended man’s inhumanity to horse.

When big dig excavations down Commonwealth Avenue uncovered Revolutionary War graves, you might find the point being made as a warning.

Tracing the electrification of motors to Frank Sprague, an independent inventor who tried to shy away from that behemoth of American technology, Thomas Edison, he sold his electrified trolley systems. It didn’t matter much because Edison inevitably bought him out and took his name off the product.

Without Sprague, the underground subway would be a dark and dirty trip, filled with soot and fright.

We enjoyed seeing the old trolleys in turn of the century film with destinations to North Cambridge and Roxbury Crossing. And, the information was new to us: how Boston was in the 1890s one of the most congested cities in America, worse even than New York—a rivalry Bean Towne would prefer to lose.

You don’t have to be a local Bostonian to enjoy this little film, but having traveled on the rapid transit when Scollay Square was a stop, we found it a delightful trip back in time.

Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille Found & Lost

DATELINE:  Sphinx Knows

 Sphinx nose

It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.

In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.

Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.

When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.

DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.

When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.

Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.

In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.

This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.