The Gardener: Northwest of Eden

DATELINE:  Exquisite Nature Manipulated?

moon bridge Moon Bridge!

Should this exquisite documentary be called The Garden? No, it is named for the man who single-handedly created 20 acres of pure beauty. It’s The Gardener.

Frank Cabot is not your garden variety gardener. His family owned miles of land in Quebec going back to the 1840s. He is a patrician horticulturalist, but he designed his gardens methodically as a labor of love.

He also had the resources and independent wealth to fulfill his creative impulses to build on his mother’s estate. He wanted something with magic, mystery, passion, and surprise.

When you visit his garden, you will be stunned. The private estate is open several weekends each summer for small public tours. No group meets another. Frank Cabot believed the best wanderers in his garden went silently and in a solitary state

His book of the 1990s inspired the film entitled The Gardener.

You will hear his last interview as he explained why he made paths that led to other motifs in his horticultural symphony or sonnet. Having spent time in Japan during World War II, he made several expensive replicas of tea rooms, with staircase waterfalls.

There are bridges of all sorts, like the oriental Moon Bridge that mirrors a circle in the pool it crosses. You will step into intimate little alcoves of flowers and shrubs that open up to vistas that spread for miles.

The film is surely publicity for the actual garden, for who will not want to experience the majesty and philosophical transcending moments in person.

You will whet your appetite for a trip to Eden, called Les Quartes Vents, from a viewing of this magnificent documentary.

 

Advertisements

Good/Bad &/or Ugly

DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece

Ugly or Bad? Ugly or Bad?

Apart from the title being incorrectly punctuated, the Sergio Leone classic western cannot be judged by any normal standard of movie-making.

It is singular, both hilarious and horse opera bouffe. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is amazing, now restored and digitally remastered. It never looked better. It is 3 hours of utter charm.

The film starred Clint Eastwood, but he was outshone in every moment by Eli Wallach’s Tuco the Rat. It is a performance that comes once in a lifetime of great acting. It is so over-the-top and looney that it works as perfection. There is some question as to which is the Ugly one. In trailers, it is Lee Van Cleef, and in the movie the word is placed over Wallach’s image.

Scenes are historically inaccurate, overlong, and seem to be in some fantasy world that is not the real west. It does not matter one whit.

If the scenes were not epic enough (Tuco in a bubble bath with guns) or Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes shooting kids, you do have Clint’s nameless character with a nickname of “Blondie,” which Eli Wallach seems to relish.

Scene-stealing should be added to the list of crimes that Tuco commits (the litany includes murder, rape, and cheating at cards).

We have not even touched on the iconic music that dots every panorama and desert viewpoint. The plot has something to do with three mercenaries with no morality and ethics seeking a gold treasure in someone’s grave.

The climax may be the longest stand-off shoot-out in the history of movies with three gunslingers facing off for six minutes.

There may well be deep messages conveyed here, but all that is secondary to the delight and mirth of showing the American Civil War as a dirty business. Indeed, all the major actors have flies on them.  We do learn how Clint took that iconic serape off a dying young blond man who looks like a younger version of him.

This film is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Long Riders, Brotherly Love

 DATELINE: Brothers Carradine, et al.

Carradines

If you want a seminal rehash of all the big-time bank and train robbers of the West, you could not find a more succinct and intriguing film than The Long Riders.

Written partly by the Keach brothers, Stacey and James, it has as its basic catch-all hook the fact that sets of brothers play sets of brothers:  Jesse and Frank, the Younger Boys, the Millers, and those pesky Fords.

It would seem the director Walter Hill wanted to showcase brotherly relations by finding siblings to play off each other. The family ties also go against each other, as if we are watching some movie history of famous family actors in heat.

The film came out in 1980 and has all the hallmarks of the Peckinpah violence of the era. These outlaws take a dose of slow-motion death throes from The Wild Bunch, etc.

If you want bravura acting, here it is. Without a doubt, the rivalry between brothers is almost as tasty as that between sets of brothers. As you might expect, the gang life of the young criminals and gunslingers is not idyllic, except in dime novels.

The script is episodic: seemingly finding moments, like family gatherings, dances, bordello bonding, and funerals, as the means to lead up to the disaster at Northfield, Minnesota, when they went off reservation and out of their metier.

It’s hard not to cite David Carradine and Keith as scene stealers, though the Keaches write themselves some good lines too. The Quaid boys, Randy and Dennis, seem extremely young, but it was forty years ago.

Macho preening and male bonding have not changed much since 1880 or 1980, and this film is a document to show that fact.

 

 

 

Another Dr. Moreau from H.G. Wells

DATELINE:  Genetic Engineering’s Early Days

 moreau Lancaster Experiments on York!

Of the many Island of Dr. Moreau movies, with its many caricatures of the deranged scientist, we count Charles Laughton and Marlon Brando. Each played a zaftig and outrageous mad scientist to the rafters.

In 1977, the most subdued of the versions came out from American International, of all studios, and starred Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau. The titan of movies was then 65, but still virile and active. His performance is pure Burt.

Playing the young shipwrecked officer came another star at the top of his game: Michael York, wafer-thin and at his most attractive in the decade where his name was above the title.

He and Lancaster really have several face-offs of grand debate over science. It falls to Lancaster to give his performance the veneer of respectability. He is not a caricature but comes across as the voice of reason. It makes his mad scientist even more frightful.

In an age before DNA, the H.G. Wells tale deals with genetic mutation at the cellular level by means of serum. Here, Moreau wants to change animals into men.

It becomes horrific when he decides to change a man into an animal in the name of science—and York is the victim.

The cast is small, but effective. Among the standouts are Richard Basehart, unrecognizable in makeup, and Nigel Davenport as the assistant to Moreau. Around for looks is Barbara Carrera, standard exotic beauty of the decade.

As for the manimals, they seem to be wearing the leftover costumes from some Planet of the Apes sequel.

The movie belongs to the master, Lancaster. Savor it.

The Real Tom Thumb: Tiny Superstar

DATELINE: Barnum’s Biggest Star

tom thumb Tom Thumb, 1845

Charles Stratton was 21 inches during his youth, and he grew to 25 inches in middle age. In between, he tied his star to P.T. Barnum and became the biggest celebrity of the 19th century.

The Real Tom Thumb: History’s Smallest Superstar is a British documentary that we learn most of the surprising details about this little person and his burst into worldwide fame, at the cost of truth from his roots in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Michael Grade is the ominipresent researcher and narrator, a showman and producer whose uncle was the late great Lord Lew Grade whose show biz antics left him with the nickname Low Grade.

Nephew Michael reminds us of Anthony Hopkins who made a name for himself playing in the David Lynch film, The Elephant Man, another freak of the 19th century.

From age 5, Stratton was known as General Tom Thumb and pretended to be an adult, to make his smallness more amusing to the throngs who paid to see him. Barnum discovered, however, that his freak actually had talent—singing, dancing, wit, and grew into a true stage presence.

With the advent of photography postcards and railroads, little Tom’s image went viral without an Internet. Thank Barnum for making them rich, at the cost of truth and integrity. There was a staged wedding to another small person—and perhaps a faked child from their union. Who really knows the truth—other than Barnum and his Tom Thumb.

World tours dominated Tom’s life. He managed to enchant Queen Victoria and Abe Lincoln too. Yet, he was troubled, even with success, likely with a drinking problem from his adolescent years. He also smoked cigars as a child to heighten the image of a small adult. All these likely contributed to poor health in later years.

The pathos of the tale is interwoven with Grade’s interviews with present-day midgets and freak performers to try to give us a sense of the theatrics.

Of all the surprising details, we were taken aback to learn Stratton retired to Middleboro, Massachusetts, not far from where we lived for a time. Who knew that he custom-made his house with tiny stairs and stove? Or, who knew he and Barnum were buried only a few feet from each other?

Not your likely choice for entertainment, this film compels in a way that helps us understand the 19th century vaudeville.

 

 

The Rider: Modern West’s Rodeo Life

 DATELINE: Best Unknown Picture of Year

Jandreau

Brady Jandreau is a natural actor, and his face and demeanor make the movie called The Rider. He lived the part, as the writer and director based it on the young rodeo star’s life.

As Brady, he plays himself in essence: a young man who suffered brain damage from bronco riding. His simple values are tested when he must come to grips with losing his livelihood, his love of horse riding, and suffer the emasculation of living a life among his macho friends who are blind to his suffering.

Director Chloe Zhao wrote and produced this with her young star. She also cast Lane Scott as himself: another case of rodeo damage that has shattered a life. We do see videos of Lane as a handsome, virile young man—and in his present emaciated state, bearing able to speak.

The two damaged young cowboys are spiritual brothers of a lifestyle and a life-changing tragedy.

For Brady, the mirror of Lane drives him back to his horses, those magnificent beasts. Scenes of Brady riding along the barren landscape gives us a sense of 19th century Dakota Badlands. The beauty is nearly painful in its emptiness.

Storytelling is done with a series of vignettes of homelife, friends, and the few intrusions of the 21st century on the definition of man among cowboys. The young men who live on the rodeo circuit are in a time warp.

Through simple, sad scenes, the depiction of a life crumbling in anguish makes compelling film-making. Though likely to bore those wanting a true western, this film is a brilliant effort and likely one of the best pictures of 2018. Brady Jandreau may be one of those stars for whom there are no other roles.

 

Shooting Tut

DATELINE: First Photographer

Burton's Boy King

Harry Burton’s Colorized Boy King!

Howard Carter traveled and lectured using Harry Burton’s hand-colored glass plate photos from 1923 taken at the Valley of the Kings. Most of Burton’s photos, seldom seen, are brilliantly set up and lighted like a Vermeer.

Back in the days when it was politically incorrect, King Tutankhamun was known as Old King Tut. We doubt anyone knew any name except the nickname.

The Man Who Shot King Tutankhamun is an intriguing depiction of the picture man who shot with a camera.

The man who went with Howard Carter to document with stunning photos was named Harry Burton, largely forgotten figure behind the camera.

His photos were done on glass plates in the difficult conditions of the tomb, yet he composed them like one of the Great Masters.

A little documentary tries to give him credit, but he has hidden in the shadows for so long that he may be hard to find.

In this overview, the son of a blue-collar carpenter in England made his own fate at age 16 by hooking up with a wealthy art patron. He became a teenage travel companion and moved to the art circles of Florence, Italy, where he encountered the upper-crust and the wealthy. He made his lot with them, teaching himself photography and becoming an amateur archaeologist and assistant to the check writers of research.

Whether Burton was gay or not may be unresolved, or whether he merely found it an opportunistic means to climb the social ladder, he managed to enhance his innate talents in photography.

His glass plates were pristine, beautiful set-ups of the dig sites and discoveries. Using light determinations that had to be done by sense, not instrument, he created stunning images.

He managed to make a long-term association with the irascible Howard Carter, providing him with the fame from pictures of him with King Tut’s mummy. Burton remained in Egypt for the rest of his life, ending in 1940, where he became the ultimate expatriate.

 

 

Casey & AC at the Bat: Managers in World Series

DATELINE: Field of Dreams at Fenway Again

casey Casey, not AC?

If you were to ask, we doubt we’d have said we would return to watching the Red Sox again. Our last blog on them was several years ago, but it is the World Series in Boston, again.

If you were to ask if writing about the managers might be a possibility,we might shrug. However, we realized that two former Sox players were now in back in Boston as managers:  Yes, there was an aging star Dave Roberts, now with the Dodgers, and his counterpart Alex Cora.

Might we say there is Magic in the Moonlight at Fenway? Well, only because we saw Magic Johnson there in the stands, as an executive braintrust with the Los Angeles baseball team. Wasn’t he part of the Bird-Magic story in Boston?

No, wait, we were thinking of Moonlight Graham playing in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner was sitting in the stands with James Earl Jones who played Terence Mann, the writer who wanted to play with these same Dodgers.

No, we were shocked to see Alex Cora, or AC as his players call him in the modern familiarity with supervisors and managers. He was running a talent-laden team that had replaced the previous manager for not winning a World Series.

When AC pulled the hot rookie Devers and replaced him with a pitch hitter named Nunez, we were more in marvel at the assortment of beards on the players. Yet, suddenly, AC became a genius before a national audience.

The last time we saw that it was someone in another era by the name of Casey Stengel. He managed the New York Yankees, another talent-laden team that kept winning. Stengel would pick a pinch-hitter out of a hat who would win the game.

Suddenly there was AC channeling Casey. How appropriate, if not poetic. AC picked the man to win the game with a homer to the Monster Seats. It was a ghost movie for baseball once again.

 

 

 

Hitler’s Mountain Retreat

DATELINE:  Serviette from Hitler’s Table

Hitler's napkin

We have a long-standing aversion to these Nazi documentaries because, all too often, they are masked celebrations of the low-point of human history as occurred in Germany in the 1930s & 1940s.

Hitler’s Mountain: Hidden Remnants, a film about the ostentatious residence of Hitler in the Bavarian mountains sounds like one of those Netflix series episodes, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes: the Dark Side.

Well, we are happy to report that this film, French in origin, is fairly blunt about the evil that was done in such a place of beauty. Even Hitler’s waiters in white waistcoats were model Aryan coverboys.

Nazi overlord Martin Bormann oversaw the constant renovations: it was never finished. Ultimately the house above ground had 30 luxurious rooms with a titanic picture window, used as a backdrop by the Fuhrer. His stairway up to the house also served as a means to put diplomats in their place.

Most of the time, the house was the reserve of Eva Braun and her friends, where she took home movies of the luxury. After the war, most of her clothes and personal items were looted and put up for auction.

Though nearly everything above ground was bombed and then blown up again in the 1950s by the Bavarian government (which always sounds like Barbarian in this film), the greatest achievement was the underground bunker. It is actually a city, never quite finished. And it was never quite destroyed, now under lock and key for preservation. Even unfinished, its size rivaled a major subway system.

We also see the tablecloths and napkins that were used in the dining halls, as well as Hitler’s private silverware. This too is in a museum in France.

The Eagle’s Nest, reached by an elevator ride for 40 seconds, to the mountain top was never bombed, nor destroyed. Today it serves as an elegant restaurant in a rejuvenated area that features modern hotels and re-forestation of the area.

This extraordinary home will horrify viewers with the notion that it inspired Hitler’s most diabolical and vicious ideas. Home, sweet home, indeed.

 

Hi-Yo, Silva!

DATELINE: Yellow Brick Road to Singularity?

Hi-Ho Silva! 2045’s Pin-Up Boy?

Oh, we were pleasantly surprised to see Jason Silva, one-time game show host for Brain Games, has been elevated to Futurist and Philosopher for a new documentary called The Road to the Singularity.

Silva is affable, charming and good-looking, all the attributes of an American TV show host. We had no idea of his intellectual bent. He does have a degree in film and philosophy and thinks of himself as a “performance philosopher.”  Well, he is no slouch.

The latest riff is on the Singularity, that ugly term to describe what’s coming down the pike, like it or not, a major cultural shift in the human race. This time it is not language or agriculture: it’s Artificial Intelligence, and it will happen within your lifetime. The brains will belong to machines, and we end up dopes.

‘Look out,’ seems to be the message: what’s on the other side of the Singularity line may be hard to fathom right now. Technology is about to take a leap—whether the human race is up to the race to keep up.

If nanotechnology and biotechnology are too small for your aging eyes, you will have robotic beings to take up the slack. Like Michio Kaku, another futurist, Silva gives us the date of 2045 for this “Rapture”.

Our metro-sexual host is a cock-eyed optimist. He sees the use of metaphor as the best means to discuss “The Singularity.” All of those consulted in this half-hour show have not one whit of worry, like a gaggle of Alfred E. Neumanns.

You will see Jason Silva gesticulate with aplomb and carry on the future will be a time for personal growth for poets and artists. Our Venezuelan hottie (who claims not to be gay), Jason Silva turns into Pollyanna before our eyes. It’s definitely an example of the singularity of AI.

One Last Look at Rajon Rondo

DATELINE:  Go Away, NBA!

RondoLaughs Rondo.

A few years ago we stopped writing our satiric, light-hearted blogs about sports in the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

If you want to know why, take a close look at the antics of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA this weekend. A brawl of unimaginable hatreds broke out.

Former Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was at the epicenter if the blowup.  However, we were not surprised that Rondo’s deep-rooted emotional problems have not abated with age or change of venue. We wrote three books on him while he played in Boston. He became increasingly dark, like a Darth Vader figure. He wasn’t funny or amusing by the end of the Boston tenure.

We were more appalled by the vocabulary and attitude of the official NBA investigation to this latest “spitting” on another player incident. The NBA has millions of dollars invested in presenting the players as cute, all-American boys who have made good.

The truth is far more disturbing. You have pampered, spoiled, egomaniacs with emotional problems, ghetto backgrounds, and gang-related ties. The NBA does not want to talk about that.

There is now a media cottage industry geared to protect these guilty parties from themselves. The cash cows are all around the sport—products, foods, endorsements, personality cults, and it is all a fraud perpetrated on the gullible public for their entertainment—and to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to unsuspecting fans amid fixes.

Are we surprised a brawl broke out based on ten-year old feuds and jealousies? Are we amused by the outmoded macho attitudes of these testosterone-drenched idiots?

The answer is simply we don’t write about them anymore, and that should be our final response to those who ask why we don’t present those funny, double-entendre drenched blogs nowadays.

Scanning the Great Pyramid

DATELINE: Don’t Scan Zowie Hotass!

 Zowie Hotass

Here’s a documentary that you won’t see on Ancient Aliens.

Scanning the Pyramids is actually a misnomer about Khufu’s Great Pyramid. Oh, they do a quick test on the bent pyramid, but the real focus is on the extraordinary discoveries they make. This is a joint expedition with scientists from France, Japan, and Egypt.

Using new technology, they want to break ground without moving a stone. Yep, they can look inside the pyramid with something called muon scans. These little items come cascading in from space in a straight line, meaning they can photograph them on plates.

This new x-ray system should tell scientists whether there are more chambers inside the Great Pyramid.

The more sensation-seeking fans of ancient astronauts and genius architects in ancient Egypt will not be happy. Indeed, our favorite media hog and Egyptian Antiquities Queen of the Nile, Zahi Hawass, aka Zowie Hotass, shows up with an entourage, sputtering his disdain for science over Egyptology.

Nothing receives a green light in his dark vision. He thinks small pebbles may be inside the new pyramid void.

Unfortunately, Hawass Hotass is a political kingpin or is that pharaoh-pinhead? He is the stamp of approval scientists must face down.

He is, shall we say, skeptical of the findings, or even of the methodology.

The Japanese physicist who pioneers muongraphics looks like a teenager, which doesn’t help. However, all three countries confirm their findings that about 2/3 up the north side, where you see a pyramid notch, there may be another great chamber. It takes two years for this research to reach fruition, but it is worth it.

No one knows what may be inside the newly discovered great void, or even what shape it takes, but it is the first major discovery in 1000 years at the Great Pyramid. It is compelling evidence and fascinating science, unless you happen to believe in the Flat Earth like Hawass.

Destiny Meets Nuptials in Destination Wedding

DATELINE: New Vehicle, Old Stars

 

Can this really be an updated Noel Coward wit-laden play that substitutes the F-word for effective punchlines? We were pleasantly surprised by Destination Wedding. It is a throw-back and a throw-forward.

We can almost see Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the leads. However, this is 2018, and the stars are Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder.

Actually, they are absolutely wonderful, and the film is surprisingly fast-paced with dialogue, the likes of which we have not seen since Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis carried on in Moonlighting.

With five-minute conversations dotting their relationship, two mismatched people who dislike each other, thrown together for a wedding neither wants to attend. The insults are so fast and devastating, you hardly have time to laugh.

The jokes are not hoary like Airplane, but actually are based on language play and double entendre. This is not a movie made for today’s dull-witted audiences, and it is a sheer delight for aging boomers who miss acerbic wit.

The two stars are now aging, and not gracefully. However, they are perfect specimens for this kind of movie, about bitter people on the cusp of middle-age.

This is more or less a two-person, low-budget playlet about two gadflies who are testy and nasty, observing a wedding in sotto voce. We admire the film’s courage in going against all conventions of modern movies.

Of course, the obvious subtext is whether these two strangers are meant for each other in a world where no one else wants them.

As Winona states, there is someone for everyone in this world. Keanu disputes this by saying, “Close. There’s no one for anyone in this world.”

Most critics hated this movie because the characters were too unlikable. We wish to point out that most film critics are unlikable.

We are, however, firmly for this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

Palace of Silents, Off Sunset Boulevard

DATELINE: Silence Please!

silent movie theatre

We thought Palace of Silents would be some nostalgic look at a movie house that shows only silent movies since the early 1940s. You know, slightly wacky, obsessive people with good intentions.

Little did we know we were about to enter Sunset Boulevard where Los Angelinos are all Norma Desmond.

You have to love a movie that offers you a surprise or two.

Around the start of World War II, a conscientious objector named Hampton and his wife built their own tiny theatre with a small apartment above. Here they planned to show his grand collection of silent movies to an ever-decreasing and disinterested public.

Not exactly a popular activity, he was a pioneer in film restoration, finding the best prints and splicing them together in his home lab. If a half-dozen people came by, it was enough for forty years.

A friend named Lawrence Austin horned in on the widow, pulling a snow job on her and taking over the property. Lawrence Austin was a Hollywood fraud, telling lies and embezzling to beat the band. However, he refurbished the theatre and continued its mission. Silent Movie Theatre continued, perhaps even flourished with riding the coattails of Buster Keaton revivals.

Austin’s dubious and secretive past (he was a closet gay and may have used the old theatre for shows not on the screen). Eventually, he had a laundry list of enemies, including ex-cons.

He was murdered one night in the theatre as it was about to show Murnau’s Sunrise. A minor scandal in Hollywood, it was quickly solved, and the theatre was saved again by a vaudevillian mentality who knew little about silent movies.

Yet, the story of the grand old movie house transcends scandal, sordid lives, and misuse of its charm. The movie may pleasantly surprise you.