Body Snatchers 1979

 DATELINE: Sequel, not Remake!

snatchers 3 Peas in a Pod?

The movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy back in the late 1970s was not technically a remake, but a sequel.

Though it uses the same story-line by Jack Finney from his novel, it is slightly updated to contemporary times. Then, out of the original ending comes a running Kevin McCarthy, the original star, dashing through the streets of San Francisco like Paul Revere, calling people to alert.

The “pod people” are coming. Indeed.

This film is even more nightmarish in its paranoia than the original 1950s Commies under the bed movie.

Here the paranoia is steeped in everyone and everything. People are either inexplicably dashing to-and-fro in the background, or they are staring emotionlessly at you.

San Francisco, always weird anyhow, is the perfect backdrop for chaos and insanity.

Gathering some of the most familiar of sci-fi faces, the film puts Veronica Cartwright (Aliens) with Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park  ) and Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) as a motley crew.

The film is surprisingly modern with the omission of Internet and PCs, which did not exist back then. However, the government control and conspiracy notions are heavy-handed. The use of public phones will be an incomprehensible throwback for young viewers who may wonder where the texting is.

Visual details are fascinating and complex. No one seems to wonder why rubbish trucks are constantly picking up  mounds of black cotton at night. This is the ultimate conspiracy theorist wallow.

If you are a conspiracy nut, then you will not have much restful sleep after watching this looney-tune of a science fiction horror. It puts together man-eating plants with the egg-head monsters of Alien.

Sherlock v. Conan Doyle: Battle Royale

DATELINE: Who Hates Sherlock Holmes? The Author

doyle

If ever there was a legendary love/hate relationship, it was between Sherlock Holmes and the man who was his spiritual father and creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

In a French documentary called Sherlock Holmes Against Conan Doyle, we have a battle on the order of a duel with the Napoleon of Crime and the Actors Who Took Him On.

Meant to be a money-making enterprise and a throwaway for a couple of stories, Holmes turned into Doyle’s Frankenstein Monster.

A marvelous and entertaining documentary gives us a blow-by-blow description of Doyle’s losing war with his temperamental genius/consulting detective.

You know who will win this fight. Holmes has survived with hundreds of movies and TV shows, depicted by a variety of actors with waspy disdain—from Rathbone to Jeremy Brett, to the modern versions like Cumberbatch. Thankfully, we never see Robert Downey in the role.

The little hour is chock full of clips of these Sherlocks making annotations on Conan Doyle, a man of some adventure and style himself. Often thought as a Watson type, Doyle was actually more of a Professor Challenger sort.

Killing Holmes was frowned upon even by Doyle’s mother, and money is the great resurrection device. After ten years, Doyle was forced to bring him back from the dead.

Based on an old professor who used to wow the med students with his erudition, Holmes was a clever creation who was enhanced by his narrative fellow, long-suffering and frequent punching bag named Dr. John H. Watson.

If you want to see fleeting glimpses of many classic Holmes portrayals, and rare clips of Doyle, you may enjoy the time, though it covers familiar territory.

 

Broken Hearts Club, 20 Years Later

DATELINE: Sexy Romantic Comedy?

stellar cast

Of all the weird elements of the Broken Hearts Club is its subtitle, a Romantic Comedy.  It is nothing of the sort, but rather a version of a gay sex farce. That takes nothing away from its polished and entertaining qualities.

The other oddity, still years later, is the cast of all-straight men, mostly at the start of their big careers, and all playing mincing gay boys of different stripes. It’s like one of those World War II platoons with different ethnicity and stereotypes.

The cast is stellar, including Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood and Justified) giving a slightly off performance that nearly convinces us he is gay. Of course, his kissing abilities are hot, but he has been married for years.

So has Dean Cain as the Lothario of the group and Zach Braff as the gayest queen.

The ragtag friends work part-time in some capacity or other at Jack’s a gay friendly restaurant in Los Angeles, and they play softball for the business. This gives the actors a chance to prance around in queenly fashion.

When dramatic moments are called for, the actors are highly polished and strong, even in their disappointments with love. They seem to avoid falling into bed with each other, but when it happens, look out.

Greg Berlanti writes and directs with aplomb and wit, though stereotypes are required. The young men are all 20-somethings, in the tail end of the AIDS crisis and not really part of it.

We would like the director to do a sequel and show us these men and their dissipated lives at age 50. It might prove more instructive, if not frightening, to see what happens to handsome gay men in middle-age.

World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, s2

DATELINE: Are You Being Served?

piers & caroline Your Presenters!

They’re back, and they’re just as lovable this time around. Yes, the two presenters for the BBC series, Caroline and Piers.

The hosts are like Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphreys from Are You Being Served? No American show would dare to give the reins to a middle-aged zaftig actress and a slightly epicene architect.

Together they tackle four episodes of garish homes with their usual flattering aplomb. Caroline does admit in a few instances that she is less than charmed with the accommodations.

The houses are in Miami, Portugal, Switzerland, and Japan. All the homes favour spectacular views and ostentatious shows of moneybags.

Once again, the hosts seem unbothered by endless staircases and innumerable stairs. These are not houses meant for anyone with shortness of breath or arthritis in the knees.

And the open walls are out-of-place in hot, hurricane prone areas. Are there no mosquitoes? Often out of the house before nightfall, these extraordinary homes are denied mundane appearances. In the latest season, they seem to find houses with the best picture windows in the world, no mean feat in itself.

Piers has taken on a more rakish look this season, with pop colors and shades of different hues, and Caroline is more of the same. Together they are genuine and effusive, perhaps a bit too much, like a dotty aunt and uncle.

Nevertheless, we enjoy every moment provided by the presenters of the amazing places, Even if they turn out to be a pyramid of vanity.

 

 

Children of Giant: Mexican POV in Marfa

DATELINE: Unavoidable James Dean Strikes Again

Children of Giant Children of Giant!

If you know anything about our Hollywood history books on the story behind making movies, you know that we would be hot on the trail of George Stevens’ 1955 classic epic Giant. 

Made On location in Marfa, Texas, with Elizabeth Taylor as an early feminist in 1920s Texas, and Rock Hudson as the laconic cowpoke who owned Reata, a cattle ranch, you are overwhelmed with James Dean who stood out on the landscape,

However much the director wants to make this a movie about the Mexican discrimination in Texas, James Dean is there to steal the movie. He dominates everything in the fascinating film called Children of Giant.

Actor Earl Holliman is still around to give his perspective, and Jane Withers appears to have declined to participate.

Director Stevens’s son, notable Hollywood producer George Stevens, Jr., offers many insights. They say little about Dean.

It was the film James Dean died making. It was a Western that showed the yellow rose of Texas was a yellow streak of Jim Crow laws against Mexicans. The children loved him, and they saw him as someone special and caring.

Today Marfa’s racism almost seems quaint, next to the horrors being inflicted on Mexicans under Trump.

New York historical novelist Edna Ferber was spot on depicting wild cat billionaire Glenn McCarthy (aka Jett Rink in the movie and book). James Dean’s makeup and style mimics McCarthy in his late middle-age.

Dean is remembered fondly by the Mexican children and adults whom he befriended in Marfa, Texas. Indeed, if you are looking for stories about Dean’s public urination in front of town onlookers, or even the tale of Dean going after director Stevens in a fight over his performance, you will find only slight nods in that direction.

Yet, as a social history document about a social history movie, you could not find a more spot-on documentary. It features townsfolk giving their insights and sharing their unusual photos.

It is nirvana for a movie maven who delights in the behind-the-scenes activity. This little PBS documentary packs a wallop and a message from the children of Marfa in 1955. Unfortunately, James Dean is still the big draw. George Stevens and Edna Ferber could not avoid him then or now.

 Dr. William Russo wrote The Next James Dean, which is available as an ebook and print work on Amazon.

 

Bend Unbroken, Stir Unshaken

DATELINE:  James Bond Satire

Chris Lew Kum Hoi Dr. Tu Yung

How amusing is a gay parody of James Bond? Well, if you tune into Matt Carter’s one-hour spoof, you may be more than pleasantly surprised. It is not too violent, nor too sexual.

It’s Jayson Bend: Queen & Country.

So, it falls into a Goldlocks world of gay cinema. And, thank heavens, it is not about teenagers with a coming out angst and done on videotape.

Some of it is heavy-handed, as it is always difficult to satirize a satire—and people often forget that James Bond was Ian Fleming’s satiric secret agent. He is taken too seriously.

Matt Carter seems to have his name and paws all over this little film. It stars Davis Brooks as Jayson Bend (not Bent), but it’s Jayson with a “Y”—and don’t ask.

We find the cute girls are replaced by cute boys—and Dr. Tu Yung is an adorable villain (played by Chris Lew Kum Hoi).

What may be a great surprise is that this film has a big budget look about it. The color is bright and bold, and the fast cars and special effects are just right. The only violence is at the start, and the sex is chaste: hints by kiss.

It’s safe for straight guys.

Tripping Again with Coogan & Brydon

 DATELINE: Another Sequel, not Deja Vu

 tripping

No, you didn’t read this movie review last week here.

What more can you ask?  Beautiful scenery, lovely music, and witty conversation. Yes, those two British actors (one with 2 Oscar nominations) are back to delight us.

We have skipped the second trip to Italy for now and cut to the chase with Trip to Spain. These two marvelous performers can hit the road and still hit their marks. This is another followup to their British series, The Trip, condensed and made into a feature film. No, it’s not a mid-life crisis movie, despite what the New York Times claims.

They seem to make the films every three or four years, which is just about right. They are reality-based, as the stars play themselves, notable thespians and comedians on a journalistic journey for the New York Times as food critics, or culture commentators.

With each stop at a breathtaking locale, Steve Coogan foams at the mouth with his erudite knowledge. Heaven help you if you know more or have enough. Rob Brydon can match him every mile, and that makes them chemically compatible.

Each morsel is back-lit with some of the funniest conversations this side of reality. Coogan notes how sorry he feels for anyone who thinks this stuff is not scripted and fully ad-libbed. It’s likely a circle within a square is outlined and the two drop in their witticisms.

However, the impressions make all the difference over the meals. When they argue over who does the best Mick Jagger impression as he plays Hamlet, you have moments that will knock fans of Noel Coward into the aisle.

Coogan remains prickly, but Brydon manages to break him up several times this trip, which may not have been planned.

If Coogan reminds us of ourselves, then we have had a bittersweet lesson. Sheer delight awaits the viewer.

 

 

 

In Search of …Atlantis & Quinto

DATELINE: First Season Success

atlantis 

The grande finale of the Zachary Quinto series that has impressed us each step of the season is billed as a two-parter but is really merely an extended two-hour episode.

Sending Quinto off on the quest puts him squarely in the Mediterranean Sea. The stopovers include Greece, Crete, North Africa, Sardinia, and all spots that might be an island—or not.

We start, as per usual, with doomsday sayers and crack-pot experts, but Zak finds some level-headed researchers to set the course.

Once again the actor has a great adventure or two, diving into open sea when he really is not a fan of it. He climbs into old, dank tombs too. He is a gamer in the search, and we believe him that he really has an interest in these notions.

Atlantis is not an island, but an empire. There are 51 points of discovery that Plato offered researchers—and matching up spots to the clues is the name of the game.

Quinto learns along the way that the Atlantans may be the progenitors of Rh negative blood types. These folks have a bunch of characteristics, but he is most intrigued by the pointy ear theory (his only reference to Spock in the new series).

He is clearly fascinated.  And he is willing to learn he too has Rh negative blood, possibly an Atlantan. It is a good way to make the host and producer of the show truly a meaningful part of the formula.

Ancient ruins, recently excavated, indicate that meteors, floods, tsunamis, or other natural disasters could have buried Atlantis. It need not be under the sea, but under tons of earth.

For that reason, Atlantis might be a landlocked place, with rivers circling it, as in Morocco.

If you want to end the first season on a high note, the History show is the perfect coda—and likely will cause fans to demand another season with Zak.

 

 

 

The Wilder Sherlock

DATELINE:  Sherlock Takes a Bath!

 Stephens & Blakely

When master auteur Billy Wilder (who gave us gems like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, One Two Three) gives us his take on Sherlock Holmes, we are ready for something unusual. So, we overly anticipated watching his film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

All that promise seems to go up in a cocaine dream as an overlong movie that could be half-an-hour shorter and more succinct, maintaining the early humor.

Wilder puts all your standard Holmes patter into the pot (Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and irritation with Dr. Watson’s stories). That stuff is quite amusing.

The first third of the film is filled with the kind of humor you expect from Wilder—sophisticated, sharp, and delightful. He raises the ugly specter that Holmes and Watson are consenting adults—and he makes more comprehensible, Holmes turning to his seven-percent solution.

Funny bits with the Russian ballet, and boring cases about midgets, make us think we are entering a funnier world than Conan Doyle envisioned.

Colin Blakely is a delightful Dr. Watson, and Robert Stephens protests too much about being a woman-hating fop. He plays Holmes with a tad flamboyance, disdaining deerstalker hats and women equally. He is more than a fop. We are almost in panty-waist territory.

Christopher Lee is around as a more peripatetic Mycroft, showing up in places other than the Diogenes.

Wilder cannot throw away a line. Midgets come back to haunt us, after one bad joke. And having Queen Victoria seem to resemble a Munchkin is over the top and under the height limit for small talk.

Throw in the Loch Ness monster of sorts, and you have something that would later be taken as gospel by the Robert Downey school of Sherlock acting and writing.

We wished the Private Life of Sherlock could have been taken for better, not for worse. We remain loyal in sickness and health, good and bad.

 

 

Trump’s Deadly Numbers Game

DATELINE: Serial Tweeter?

 glow in dark pee pot

President Bone Spurs Trump, Liar Emeritus, and ace wriggler out of any blame, now contends that 2975 people did not die in Puerto Rico from two hurricane rescue missions his Administration completely mismanaged.

Let them drink those bottled waters sitting on pallets, never distributed to thirsty Americans.

In his prevaricating way, T-Rump contends that Democrats (not even the fake media this time) have inflated the death figures to make him look bad.

He doesn’t need anyone to make him look bad. He does it all by himself.

If his Mad Hatter attitude strikes you as appalling, you number among the 60% of the country who disapprove of this horse’s rear end sitting on his rear end in the White House.

He rises up only to golf and charge taxpayers with the cartload of Secret Service who must follow him hole to hole to the tune of $300,000.

The minority of racists and white supremacists who believe the island of Puerto Rico is a foreign country, not an American territory inhabited by American citizens, support Trump’s new math calculations.

In fact, when you boil it down in history, with the anniversary of terror attack on 9/11 only a few days past, you have 2996 Americans killed by two planes driven off course by terrorists. Mr. Bone Spurs, the artful draft dodger, falls merely 20 fewer dead among his derelict presidency with twin hurricanes he ignored.

Trump has killed 2975 Americans in two hurricanes that he allowed to fester without assisting the suffering.

There is something delusional about a cretin sitting in power. More reasonable people now await the day that lends itself to men with nets in white coats coming to the White House to cart him off.

Throw him some bottled water on the way out. It cannot come soon enough.

 

 

Out of Time and Out of Clues

DATELINE: Dean Cain & Denzel Back in 2003

Dean & Denzel

Like Bruce Willis, for twenty years or more, Denzel Washington has showed a knack for picking interesting films and character roles. One of these is called Out of Time, a hackneyed suspense drama.

In 2003, he tried his luck as a semi-corrupt small-town sheriff in the Florida Keys. The film has all the workings of film noir in the 1940s that Robert Mitchum could have played.

Denzel is an anchor among some flashy performers, and the opening wit is entertaining before it devolves into a mystery muddier than anything Raymond Chandler could dredge up.

You will enjoy seeing Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain as a couple of reprobates, but their general dubious crime associations are masked by their attractiveness. The first-half fun is replaced by a phony suspense device in the second half.

Eva Mendes as Denzel’s ex-wife and John Billingsley as his slob of a medical examiner are worth having their own pictures. Sanaa Lathan and Eva play ping-pong with Denzel’s balls.

Plot holes start to do in the viewer as the complications become less amusing and more ridiculous. It seems Denzel’s sheriff is a dope (self-admitted by film’s end) and must work to extricate himself from a set-up that, for unknown reasons, makes him a fall-guy.

Since he is a charmer and likeable, we figure that drug dealers have it in for him. We might be wrong, as usual. However, clever clues are not forthcoming to help armchair detectives figure out the thriller mystery. Yet, Dean Cain and Denzel are at the peak of their youthful good looks in this one, and they are highly watchable.

All your natural action ingredients are tossed in, and there is a time handicap that never really becomes a deadline of importance. The suspense is botched.

Yet, for Denzel’s fans, it is another masterful performance in a well-produced movie. For the rest of us, it’s a ho-hummer, beating the clock for an hour.

 

Two Mrs. Carrolls Lacks Noir

 DATELINE: Oldie May Not Be Goodie

  Stanwyk & Bogart Great Stars! Abysmal Script!

Back in the late 1940s, it was tough to find leading ladies who were strong enough to stand up to Humphrey Bogart. Usually producers fell back on his wife, Lauren Bacall, for a counterpoint.

In a rare miss, Bogart was teamed with one of the big misses of the era.

Big women movie stars on the screen—like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—did not measure up to the scripts that suited Bogart.

On the other hand, Barbara Stanwyk was also a tough cookie to play against. She was so tough that her leading men came off as Neanderthal, if not pussycats. Gary Cooper was a regular costar, and after that, you were facing weaker characters (played by Fred MacMurray or Ronald Reagan, or the nice guys like Bill Holden).

After Sorry, Wrong Number, she took on more nasty victims, and so we come to teaming Bogart and Stanwyk, almost deserving of each other in the dull-witted murder-thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Stanwyk is hysterical on the telephone once again, and rest assured, the rainy Scottish weather means that Bogart will don his obligatory trench-coat and fedora for at least one scene. It isn’t enough.

It was post-World War II and tough-guy actors were stretching into demi-villains. Thus odd-ball film is set in Scotland with an American cast of apparent expatriates. Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson) is on hand as a dotty doctor for Stanwyk as she is poisoned, and Alexis Smith is the new muse for the diabolical painter.

You keep wondering when Sydney Greenstreet will show up to trap Bogart’s bad guy.

As Geoffrey Carroll, Humphrey Bogart loses interest in his latest wife as muse, murders her, and finds another. It is kind of Andrea del Sarto as Bluebeard.

He plays an unconvincing American artist in this one, not a detective, and he seems to have headaches when the word “death” echoes behind him. He exhibits a bunch of the Deadly Sins—including rage, pride, jealousy, among others.

His alleged successful paintings are deplorable.

These are not good signs for Bogie in the last days of noir. They may be worse news for Stanwyk as victim. She is made so demure that the point of putting a strong woman opposite Bogart was lost. Bogart feeds poisoned milk to his wives, like Cary Grant in Suspicion by Hitchcock. It’s that kind of copycat movie.

This British play is devoid of wit, suspense, plot, action, or anything that could be saved by the high-powered actors at the top of their careers. This was not a Warner Brothers film, or it would never have been made like this.

The final few seconds are the high-point when Bogie offers warm milk to the policemen about to take him away. (Oh, it’s laced with that poison).

What a disappointment for the most part.

 

 

 

The Trip (of Light Fantastic)

DATELINE: Boon Companions

trip 2.jpeg

Gourmet Wit & Impersonations on the menu!

We don’t know how we missed this film or its sequels. We are delighted to say we have found them now: epicurean wit and breathtaking scenery.

Two minor actors for reasons unclear are assigned to sample fancy restaurants in northern England. You may well ask if there any fancy restaurants in far-off south of Scotland. You may well ask yourself why two actors would be hired as journalists, not even TV journalists.

Yet, this light fare is sweet enough and fluffy around the edges. Steve Coogan is often insufferable and hardly worthy of spending five days in a long car ride. Rob Brydon is more pleasant and funnier. We do vote that Steve’s Michael Caine impersonation is better.

They have an edgy friendship, Platonic as Steve claims, but Coogan is known for his gay-themed movies like Philomena and Ideal Home. Here, he plays himself: as a womanizing aging actor.

There are some hilarious moments in a largely improvised script. One wonders why Brydon would be willing to go along after being told that just about everyone else said, no, thanks.

After an hour with Coogan, we understand why everyone from ex-wives to children and girlfriends are loathe to go anywhere with him. Alexander Pope’s wit likely rendered him unpleasant too. Groucho’s did.

They eat delectable meals and seem to have no appreciation for the hard work that goes into their menu trivia.

They sing-along during boring rides in the countryside, and they stop off in famous literary haunts. Their witty impersonations of notable and not-so-notable British stars (Michael Caine, Sean Connery, yes; Michael Sheen, no) are lively and funny.

Ultimately, Brydon admits that Coogan was exactly what he expected during their trip, and Coogan turns down a chance to star in an American TV series about a British pathologist.

How much is reality? How much is fake? Well, they made a few sequels—and we will sign up to go along with them.

Coogan insists it is not reality at all. It is the epitome of entertainment.

 

Simpleton Luck of the Logans

 DATELINE:   Hunh?

Untitled

What have we got he-yah? When you go with a Channing Tatum movie, you never know what’s inside the movie box of chocolates. Logan Lucky is pot luck and a spin of the wheel of fortune.

In this film, paunchy Channing looks like he put on 30 pounds from eating boxes of chocolates. It might be a fat suit, but on him it is a shock.

A rather extraordinary cast dumbs down their typecast Hollywood looks. We’ve seen these actors playing sharper and more sophisticated roles than the denizens of Hooterville in the Hills.

It’s all in fun, though we aren’t quite sure if hayseeds will be offended by the sincerity of the actors.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play a couple of down-on-their luck dumb and dumber brothers who are disabled veterans and abused and neglected good ol’boys. One limps and one has a prosthetic hand.

Yes, it’s a comedy.

This is the story of genuine brothers who don’t need a bromance to seal the real deal.

You have to like them, even when Boss Hogg Daniel Craig shows up with a Southern drawl and platinum hair to tell them they are simpletons. They plan to break him out of the Big House to help them blow up a safe. For James Bond this is a grit of hominy.

It’s part of Tatum and Driver’s charm that they will use their abused lives to disabuse a race course speedway payroll. Hillary Swank is an investigating FBI agent.

Well, of course, we are in the deepest darkest land of speedway race-cars and going ‘round the bend means a life of watching cars careen around a track several hundred laps.

These hillbillies make nice folks like the Clampitts seem like rocket scientists. When the brothers seek a computer expert, he boasts he knows “all the Twitters” with a twang.

The plot holes are in the heads of the characters. It’s a caper movie with a twist of moonshine.

How could you resist this trifle truffle?

 

 

In Search of….Life After Death

 DATELINE: Thereafter in the Hereafter?

alcor Freeze Your Asset Off?

Dead to rights, you are likely afraid of death. This episode of In Search of…would not be a comfort if you are. It seemed to spook Zachary Quinto, the unflappable host.

The series tackled the question of surviving death, immortality, fountains of youth, and cheating the Grim Reaper, with a variety of considerations.

We met a few experts—one in paranormal with engineering skills to make devices to catch spirit sounds. Another expert in near death experiences (NDE) spoke of the “wonderful experience,” of dying.

Yet another talked about the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel when he almost drowned—and seeing a busy Grand Central Station of spirits, by the cartload, wandering these long halls. It seems commuting never ends.

There are, we are told, 200,000 near death survivors from all cultures, and they tell the same story about their minutes on the steps of the Afterlife.

Quinto wanders the halls of the Omini Parker House hotel in Boston which is reportedly haunted. There he manages to hear some voices from beyond.

The most ghoulish and creepy stuff centered on Alcor, the business in Arizona that promises new life by cryogenically freezing either your head or entire body. To have your brain (still in its safety skull) frozen will cost you about $80,000.  Cheap if they have not destroyed your brain cells in the process of putting you 320 degrees below zero. Baseball legend Ted Williams is there.

Quinto also took in Harvard Medical School where a pill keeps mice young—and soon will alter your DNA enough to keep you alive for about 140 years.

All in all, one bioethics expert noted that postponing death will render the point killer of art useless. No more need for Mozart’s Requiem, if you never die. It will be meaningless.