Dead Again, Hysterical Satire

DATELINE: Reincarnation Mystery

kookoo mystery Kookoo Noir Takeoff

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when Kenneth Branagh was considered the reincarnation of Orson Welles, with a dollop of Laurence Olivier thrown into the mix.

So, the time has arrived to re-assess one of his early efforts called Dead Again from 1991.

He was a promising and brilliant director of unusual fare and acted well too. This looney mystery deviated from his usual Shakespearean play adaptations by entering the film noir, detective story, broadly copying Warner and Parmount features of the late 1940s.

What most missed back then was the fact that this overwrought tale of reincarnation and murder was overdone deliberately. We cannot believe Branagh was dumb enough to think this was not a comedy.

The film does double duty: telling a modern case of a detective Mike Church in LA today, and the strange killer, Roman Strauss, a composer and conductor of 1948, who was executed for murdering his wife. The black and white noir flashbacks are spot on for 1940s imitation. Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are suitably channeled.

Branagh is a little weird as a detective (his reincarnated self) who is an LA sleuth with a Brooklyn accent. That might be the first mistake, or first clue.

The cast is equally impressive, with Emma Thompson as Strauss’s wife, the concert pianist victim, and the modern woman with amnesia that Church must help.

Call in Derek Jacobi as some kind of psychic hypnotist to regress the woman to 1948, and you have another brilliant performer slightly out of place in an American movie.

Also hanging around in cameos are Robin Williams, Scott Campbell, and Andy Garcia. This film is no slouch when it comes to top-level talent. Yes, Wayne Knight is here too.

We are a sucker when it comes to transgender resurrection and timeless love stories.

Everyone immediately notices that Emma Thompson resembles a woman dead in 1948, but no one seems to notice that Kenneth Branagh resembles her convicted murderer, executed in 1949.

Oh, well, that’s Life Magazine for you. In the meantime, the movie moves more and more toward utter lunacy, skipping over plot holes like hopscotch gone to bad karma.

We like our twist of reincarnation with a bitter of gender bending. Add some lemons and you have Branagh imitating Paramount and Warner Brothers murder mystery thrillers of the 1940s with panache. We are Between Two Worlds and the Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Like a warm British beer, this movie is all frothy, and the suds will make you queasy. It’s eye-rolling fun.

 

 

In from the Cold? Richard Burton

DATELINE: Portrait of Welsh Rare-bit

Burton & Hamlet Yorick with Burton!

Just a few years after his death in 1984, a comprehensive documentary biography of the great stage and film actor Richard Burton stands as the definitive word on his career and life. It is called, overly rococo, In from the Cold? Portrait of Richard Burton.

To put Elizabeth Taylor and two-time husband Burton into perspective, they were the Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen of their era.

A poor Welsh boy, Richard Jenkins found success through his good looks and well-modulated voice. His legal guardian was Philip Burton who helped him achieve his initial goals.

Only later did he seem to sell his soul for international fame and money. It seems to have brought him emptiness and unhappiness.

Generous to a fault, he supported dozens of people with his film revenue. It underwrote some of his great stage work:  Camelot, Equus, Hamlet, and even Private Lives.

We see him playing Edwin Booth as Laurence Olivier as Richard III. Indeed, Olivier asked him whether he wanted to be a great stage actor or a rich movie star. He was both.

The film contains some fairly unflattering interviews with Lauren Bacall, Joe Mankiewicz, and Mike Nichols, who seem to trace his downfall to the soul-selling deal with Elizabeth Taylor. Indeed, the film uses clips from Virginia Woof, Faustus, Wagner, and the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as biographical annotations on Burton’s predicament, in his own words. He is hoisted on the petard ruthlessly.

The man was far gentler than his righteous angry young man personality—and dissipated roue of later years.

If Elizabeth Taylor was his Waterloo and Watergate, he was complicit in the lifestyle. The film skips over a few morsels but stays away from trivia that might be too revealing. He did a guest bit on The Lucy Show to satirize his own character. He gave interviews in which he seems to be acting, or not. It is hard to tell.

To hear that grand voice again, and see those notorious news reel clips, is shocking to reveal how long he has been gone, and how much he is missed. There has never been a replacement—in movies, or the sad last years of Miss Taylor’s life.

Hard to Kill, Harder to Watch

DATELINE:  Hard Jobs

Tim Unleashed Tim Kennedy Unleashed

Tim Kennedy, formerly of Hunting Hitler as the go-to adventurer who investigated dangerous people, has gone a step beyond for a new Discovery series.

Hard to Kill is one of those “dangerous job” shows where some rank amateur tries his hand, without training, at doing something where you need a few years of experience to do the job right.

So, Tim Kennedy, former Green Beret, muscle-man, pushing forty years, is perfect as the guy being a man in a world of wussies. In the old days we called him a dare-devil, or simply foolhardy, or blithering idiot.

He shows guts and lack of brains at the same time.

In the first show, he tries his hand at “American bullfighter,” and it’s not what you expect. In the jargon of pop culture, this job is rodeo clown:  the guy in clown makeup who distracts the rampaging bull from running over the fallen rider.

This is risky. Breaking bones is the easy way out. Jumping to the fence to escape the bull’s charge is not a good idea, as these pros tell Kennedy: you can be impaled on an immovable object (a fence slat).

Bulls run at 35mph and are reasonably adept at hitting their target. You can plainly see that the rodeo men take it seriously to protect their own—and sending out an untrained person is not only foolhardy, but unethical. Yet, the price of TV fame comes high, so to speak.

Kennedy is personable and overly energetic, but these kind of adventurers were the explorers of yesteryear. They may seem anachronistic today or suited only for TV derring-do.

 

 

Sentinels of Ancient Aliens, 13.9

DATELINE: Here’s Mud in Your Moai

 moai

In the latest episode of the series Ancient Aliens, Giorgio Tsoukalos has been teamed up with another regular, David Childress, and they went to the South Seas, Easter Island and the Marquesas to find the usual suspects: mythic gods who were really extraterrestrials. Don’t give these Rapa Nui a bad rap.

“The Sentinels” is your standard episode, but now features Giorgio as a central analyst with a variety of associates. Of the 900 Moai statuary on Easter Island, only seven face the ocean. These 36 feet tall monoliths are right out of a Kubrick movie.

These giants are presumed to be literal depictions, facing out to another location—which happens to be the Marquesa Islands. Our intrepid theorists visit and consult with others. They find similar legends about giants, in flying turtle disguise. The ancient astronauts were called Tiki, and that is no con job.

Thousands of years ago these cosmic turtles seemed to have arrived along the ley lines in the South Pacific. Of course, it is a short jump to make these islands a series of space ports from where spaceships came and went, impressing natives.

As for those Moai, they appear to be giant hybrids. They fled the Marquesas because they were hunted by the Polynesians as a delicacy: their brains were thought to have immortality imprinted.

The eyes of the Moai may hold the key to their abilities, and the large hats they wear are loaded with cryptic messages.

Nothing new emerges in this episode, but it is another piece of ancient history that indicates modern science is missing a few more links than they care to admit.

 

 

 

In Search of…Fake Smarts

DATELINE: Bots Nobody Should Love

boy bot

Zachary Quinto was duly surprised and unnerved by the scientists he met to discuss artificial intelligence. It would appear it is already too late to stop it from taking over the world. In Search of went looking at bots and the bottom line of artificial intelligence.

Nearly every computer-generated scientist found Quinto’s questions “valid,” but not one had the interest to consider stopping his own work. It seems that artificial intelligence may control the world within a decade.

Quinto visited a place called RealDoll where they make $8000 robots in the guise of buxom women with bee-stung lips. As an after thought, there was also a young male bot. You can program emotional reactions, but they are smarmy—like their creator.

Quinto felt that giving robots the power to choose who lives and dies might be a problem when they take over military systems. No one else in authority had much to say about it.

Of course, androids or robots have their uses in dangerous situations—with bombs, radiation, or delicate surgery. Yet, giving them to power to make decisions could mean they access our Facebook page to determine whether we are worthy.

Indeed, Facebook scientists created robots who quickly went out of control last year, making their own language and freezing out their creators. Be afraid.

The host once again came across as highly intelligent, bewitched and bothered by the developments. When he drove an Uber car that went through a red light, he tried to have the scientists discuss whether the robot would save the pedestrian or driver, they couldn’t or wouldn’t give an opinion.

This was an impressive hour, but not comforting.

Karate Kid: Reboot to the Nose

DATELINE:  YouTube Returns LaRusso to Cobra Kai Saga

Zabka

We were never a fan of the 1984 Rocky-style movie for karate kids, but did find its stars interesting. Ralph Maccio never recovered, and William Zabka (the blonde pretty boy bully) should have had a grand career.

Reboot and kick on high might be a good way to go. This is also more interesting than watching Leave it to Beaver cast as adults, a few years back. There is something both alarming and satisfying to see that the child is father to the adult.

We followed Zabka as the son of the Equalizer on the 1980s TV show and were sorry he never caught on.

Now we find the twosome reunited in a YouTube series about the characters LaRusso and Lawrence 35 years later. It is a hit, and it’s not hard to see why. These actors and their character are now fully developed with middle-age. They are interesting—and have an appeal to a generation that grew up and older too.

Not much has changed in terms of their mutual differences and dislike of the other.

It makes the rivalry more interesting. Of course, the obligatory teenagers are at the core of mentoring through karate teaching. Copious film clips to the original action highlights the tales, though Pat Morita can only appear in flashback.

The actors are wonderful: indeed the bad guy of yore, Zabka, is now refreshingly antihero—and Maccio continues to play the obtuse victim of his own life.

The series has been renewed for a second season, which is good news because this is funny, fast, and well-done, much of a surprise considering it comes from a new TV/internet network where expectations may not be high.

 

Dressmaker, Murderer, and Arsonist?

DATELINE:  Dunga-Hill Something, Australia

audrey winslet As Tilly Dunnage

When you have an Australian comedy-murder mystery-revenge story called The Dressmaker, you may begin like a house afire. Sadly, it ends the same way literally, which is not so hot.

Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth are both highly watchable in the lead roles, and extremely attractive.

Though when Tilly (Winslet) arrives in 1951 back to her childhood home looking like a Parisian model, her opening statement indicates that she is out for revenge. Alas, that doesn’t really transpire until almost the end of the movie. Mostly she torments the rugby teams.

We never saw Audrey Hepburn play an arsonist/murderer.

Kate Winslet looks stunning coming off a bus in the middle of the outback, looking like the Paris runway was down the street. The film echoes many 1950s movies, like the Audrey Hepburn vehicles where she wore the best Dior.

The film is highly entertaining for the first 90 minutes, then sinks by its own dead weight. And we do mean dead.

The Dressmaker comes with her Singer sewing machine and starts to make gorgeous gowns and day wear. We did wonder where all that material came from. Why quibble?

With stylish clothing worn by the women cast in stunning transformation, it is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s appearance in Sabrina. Indeed, the film is a throwback to 1950, when the characters even go see Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Of course, the rub is that the dressmaker has amnesia when it comes to having murdered a childhood playmate. The police sergeant is a cross-dressing friend, thank heavens.

Did Winslet‘s character kill a young boy? With the cast of characters being strangely off- putting, you will be intrigued. For a while.

The movie devolves into soapy opera in the final 30 minutes. There are so many deaths you need a scorecard to figure out who’s killing whom and why.

However, the early visuals are so striking and unforgettable, you almost forgive the bad ending.

 

Ideal Home is Broken

DATELINE: Gay  Grandparents

coogan & rudd

A big budget, well-acted gay comedy is not to be taken lightly. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth.

This one features a couple of solid actors:  Steve Coogan often is unrecognized, falling into parts like the protagonist who helps Philomena. In this film Ideal Home, he is a refugee from La Cage aux Folles.

Coogan’s partner is Paul Rudd (who plays a Red Sox catcher and real-life spy in another recent movie). He too can strike many poses. The two actors play a TV producer and his celebrity chef star and boyfriend. They are convincing.

Their extravagant and funny life is complicated when a nine-year old grandson of Coogan shows up in a shocking surprise. The foul-mouthed kid is not adorable, and the ultimate fuss over him seems implausible. He is pedestrian.

The strain put on the middle-aged gay couple is the source of humor and good-natured joking. It could have gone over the line and been offensive to gay people, but good actors tend to prevent that liability.

Alas, the plot is routine. The ne-er-do-well son of Coogan’s chef wants his son back when he is released from prison. Apparently, there is no problem with returning custody of a child to a convict.

The two grandfathers have, rather expectedly, grown accustomed to the child (for reasons that escape our comprehension).

Since this is a fun picture, you can expect an ending worthy of the Friends of Judy, which literally seems to come true.

All in all, it is a frivolous entertainment, and you could do worse than spending time with these loose cannons.

When a gnarly little boy is sent off to live with his gay grandfather who is a TV celeb chef, you have merriment galore.

This is enhanced with really good actors like Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan giving it their gay walkabout in a luxurious Santa Fe ranchero home.

 

Hangover Square(d): Early Psycho Movie

                       

Brilliant Laird Cregar!

 

He died two weeks after completing his most extraordinary role.

Laird Cregar is now a mere forgotten footnote in movie history. He was as much a victim of the Hollywood studio system as anyone in the heyday of the major film industry. Cregar was the classic villain who wanted to be a leading man.

Alas, he was overweight. He was in a constant skirmish to lose the heavy look to leave the heavy roles. When he went to the hospital for stomach surgery, it killed him in 1945.

He left on the marquee his role as Bone, the minor composer and major psycho killer. The movie starts out by describing John Harvey Bone as a minor composer of the early 1900s, as if he were real. The movie is Hangover Square.

The large Cregar wears oversize suits to make him look thinner, but there is obviously some residue flab that made studio executives cast him as the dangerous baddie. He played opposite the debonair George Sanders as a forensic psychologist from Scotland Yard, which didn’t help. It was an attempt to make Laird more sympathetic by playing against a well-known movie cad.

Their leading lady was marvelous, underutilized and mistreated Linda Darnell, another victim of the movie industry. She was stunning and never allowed to play much range: here she is Netta, a cheap cabaret singer with designs on the upper-crust Bone. Nettie was her real name.

This stylized film, directed by John Brahm, begins with a startlingly shot murder of a pawnbroker and arson to cover it up. Several bravura sequences highlight the movie, including a depiction of Guy Fawkes Day, a setting not often seen in film.

Bone tosses a victim’s body onto the bonfire. Fire is the motif of the film: Laird Cregar plays his great masterpiece of composition (actually a Bernard Herrmann piece) as the theatre burns down.

We give Cregar credit for faking his concert playing of Herrmann’s Concerto Macabre. It is amazing stuff as fire engulfs him in the age before computer effects. Ironically, not 20 years later, Linda Darnell died in a fire too.

Hangover Square is a forgotten masterpiece that deserves rediscovery and admiration.

 

 

Marilyn Monroe: Gone 56 Years

DATELINE: Sad Anniversary

MM 

Was it really so long ago in August, 1962, that Marilyn died so suddenly and mysteriously? We heard the news on Sunday morning on vacation. Was it an accident or some kind of bizarre conspiracy that did her in?

She was thought to be a sad, pathetic suicide at the time of her death, body claimed by former husband Joe DiMaggio. Her last film was the Misfits with Clark Gable, written by her ex-husband and playwright Arthur Miller. It was extraordinary stuff. She could play light comedy or heavy tragedy (Some Like It Hot, Bus Stop).

She had become emotionally erratic, fired by the studio and dismissed from movies (The outtakes of Something’s Gotta Give show her radiant and perfect. Over an hour of film footage was reconstructed a few years back. Why did they fire her?). The career trauma  seemed to explain her death—at first.

Over time, we learned she was a victim of the casting couch: with lurid stories of her promiscuity and misuse by producers and unscrupulous men (and Joan Crawford).

Then, we learned she was the victim of the President of the United States and his brother. Some even speculate that she was assassinated by the CIA because she was about to blow the whistle on political shenanigans and UFOs, state secrets she learned in her dalliances.

Now, more recently, we hear that she fought the casting couch mentality of Hollywood, walked out of movies when she was mistreated and sexually abused.

Whatever the truth, she was a luminous talent, who actually glowed on celluloid. Her career might have been on the skids because of age by the late 1960s, but we will never know whether she would have made a transformation to character actress, or into a legend as she is now.

Poor Marilyn. She was missed immediately– and is still missed today.

 

Ancient Aliens: Totally Taken In

DATELINE:  Re-election Ploy

 Baker Gov. Charlie Baker!

As Season 13 continues, the venerable series seems to be running out of juice. The latest is called “The Taken,” and it takes a look at the abducted victims of aliens.

If it seems like the series is becoming incestuous, making love to itself, you may be among those taken in. The show actually uses its own cast at an Alien Con 2018  with panelists Giorgio, Linda Moulton Howe, and Nick Pope, talking to hundreds of fans.

Talk about a self-selected audience, filled with people who claim to be abductees of space aliens for decades. If you are afraid to talk about it, there is no better forum that to stand up in front of 500 people and confess.

The experts claim there is an uptake in the number of taken victims: the total is about 2 to 5% of the population of the world. Yikes, those aliens are busy creatures.

Among the people interviewed are a victim 50 years ago from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, who manages to convince Governor Charlie Baker, Republican of Mass., to give official sanction to the abduction victims. This is a national first acknowledgement of abduction. It also kicks off Baker’s re-election campaign for governor!

From here it is a short jump to the history of altering human biology as motive of the space creatures. It seems nearly all of those taken in the past 35,000 years are Rh Negative (which is 15% of the human population).

Perhaps they are on to something. Then, they reveal that the first American celebrities of abduction (Betty and Barney Hill of New Hampshire) never revealed their entire family were victims.

Of course, the rare blood type is at the bottom of the gene-splicing over generations. (Forget that the Shroud of Turin claims Jesus was AB-Negative—which is only .5 percent of humanity).

If the show’s credibility seems to be shaky, you know that self-congratulations are in order. Ancient Aliens is always the first to recognize its own pioneer spirit.

 

Hounds of Baskerville: Sherlock Update

DATELINE: Classic Downgraded!

hounds Pluralized Hounds

The Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series episode from Season 2 precariously holds on, despite its updating of the original Conan Doyle. Deep down, there remains the essence and core of the tales and characters created by the good writer/doctor.

In re-reviewing the tale of the Hounds (now pluralized), all the original features are present, but not in the way you might expect. Holmes is being driven mad by an addiction to cigarettes, and he is willing to do just about anything to have a whiff of second-hand smoke. Even take looney cases.

When a wealthy Dartmoor man comes by to seek help for the mysterious death of his father 20 years earlier by some mythic hound that ripped him apart (and carted away the body) Holmes is customarily rude and agitated. His hyper-manner is hilarious as he displays (showing off, accuses Watson) his brilliant insights into a potential client. We are amused.

The lunacy of the modern update takes hold soon enough.

Baskerville is now a genetic research military compound dealing with bio-chemical weapons. The key may be an acronym as fanciful as any mythic, red-eyed dog-eared monster.

Cumberbatch and Freeman have their patter and interplay down better than Abbott and Costello (surprisingly referred to in the story as space aliens under wraps at the base).

Holmes takes his smarter brother’s keycode card to break into the base. Mycroft is now the highest-level military-industrial brain in England. This explains how Holmes can act with impunity and make money as a consulting detective too.

The script becomes increasingly incomprehensible, but flies by at breakneck speed to prevent re-thinking about the logical brilliance of Holmes.

In the Mark Gatiss (he plays Mycroft) version of Doyle, clever becomes chaotic, but it’s all in good fun as long as it is not put under the electron microscope. It beats Robert Downey’s American Sherlock on all counts.

Beware, My Lovely, or the Man Shows Up

DATELINE: TV Beats the Movie!

audie Frightening Audie!

You have to love an old movie that uses a comma for direct address, as in Beware, My Lovely.

You might think this was a detective movie—but it is about a psycho who has come to torment the resident of a rooming house. In this RKO special of 1952, it’s Ida Lupino as a landlady running a boarding house after World War I in 1918—and her unpleasant visitor is Robert Ryan as Howard, a certified early version of Norman Bates.

Tall and menacing, we wondered how Miss Lupino, still young and attractive, could not be a bit threatened by this actor who made creepy and brutish villains one of his specialty. The film is based on a stage play by Mel Dinelli, which struck a chord with us. We wrote about it in a biography of Audie Murphy called Audie in Vietnam!

In fact, we realized that we saw this play done live on television by Audie Murphy and Thelma Ritter in 1960! It’s still available for those who look hard. Now that was quite a feat: Audie Murphy, the boyish war hero turned cowboy star, played against type.  He was so innocent-looking, the Norman Bates element was horrifying in a year before Hitchcock released Psycho.

Thelma Ritter was a marvelous old character actress who could play tough or vulnerable, but seemed a helpless victim. And, her little dog is not entirely happy with the handyman who shows up to torment her. Murphy draws upon some inner demons in one of his best performances.

The movie featured about 25 minutes of pre-story development that the TV special eliminated. Of course, to see Robert Ryan apparently black out and murder someone in the first minute of the movie put a different spin on the story.

Beware, My Lovely is not bad—but we think better performances were given by Audie and Thelma a few years after this film bombed. The Man with Murphy’s Howard the psycho is available on YouTube for free.

Endeavour 5.6. Endings & Loose Ends

DATELINE: Disappointing Finish to Season

 last endeavour

Inspector Morse has certainly come to the end of one line. Season wraps are often cliff-hangers, but this one seemed less definitive. There is no cliff and no hanging story. Morse’s entire Oxford station has closed and been re-assigned. He is now separated from most of his closest associates.

Like most series that attempt to close the loops of character stories at season’s end, the price is the actual mystery of the tale. Endeavour is so concerned with the loose ends that the big picture suffers in the final episode.

This season closer featured a few of the regulars in smaller than usual, compact scenes: Abigail Thaw, daughter of the original Morse actor, showed up for a funeral at the end of the show, in her role as the tough news journalist.

Thursday’s daughter seemed about to re-kindle her role in the life of Endeavour Morse, and the Thursday and his wife have split over trust issues.

The Chief has tendered his own resignation but has some solace in that those left in service will work to learn who was responsible for the death of one of their regimen.

As obvious, this mystery episode about Morse going under cover as a teacher at a hoity-toity school was really secondary to the wrap-up of a variety of story lines that have grown this season—and travel backward four other seasons.

We know only that the original series set in the 1990s featured the coroner and one of Morse’s fellow officers, in a supervisory capacity, twenty years later. Beyond that, we may come to the only other fact: Morse remained unattached, unlucky in love.

A sixth season will come next year. It will be largely unrecognizable in terms of the past few years. The deadly 1960s are about to give way to the overwrought 1970s. The series may be on its last legs.

 

 

Heaven Forbid: Rage in Heaven

DATELINE:  Koo-Koo Bird Special

 Two-faced Sanders

Note the two faces of George Sanders in the publicity still!

If you think you have seen Rage in Heaven, you may be mistaken. Around the same time came other movies called Leave Her to Heaven and Heaven Can Wait. Worse yet, the latter film also starred Robert Montgomery.

In this movie, Mr. Montgomery may not be above suspicion (after all, he carried an old lady’s head in a hatbox in Night Must Fall). Here too Ingrid Bergman is fresh off being driven mad by her husband in Gaslight, and everyone’s favorite reprobate, George Sanders, is never trustworthy!

This is the sort of movie where we have to trust the psychiatrist (Oscar Homolka) who let the dangerous psycho escape and looks kind of fishy in every scene.

You may begin to think this movie was directed by Alfred Hitchcock or perhaps Mel Brooks. A mysterious inmate of a Parisian insane asylum has escaped—and shows up in Merry Olde England.

So, your usual nuthouse quotient is higher than normal.

As for us, we never did like the way Robert Montgomery looked at Fluffy the cat, and George Sanders was simply too too nice hereabouts. As for Bergman, she looks like she wants to catch the next plane to Casablanca.

This period piece of fluffy nutter came from a novella by James Hilton who had given us Lost Horizon, Random Harvest, and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Lightning did not strike twice, or thrice, even with notable Christopher Isherwood doing the screenplay.

However, this is an MGM movie with a pedigree, and is first-class all the way to the nuthouse.