Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.

 

 

Proud Mary: Person of Interest Undone

DATELINE: Taraji Firepower

 taraji

We should enjoy Taraji P. Henson while we have her. Her new movie Proud Mary is a throwback to her work on Jonathan Nolan’s hit show before Westworld.

Our initial discovery was on the TV series Person of Interest, where she played police detective Joss Carter, part of the secret organization saving people in vigilante fashion.

In her latest movie incarnation as Proud Mary, a mob hit woman, she has become her partner John Reese (who was played by Jim Caviezel), but has stolen the wardrobe of Miss Shaw, the deadly assassin in black.

The new film echoes the old TV show in so many ways. Mary has a closet hideaway full of armaments, like her pal John Reese, retired government assassin.

The film, produced by Henson, had its problems, including Taraji smashing up the Maserati she drives in a scene in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and John Fogerty who wrote the tune used in the film complaining he was not consulted.

This mob hit squad movie is different: mainly because of Taraji Henson, giving a softer touch, the maternal thing.

Yes, she feels some guilt about leaving a 12-year old boy as an orphan and takes him in. You know when he finds out that she caused his predicament, there will be trouble.

Danny Glover plays the mob leader and Billy Brown his son. Taraji is adopted unofficially as a child and raised to be a killer. History may repeat itself with her new ward (Jahi Di’Allo Winston—a delightful young actor as the orphan with a ridiculous name to his disadvantage).

The film was shot in Greater Boston on the waterfront (with Chicago standing in now and then). The locations are not exactly your favorite tourist spots, though Taraji jogs near the Paul Revere statue on the Boston Common.

When Proud Mary starts acting up to the Tina Turner version of the song (lyrics altered), you know everyone ought to duck. The mob hitmen she takes on are out of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, another Boston crime tale. If you give her 100 to 1 odds, they will miss every time.

Taraji puts just the right amount of sentiment into her role to make this film contrast favorably with so many trite mob killer stories. We lost count of her shoot’em up tally, but it had to be approaching Clint levels.

 

 

Brave New Westworld 2

DATELINE: Westworld Returns to TV

brave, new westworld? Re-programming Required on all Models!

Now for something completely borrowed.  It appears, as the second season of Westworld dawns, producer and creator Jonathan Nolan is returning to the roots of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the Westworld.

The robot revolt has resulted in more guest deaths than we could have suspected if they had assembled the entire cast from season one. Dead bodies, mostly rotting, are clearly human.  The recovery team traipsing around the park finds Robert Ford, shot by the show’s cowgirl, Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood), with a gaping hole in his head. That likely ends the theory that dirty coward Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was a robot.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), a closet robot, now must hide his identity lest the humans simply shoot him in a fashion reminiscent of concentration camp purges by the human controllers. He needs an oil job before he terminates.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) has saved Westworld’s script writer who is a human most unpleasant as she seeks a fictional child to whom she has some maternal robot feelings (told these are not genuine has no effect). She also locates her hot, lanky boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro).

The Man in Black, a major stockholder in Westworld, and last season’s young man (Jimmi Simpson) in a parallel storyline, returns as mean as ever. Ed Harris even removes the Robert Ford boyhood model to show his true spirit.

No one comes across here as remotely controlled for sympathy.

Between the bloodbath scenes of innocent humans being shot by sociopath monster robots, we are somehow meant to feel human compassion for a slave revolt.

Shades of Spartacus.

We have met the human Roman Nazis—and according to Jonathan Nolan’s cryptic script, they are us. Whereas Nolan’s Person of Interest production people populate the cast and crew, we are left without that show’s sense of dry wit.

Last season’s smartest show on TV has become dumb-witted.

Confusion and horror are not the best honey to attract the busy bees of cable sci-fi fans who have come to expect intrigue and humor. It’s a disappointing start to the second season.

 

 

Reel History: Paths of Glory

DATELINE: Kubrick & Menjou  

remarkable Adolphe Menjou

The Remarkable Mr. Menjou

Between the Korean War and the Vietnam War came an anti-war film, starring and produced by Kirk Douglas. It was called Paths of Glory.

It was notable for its brazen genius direction by Stanley Kubrick and its stunning location sets, doubling for a French chateau. It actually introduced us to the hotel used in Last Year in Marienbad.

The opulence contrasted greatly with the sordid moral play as French soldiers during World War I are randomly selected for execution as an example of cowardice under fire.

You couldn’t ask for two of the most extraordinary actors to play the bad guys: George Macready (later Martin Peyton of Peyton Place) and the always debonair Adolphe Menjou. Kubrick loved Menjou’s face: it is filmed exquisitely like a punctuation mark wrapped in rococo counterpoint.

They are insufferable in different ways as French generals ready to sacrifice anyone for their political and military duty. It surely gives angry Kirk Douglas the marvelous climactic moment to tear into Menjou as a “moral degenerate.”

These were the days when Kirk Douglas wanted to make “important” movies with the death of the studio system. And, he did for a time for which he should be praised mightily.

Kubrick had won some recognition by 1957, but it was Douglas who brought him back to direct Spartacus that sent Kubrick into the stratosphere of legendary directors.

Douglas loved to chew the scenery with his intensity, but it is the vain and effete underplaying of Macready and Menjou that drives the movie. Menjou had a marvelous style of regarding everyone from the corners of his eyes, with a sparkle of disdain.

In stark black and white, this movie has “status” written all over it. Short, cruel, punctuated with righteous indignation, the movie defies you to oppose it. They don’t make’em like this anymore.

 

Ridley Scott & Earthly Alien Monsters

DATELINE:  Horror:  Cash & Carry

 2 Gettys Spacey v. Plummer?

All the Money in the World will be remembered for several reasons:  first, it is the story of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson in 1973. Second, it is the film that Kevin Spacey’s performance was erased and replaced. Third, it is a Ridley Scott movie about an out-of-control, voracious monster—a billionaire.

As J. Paul Getty, Christopher Plummer, at 88 years, came in for nine days and re-did all Spacey’s scenes. It was more amazing for being notable for having some CGI elements. One scene had to be faked—and Plummer’s head is on Spacey’s body in one scene filmed in Jordan.

Most of the hard work was done at break-neck speed for an elderly actor who rose to the occasion. His key scenes with cast members were re-shot. Scott re-edited the pastiche and eliminated the detrimental performance of Spacey. As box office poison, Spacey would have sunk the movie. Plummer astounds.

As for Plummer, he is brilliant. If you see Spacey’s bad makeup, you realize that Scott made a correct decision by letting Plummer act twenty-five years younger, rather than have Spacey act older.

The story about super-rich people is a form of Aliens. Indeed, the narrator grandson (marvelous young star Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) notes that the rich are from another planet.

Ridley Scott’s provenance as an alien creator stands him in good metaphoric movie history here. Plummer’s Getty is a creature from another world.

Michelle Williams as Getty’s daughter-in-law is a powerhouse surprise in this film, and Mark Wahlberg may seem miscast as a fixer lawyer, but acquits himself quickly and in the climax. Another twist of delight comes from Timothy Hutton’s work.

This year’s bad guys are all billionaires – arrogant, privileged, controlling, megalomaniacs. We even have one as President, and this movie tells us why that’s not good.

 

 

After the Prejudice and Before the Pride?

DATELINE: Jane Austen Goes Gay!

  chase conner    Chase Conner as Mr. Darcy.

To take the chaste Jane Austen’s comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice, and turn it into a gay story is an interesting twist. Director and writer Byrum Geisler has entered the brave, new world fearlessly. After gay pride comes the fall?

Before the Fall is tame gay entertainment for an audience with emotional reservations. It will offend gay activists and homophobes alike for being low-key and matter-of-fact.

Ben Bennett is so straight-laced that the only clue we have that he is gay are his professed feelings. He is attracted to a straight alcoholic man Mr. Lee Darcy (Chase Conner). Without overt sex acts and nudity, so often at the heart of gay movie drama, this film’s only sin is to have a couple of queeny friends of Mr. Bennett.

It’s like having Steppin Fetchit and Butterfly McQueen in a civil rights tale. It’s the only false step. Those characters are utterly offensive.

As for the rest of the cast and actors, they are buttoned up and long-suffering.

Indeed, you might think the central casting office found the usual good looking gay actors, but there is here something far more serious and sensitive. We have to laud any so-called gay film that flies in the face of the usual shenanigans.

Filmed in beautiful Virginia, a so-called place for lovers, Ben Bennett hardly puts an overt pick-up on Mr. Lee Darcy. They go hiking, and after some guilty gossip, Bennett works to remove a legal cloud over the other man, perhaps to help him with his alcoholism.

Billed as a comedy drama, which is Austen’s stock-in-trade, the label will confound modern audiences for whom social humor is tied into text messages and Facebook friendships.

If you stick around to the final romanticized happy ending, you may conclude that gay movies are growing up.

 

 

 

Sketchy Brady & Stormy Weather

DATELINE: Say It Ain’t So, Tom!

While Tom Brady is away in Arabia, playing at Lawrence of Best Buddies, on a charity junket to Qatar, riding camels, the home-front is afire.

It’s not bad enough that Bill Belichick is playing the Gunfighter from Westworld, trying to do a robot kill on Brady, but now Mickey Spillane Avenatti, the nightmare attorney who is giving Trump a nervous breakdown, has set his sights on Tom Brady lookalikes.

It appears that a criminal sketch artist has come up with a picture of the man who threatened Miss Stormy Daniels about revealing too much detail about Mr. Trump’s strumpets.

The last time a sketch artist did in Tom, he started to look like Quasimodo in a bad bell-ringer mode during the Deflategate trials.

Today, of course, he looks like a man whose TB12 method means he never had or needed Botox. The latest picture is supposed to be a young thug from 2011, back when Tom wore his hair askance and before the hair-plugs for men settled in.

It would seem that Tom’s one-time support for President Trump will go a long way to ruining his life now and forever. He is paying a dear price for having a MAGA hat in his locker for one enchanted evening.

Tom is so hated in some circles that concussed football fans think he is capable of approaching a porn star with a threatening glare.

We feel being out of the country at present may be the best strategy for Mr. Brady. He also ought to consider hiring a better public relations agency to handle his press junkets.

Noël Coward No Surprise in Surprise Package

DATELINE: Art Buchwald Satire

 Mitzi & Noel Mitzi & Noël sing and dance!

Sir Noël, showman and epitome of the English gentleman, made a plethora of movies from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He only turned down playing Dr. No in the James Bond spy movie.

From Our Man in Havana to the Italian Job, he lent his delectable presence in costarring roles. In 1960 he went opposite Yul Brynner in the Stanley Donen comedy called Surprise Package.

The big surprise is that it was written by satirist Art Buchwald, though you would never know it. Our favorite humorist seems lost in this adapted script.

Apart from the delicious scenes between mobster Nico March (Yul) and the deposed and exiled King Pavel the Patient (Noël), the movie is not really funny or smart. However, every time you find Brynner and Coward in matchup mode, there is something extraordinary going on.

You almost have the sense that the film was meant for someone else: perhaps James Cagney, to shoot dialogue like a machine gun. Mitzi Gaynor seems to be playing Judy Holiday. Brynner is on top of it, impressive as always.

No one else in movies could have played the deadpan, throwaway lines like Noël Coward. He’s in his own movie world, like Mae West. The rest of the cast is along for the ride.

Coward steals every moment on camera, like the master showman he always was. He could depose Burton and Taylor in Boom, and so going up against Yul Brynner shortly before the Magnificent Seven might have amused Noël.

It’s a soufflé, for sure, and perhaps the success of Donen brought Coward in for the Greek isle locations shooting.

Yul had just finished another comedy with Donen, and likely enjoyed the change of pace from epical heroes and villains.

Surprise Package would be a bad TV movie nowadays with execrable actors. However, when the legends at the top of their game deign to appear in silly roles, you must pay attention.

 

 

 

 

Gronk Filming Movie in Atlanta

DATELINE: New England Media Out to Lunch
Tatum, Gronk, Kyrie on the Set.
Boston sports media is in a panic because Rob Gronkowski has not shown up for the voluntary team workouts for the New England Patriots.
According to Boston sports media, this gives credence to the notion the Gronk is thinking about retiring from professional football.
All of the reports are incomplete and suggest he may be holding out for money.
All these reports are incorrect.
Gronk has permission from the team to be on location for the movie. He is willing to risk his voluntary bonus with the Patriots for practicing in order to advance his film career with a major movie role.
Rob Gronkowski is presently in Georgia,  filming a major motion picture called Boss Level. the film stars Mel Gibson, and Naomi Watts. Principal photography has begun, and casting of extras occurred last week. Gronk has an important role in the  film.
The story concerns a retired special ops soldier who must relive the last day of his life, sort of like Groundhog Day Meets The Terminator.

Coward’s Italian Job, Mad Dogs & Englishmen

 DATELINE:  Sir Noël

Caine & Coward Caine & Coward Comedy!

Noël Coward and Benny Hill? In the same movie?

Our attention has been caught big-time in this 1969 crime caper movie, a genre all the rage in the 1960s, with epitome The Italian Job. Forget the recent remake.

As if pairing those Benny and Noël was enough, you add in Rossano Brazzi and Raf Vallone as the genuine Italians—and Michael Caine as the British mastermind of a robbery in Turin, Italy, of gold bullion being driven through its narrow streets.

The film is lusciously produced with all those magnificent scenes of the historic Italian city and the gorgeous Italian Alps with its twisty roads. You can figure on car chases that will outdo all those hills in San Francisco.

As with classics like this, the actual production is less impressive. The stars seem self-contained in their roles. Indeed, there are no scenes with Brazzi and his fellow stars at all. The closest Benny Hill comes to Noël Coward is standing 50 feet away on a mole hill at a funeral.

The glue is a boyish and charming Michael Caine, so young that when he meets Noël Coward in a lavatory, you almost feel it is salacious.

Waspy Coward is a mob kingpin, believe it or don’t, who has bribed enough people to move in and out of his British prison cell with aplomb you’d expect from a sophisticated star. He runs everything with an iron fist in a dainty velvet glove.

Technology, alas, is ancient here. Good heavens, Benny Hill plays a computer nerd running around with a ten-inch reel of programming. Communication is also primitive with 16mm film as the preferred mode to send text messages. Yet, the charm is delightful and timeless.

Once the cars start piling up, you have a traffic jam for the pre-Euro-dollar ages.

 

From Tea Pot Dome Scandal to Pee Pot Bed

DATELINE:  Pot to Plant Flowers In

glow in dark pee potGlow in Dark Pee Pot

President Warren Harding gave us Teapot Dome Scandal, and President Softing Trump has given us Pee Pot Bed Scandal.

From Teapot Dome to Pee Pot Bed, you cannot embarrass Trump supporters. They’re deplorables all right.

The people who support President Trump are the kind of people who leave the bathroom door open when they go. That’s if they don’t wet the bed. It never Depends on them.

The Russians call it “Kompromat.”

In case you’re wondering, that’s when they compromise an American president with blackmail. No wonder Pee Pot Trump had to send his crooked attorney Lyin’Michael Cohen to Prague to try to get those tapes right before the election.

The Russians could publish them in a book called The Yellow Stream Down Trump’s Backside by I.P. Daily.

Gilbert Gottfried notes that Trump should have kept the tapes on Betamax, not his IPO.

I.P. Daily is a fake journalist who works for UP According to Strumpet Depress Secretary Sarah Suckapee Launders.

Now the crooked FBI must go over the tapes to find whether those damp spots are damp spots. Out, out, redacted, unmade bed.

And this weekend former FBI director James Comey will let us know whether Trump came up to see the Russians and actually has a little rocket after all.

60 Minutes wouldn’t allow Stormy Daniels to present her weather forecast on Trump’s hail and thunderous tiny pocket rocketman. The tape measure has more impact on your bedspread and spreadsheet.

Perhaps James Comey will offer us more insight into the Pee Pot. Stir, don’t shake.

 

 

Lost in Space Returns

 DATELINE: Lost in Netflix

  Bitchy Dr. Smith reincarnated

Dr. Smith Transformed or Transgendered? Parker Posey replaces Jonathan Harris.

As the poor stepchild brother to Star Trek on TV in the 1960s, Irwin Allen’s adventure show became a kids’ favorite. It was a cartoon version sci-fi adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson.

Now, with the bandwagon long ago down the road for Star Trek, Netflix has brought back a 21st century version of Lost in Space.

We found the original amusing, at least for half the opening season. The show had a house villain in Jonathan Harris who played the cowardly, snobby, outrageous Dr. Zachary Smith. He stole every scene they put him in.

In this new version, Smith is a fake. At the end of the opening show of season 1 (will there be another?), actress Parker Posey steals a jacket with the name “Dr. Z. Smith” on it. You could not have a prissy, snooty man play the role.

Voila et voici, you have a new Smith in the form of a woman, ready to add some kind of bad guy karma to the proceedings—and not a moment too soon.

The big budget new version actually is short of special effects and presents a limited view of the future. They crash on an icy planet. Their spaceship really has only one room, and the flashbacks to the holiday scenes could have been as much 20th century as 21st.

The characters keep their names, but that’s about it. Yes, the little boy as Will Robinson may be the best throwback.

As for Dr. John and his wife Maureen: she clearly wears the pants in the family and is actually rather nasty to her husband.

You can chalk it up to a broken leg and her children in danger, danger, danger! However, we may be hard-pressed to return to the return for another episode. Nothing really grabbed us.

We missed Guy Williams who came from Zorro and June Lockhardt who was Lassie’s Mom. They were TV stars even as John and Maureen Robinson.

What a shame.

The Shape of Water-Logged

DATELINE:  Oscar Goes Glug Glug!

glug glug  Missing the Black Lagoon

Who would have envisioned Creature from the Black Lagoon winning Best Picture of 1954 for director Jack Arnold?  Yet, the wet creature won for its director in the Shape of Water in 2018. How the world has changed into a monster mash.

Guillermo del Toro may be too full of bull with his latest movie. His Gill Man takes place on the heels of the original Creature tale, circa 1960, and likely is meant to be a homage sequel. A real sequel followed in 1955.

This amphibian man is called a ‘god’ more than once, in case you don’t understand the ending.

The film is subtly anti-American, with its sympathetic Soviet spy as one of the few likeable characters.

Of course, you have Octavia Spencer in a key role, which always elevates a movie to a higher standing. Michael Shannon has apparently cornered the market on despicable villains who are sexist, racist, and anti-disabilities. And, we always perk up when Nick Searcy (from Justified) makes an appearance.

As for the Creature, swimmingly played in a wet suit by Doug Jones, we are treated to a Fred and Ginger dance number in one dream sequence. Indeed, the film is rife with clips of old movies—from Betty Grable to the Story of Ruth.

Yes, you will find Bob Denver as Maynard and Mr. Ed as the Talking Horse in a couple of clips. No wonder this struck a nerve with aging Boomers.

Alas, the overdrawn sex scenes seemed superfluous and almost tacky to the point of meanly excluding a younger audience.

The film wants to play off the King Kong-style romance between monster and damsel, but the paws of Del Toro are around the heroine’s throat all too often.

Meant to move us with its horror fantasy, we were simply antsy.

 

Not So Grand Finale on Civil War Gold

DATELINE: History Waterlogged

Hackley malignedMuch Maligned Charles Hackley!

As we come to the end of Marty Lagina’s substitute Oak Island gold hunt series, there is no joy in Michigan. We have come to the final episode of Curse of Civil War Gold for season one.

When last we saw Kevin Dykstra, he seemed to have broken a hip during a dive yet is released by the hospital a day later on crutches with a diagnosis of fracture and pain. That won’t stop him.

Wine mogul Lagina was not so sympathetic: he immediately suggested bringing in professional diver John Chatterton who was known as the buzz-killer on Curse of Oak Island.

The genuine disappointment rankles on Dykstra and his crew who sit glumly in their expensive chartered boat while Chatterton takes over. Dykstra even hesitates to accept the money man’s choice but knows better than to complain about millionaire backers.

In his own good fashion, Chatterton does not disappoint. He takes over and selects a different place to search than shown on the previous week. Dykstra’s boys sit on the boat like the proverbial monkeys, seeing and hearing and speaking no evil.

Of course, Chatterton finds nothing and returns to Florida with a shrug. It leaves Dykstra with egg on his face and a shell-case for a crutch.

No sooner had Chatterton left, suddenly Mr. Dykstra can do one more dive. Alas, his 80’ chartered boat shrinks to the size of something belonging to Captain Quint from Jaws.

One more dive before winter and bad ratings close in, the gold hunters take video that shows what they claim is a gold bar in soggy lake bottom. It is enough of an enticement to convince Marty Lagina that the series deserves a second season.

To whet our appetite, they suggest Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was behind the plot to steal the Confederate gold.

Whether viewers agree, only History Channel knows for sure.

 

 

 

Tom Brady Shall Return

DATELINE:  Like Douglas MacArthur

Belichick

Dare we return to bad habits, like mentioning the off-season New England Patriots? If eating a cream puff smashes our diet efforts, let football fans eat cake.

In the past few weeks, rumors have gone bananas that Tom  versus Father Time Brady is about to retire after all, and Gronk is going into the movies. Indeed, Gronk just signed to play a role in a movie with Mel Gibson and Naomi Watts. It’s a typical action/adventure romp, not exactly Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to do Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens in black and white contemporary dress.

Late reports tell fans that Brady is now practicing privately with Julian Edelman for a return to the the swamp at Patriot Place, not Washington, D.C.

Of course, the nutcase Boston sports media put out an April Fool’s rumor that Gronk was about to be traded, and that Coach Bill Belichick had planned to send every close friend of Tom Brady on the team into exile like Elba was a Eastern Division team in the NFL AFC. Former Patriot coordinator Matt Patricia is picking up discarded pieces for the Detroit Lions faster than anyone else.

It was a diabolical way to force Brady to quit while he was still ahead. So, Tom forced wife Giselle Bundchen to announce she no longer was pressing for retirement.

Then, of course, the Patriots interviewed nutcase Johnny Manziel for a role as Brady’s backup that would eliminate the need to keep Brady hanger-on Brian Hoyer as backup. Brady supports QB Colin What’shisname, but no one in the NFL remembers his name.

Nobody ever said Bill Belichick was a nice guy, or even liked the quarterback who has made him one of the winningest coaches in NFL history.

Of course, there is the sidebar that the NFL is soon to be history, owing to falling ratings, kneeling players, and concussed fans who froth at the mouth over Colin’s knees.

There are those who think the billionaire playboys who own these baubles of sports entertainment are part of the juggernaut bringing on the Fall of the American Empire, precipitated by a politically idiotic president in the mold of Bill Belichick.

If you think Belichick can make the Patriots great again after discarding the heart and soul of his players, then we have an immigration program that takes down the Statue of Liberty as a monument and leaves it strictly as an NFL wildcard playbook notion.