Westworld 2.9 Penultimate Bullet-in

DATELINE: Heads Rolling

simpson Jimmi Simpson, Android?

We are rapidly coming to a climax, or anti-climax, or post-climax of  season 2. Since HBO has ordered a Westworld third season (coming not soon to your cable stream), we know that cliffhanging will be fashionable next week as we try to discern which of our favorite hosts and guests will be around.

As we move to the all-cast shoot-out beyond the pale riders, this next to end-it-all episode features Ford on the Brain.

Yes, everyone from host to guest has Anthony Hopkins telling them what to do. Forget that he’s dead since last season. Is it any wonder that half the cast puts a bullet into their skulls to stop that computer chip from functioning?

You can’t tell who’s mad and who’s a robot as we come crashing toward the end of the season. Actually all the robots are loony. Then, again, so are the crypto-Nazi humans.

You can rest on the fact that no one is ever ever really dead in a Jonathan Nolan flashback series.

We did enjoy seeing Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes together briefly again. We did not enjoy watching Ed Harris, or some immortal coil of him, unable to tell whether people are real or robotic, including himself.

When did he shuffle off that mortal coil?

If we wanted to spoil everything for next week’s extravaganza, we’d find ourselves unable to do so: it looked like everyone in the cast was back and in fine fettle. Of course, that could be a flashback, flashforward, or prequel to the old movies.

Perhaps the most telling moment in the current 2,9 show was to find Ed Harris (Sweet William) and his program card stashed in a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, the old space/time continuum novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

When we have time during the week, we may peruse it to learn how the season will end next week. So it goes.

 

 

 

Experience’s Billy the Kid

DATELINE: Westworld for Real

when billy

When PBS tackles Billy the Kid (a moniker if ever there was), you have something tantamount to Fox News covering Donald Trump. Yes, Americans have a thing for serial killers and serial idiots.

You probably can find a gulf of differences between Trump and Bonney, but they are under the skin self-styled self-important American icons. One was rich and one was poor, but both saw themselves as Robin Hood. They took what they wanted.

For the second season premiere of American Experience, the show decided to do a one-hour special on the Kid. This is a distinct disadvantage in a visual age when there is but one recognized photo of Billy. We see it ad nauseum.

Don’t look for clips from your favorite Billy movie because this is a real history documentary. They eschew Audie Murphy, Emilio Estevez, and Robert Taylor, all of whom epitomized what the experts talk about in movies made a generation or two ago.

And, the show trots out the usual so-called experts on the West, all of whom now see Billy as a kindred spirit to the mistreated Mexicans and Navaho. Yes, he is a civil rights champion.

Billy picked up Spanish language quickly. He had a good ear, but the rest of his face was wanting. However, these experts show us the face of an ugly adolescent and call him “handsome.” You know you are not in Kansas, but in Lincoln County.

The episode also sets the Range War as a version of the War of the Roses: you have Irish immigrants versus British aristocrats with a hired army of mercenaries, including Billy fighting against his own Irish roots.

The legend escaped, but the boy was gunned down in a notorious bedroom shooting. No one mentions whether he was sleeping with a girlfriend, or boyfriend. He was a cop killer with bad press. Like Trump, he decided what law enforcement he approved and called his media following biased.

The short bio dismisses much in an effort to stay on target. Their target was out of range before this so-called documentary started.

Dr. William Russo is author of the historical fiction, When Billy the Kid Met Ben Hur, which examines the Kid’s relationship to Governor Lew Wallace.

 

 

 

 

Beyond JFK and Inside Fake Docudrama

DATELINE: Streaming Availability

beyond

Okay, yeah, we admit it.

We skipped the film Beyond JFK back in 1992 because it seemed to be nothing more than a shill and marketing tool for Oliver Stone’s new movie, JFK.  We cannot say we were wrong. We can say we’re glad we watched the 90-minute film now.

Indeed, the documentary is still billed as a nonfiction version of the Stone film. Hunh?

If you want to believe that, you first must push through the interviews with actors like Kevin Costner (Garrison) or Ed Asner (Guy Bannister) or Walter Matthau (Russell Long) or Gary Oldman (Oswald). Whatever do they know about the assassination?

Of course, Oliver Stone Himself treats his script like Stone Tablets from the mount.

You would be surprised to learn that there are plenty of interesting, seldom seen interviews with the real people who were part of that notorious day in 1963.

Jim Garrison gives a deathbed interview, filmed literally on his deathbed, looking quite ill. Marina Oswald talks about her husband in retrospect, and Lyndon Johnson’s mistress for many years gives her insights.

Those moments are startling and genuine reason to watch this concoction of theory and history. Tom Wicker puts it to you early on: who should you trust—the journalists of history or the Hollywood version? Ike Pappas of CBS News narrates, and he too was there.

In an age of fake news, we are not exactly ready to dismiss movie insights because it’s transitory film. The documentary raises the same points of the movie but does it better.

Dated as it is, nearly 26 years later, you can still guffaw at those who think the issue will be solved in 5 days once the secret reports are released. Well, Trump released many—and nothing was solved.

The documentary keeps referring to a linkage between Oswald, Ruby, Clay Shaw, Dave Ferrie, Perry Russo, J. Edgar Hoover, etc., but never states what it is. Well, we know what it is: for some or all of their lives, they were gay. That point may be totally irrelevant, or merely the social glue to explain American politics.

Keeping that detail secret remains both illuminating and damning.

 

Dr. William Russo wrote Booth & Oswald, examining their educational training as it related to their future role as assassins. Available on Amazon.com.

The Nightmare Alleged Documentary

DATELINE:  Nod off Elm Street

nightmare

We find the subject of sleep paralysis fascinating, having experienced it as a small child. The experience was so frightful that we recall every minor detail and our fear.

So, of course, a documentary on the topic would be illuminating and helpful. This is not the film for that. The Nightmare from 2015 is a snooze-fest.

No wit, no snide comments, no satiric barbs, could help us review this atrocity. Anything that makes it remotely interesting is a disservice on our part.

Rather than give bad reviews to films, we usually ignore a movie and move on to other, more interesting efforts. However, this particular film is probably the worst one we have encountered in many years. We cannot allow it to pass without notice.

The filmmaker uses no experts. He cites no authorities, and he puts together a cheap horror movie on the fly, pretending to be something more. He may be good enough to pull this off.

With a minor sample size of eight individuals, none of whom appears remotely professional, intelligent, and only recently drug-free, he allows them to mumble on and on about the sleep paralysis they suffered.

They strike us as rejects from a casting call for Friends. It looks like millennial night at karaoke. If you want your audience to empathize, make sure they do not deviate from the narrow profile for your demographic appeal. What a bunch of losers.

Intersperse these accounts with cheap theatrical shadow figures and worse animation to indicate neurological turmoil.

You won’t believe a word of these “actors” giving an audition for the director who knows what a profitable movie looks like.

Terrible. A disservice to the subject.

Westworld 2.8 Ghostly Nation

 DATELINE: Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

IMG_3076-1

If you’re not in Oz, and not in Delos’s Westworld 2, you must be in Ford’s Ghost Nation where you live in some kind of digital memory bank.

We’re heading down the homestretch of conundrum, east of chaos and southwest of confusion. Our GPS coordinates on the series are sending us down one-way streets that are closed to thru-traffic.

Those Indians in black and white war-paint may seem like a throwback to old TV westerns. In fact, we are in one old Western in particular. Welcome to the Lone Ranger.

Hiyo, Silver horse, running through the dreams of the Noble Savage, Tonto, or in this case, Ake.

Yes, we re-live Tonto saving the Lone Ranger at least three times in this episode. He saves Ben Barnes, left for dead in the desert last season. He saves Ed Harris, left for dead like the last ranger, this season. And he may even save Thandie Newton.

Two of the scenes are right out of the original production of the Lone Ranger-Tonto playbook. Our last surviving member of his tribe comes across a massacre and makes a ghost who walks for revenge.

It seems the Noble Savage is another bad robot, spreading his discontent, looking for a door to escape being an automaton. A touchstone with one key backstory motivates them to a better world.

And, now it seems that Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has been all for it. We are moving toward truth, as all the characters seem to be realizing. We stand in awe of Jonathan Nolan pulling this three-ring circus together in the final episodes of the season.

 

 

We’ll Be Hanged Hangman

DATELINE:  Pacino & Shahi

 Hangman stars

Al Pacino is at an age when Robert DeNiro plays comedy roles, but Pacino is still looking at detective action thrillers.

He is a bit long in the tooth, and we worry when he falls down that he may break a hip. He looks great actually.

In Hangman, he has chosen the role of a detective who retired a year ago (at 77) and is back on special assignment with his young partner (Karl Urban) when a serial killer calls out their badge numbers.

There is some initial interest in seeing this movie because of the cast, and Sarah Shahi (Person of Interest) as the young, tough woman captain of the force in some small city.

For some reason inexplicable to anyone, Pacino plays his detective with an Andy Griffith, aw shucks, Mayberry accent. He’s the only one with such a speech impediment among the New York actors.

If that were not weird enough, the serial killer wants to play Hangman, literally, hanging his victims with a letter carved into their bodies.

Well, if koo-koo descends into ridiculous, we do not find it sublime. We’ve had our fill of brilliantly smart serial killers. We are challenged to stay with this film, mainly because of the actors.

The plot does not thicken: it curdles. We discover both detectives have a personal connection to victims, but this does not disqualify them from the case.

And, to make matters worse, there is a Lois Lane type tagging along to all the crime scenes. When told not to obstruct justice, she enters the case and compounds trouble. Call her the plot hole.

It’s enough to throw in the noose and call it a hang dog day afternoon. Just terrible, and what a waste of talented actors.

Wait for Your Laugh: Irrepressible Rose Marie

 DATELINE: Second Bananas are Tops

 irrepressible

A major star before Shirley Temple was born, Rose Marie’s last act was the receive the lifetime Shirley Temple Award in 2017. Waiting for Your Laugh is her testimonial, made with her cooperation shortly before she died in 2017.

Never a beauty, but always a beaut. As a child, Rose Marie counted among her friends and supporters, gangsters like Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel.  Capone told her to call him “Uncle Al.”

She helped Bugsy build a resort entertainment venue that happened to be Las Vegas. She was the first headline and didn’t think twice to tell Siegel her paycheck was short $11.

He apologized and paid up.

She worked with them all—from Jimmy Durante to Milton Berle. Among her friends were Jerry Lewis and Johnny Carson, whom she called “angels.” They all treated her like a daughter and she liked all of them.

She learned how to do standup comedy to enhance her singing career. And, when TV demanded, she became a character actress on shows like Gunsmoke. Though she performed movies and Broadway, nightclubs were her secret passion. She played everywhere in America.

When TV comedy needed her, she did the Dick Van Dyke Show when no one knew who he was. She did a dozen years on Hollywood Squares, and made dozens of guest shots as cranky old bossy women. Her coworkers like Morey Amsterdam and Peter Marshall adored her.

In a time when old singers were forgotten, she organized Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting, and Helen O’Connell, into a lucrative concert series.

Rose Marie lived 90 years, a staple of entertainment for multiple generations and only passed away last year.

In her love life, there was the greatest tragedy, having found the ideal man, Bobby Guy, a trumpeter from Kay Keyser and Bing Crosby bands, but who died too young—stealing her only personal love besides work.

This compelling documentary cannot be stopped. It unfolds and hypnotizes like Rose Marie herself.

 

Death Wish 45 Years Later

DATELINE: Willis Versus Bronson

 death 3

Bruce Willis is every bit as good as Charles Bronson in the remake of the classic Brian Garfield story. But, the movie is less about vigilantes this time and more about revenge.

A new version of Death Wish, 2018, seems like yesterday’s headlines.

If you want to match up Willis versus Bronson, you may be making the wrong comparison. Both are brilliant in the role of Paul Kersey, though Bronson always seemed more dangerous than smarmy.

Taking the law into his own hands, Paul Kersey is back for a new generation, armed with smartphones, video surveillance, and automatic weapons on every city block.

The more things change, the worse it becomes in American society. Indeed, the media chorus in the movie keeps telling us that Chicago is a murderous city. The senseless cruelty seems on a par with fifty years ago.

Gun control is a joke in 1974 and is a punchline now.

The 1970s might seem like a placid time next to today’s weekly shoot’em ups. However, the movie stays with the split-screen approach to story-telling that was the rage in the 1970s. We have a definite throwback movie here.

This time Bruce Willis has a brother (Vincent D’Onofrio) as a foil, but the police exasperation is partly admiration for the Grim Reaper’s work. You know the police will never convict, nor apprehend Paul Kersey, though the 1970s movies better explained why they let him get away.

When Willis shoots the bad guys, you still have the urge to commend the vigilante killer and excuse gun control as a bad idea. This time Kersey is a top-notch big city surgeon, obviously dedicated to life-saving. Bronson’s Kersey was a big business architect.

He has his eyes opened even with his father-in-law (Len Cariou in a delightful cameo) and with the commissioner of police (Stephen McHattie, a long-ago familiar face).

The shoot out is a stand off.

John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Westworld 2.7, Ford Your Stream of Consciousness

 DATELINE: Impossible to Spoil

back again  Return to Oz 

Once upon a time in Westworld, you needed a scorecard to know what’s then and what’s now, and who’s really dead and when are we headed to the Last Roundup.

Sergio Leone is spinning in his spaghetti western. Nolan gives us a lasagna western. Too many layers of cheese and sauce.

If you are hypnotized by the cobra, you are no mongoose.

We are still not sure who’s dead and who’s not. We are happy to see Anthony Hopkins alive and well, as long as he stays in his own little world, or is he merely the best part of Arnold. As he tells us, outside he would turn to dust. At least that’s what happened to those who lived in Shangri-La, but that’s another story.

Arnold, apparently, is created out of Ford and Dolores’s memories. Oh, wait, that’s Bernard.

We must give Jonathan Nolan credit. It’s not every TV producer who can go back to the drawing board in the middle of his show’s episode and start all over.

If you don’t like a plot-line, just go back to the delete button. As Ford tells us, we are humans who are the last vestige of analog in a digital world.

You have to love it when you can’t tell a good guy from a bad robot production. If we were to tell you everyone who seems dead after episode seven, we’d not spoil a thing. We are sure you will meet them again, just don’t know where and just don’t know when.

The last roundup, or the gunfight at the OK Corral of Westworld is yonder, in yesteryear. Everyone is headed to the Valley Beyond, which lies just over the hill of episodes eight and nine. It’s sort of a Lost Horizon.

In the final show of Westworld 2, we predict that Nolan will pull a Fellini and have everyone join hands and dance around the center ring of the circus tent.

Bang, the audience is dead.

Serpent’s Time in the Pup Tent

 DATELINE:  Best Actor for Mamba

serpent

The Serpent is an effort under 90-minutes that tries to rejuvenate an old Hitchcock claustrophobic situation.

Two people are stuck in a small tent with a black mamba.

Well, okay, we are ready to give it a go: it seems a shorthand for giving us the creeps. Since most people have a great disdain for snakes, you immediately build in a horrid, bone chilling concept.

Like all movies of this sort like Snakes on a Plane, the first 30 minutes is exposition on what is the set up. Director Amanda Evans has her snake and cake too. From the get-go, you have role reversals. The husband is at home making dinner, and the philandering wife is now being pursued by her stalking boyfriend.

Oh, yes, the husband happens to be an etymologist with creeping insects at his research heart. He plans to go out on a highly important trip somewhere to the outback of South Africa (well, you don’t find black mambas in upstate New York).

The wife is American, and the husband is one of those bland scientists who looks like a boy scout. He dumps his co-scientist and takes his wife to the Edenic wilderness. Big mistake and rather unprofessional.

By now you realize the husband is named Adam, and the wife is named Gwynn. The serpent is named mamba. He warns her that a little birdie will go crazy if there are snakes around, but she never notices—and leaves the tent flap open during a bush visit.

Suffice it to say, the best performer here is the snake. With his open mouth and smiling visage, he seems to coil around the naked bodies with all the perversity of Jack the Ripper. He’s the star.

While using his wife’s phone for a nightlight, hubby Adam finds texts from her boyfriend. Talk about a night killer.

There’s a biblical story in here somewhere.

 

 

 

 

Death at a Funeral: DOA Either Way

DATELINE: British or Black?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Westworld 2.6 Goes to Hell

DATELINE:  Westworld 2.6

  who's Arnold? Who’s real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tesla Paranoia Grows on Tesla Files

DATELINE: History Channel Series

 Old Man Tesla Old Man Tesla!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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