Operation Finale, Fastidious & Fatal

DATELINE: Kingsley’s Bookend Performance

eichmann

The story of the capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 is now the subject of an extremely compelling docudrama called Operation Finale.

If there is anything outstanding in the story about the man who was dubbed the Architect of the Final Solution and his kidnapping to bring him to trial in Israel, it is that Ben Kingsley (75 years old) plays the 56-year old Eichmann.

This performance comes toward the end of a long career that started with Kingsley playing Gandhi. These are bookend performances of resonance. From the epitome of goodness to the epitome of evil, Kingsley manages to make the banal fascinating and fastidious.

We were reminded of Laurence Olivier who also played much younger in flashbacks when he was in his 70s. Here, Kingsley is done up, perhaps from special computer effects, to look like his forty-something self.

His Eichmann is not a monster but manages to charm his Israeli Mossad captor, Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) in a compelling role playing the main protagonist (as well as film producer) and foil to Kingsley. He is witty with gallows humor hiding his post-traumatic stress over a sister lost in the Holocaust.

Two other notable actors seem to return to the big screen in minor roles:  we were surprised to find king of the TV miniseries of the 1970s, Peter Strauss, as a blind refugee, and that zaftig woman, looking so familiar as Eichmann’s wife, is amazing Greta Scacchi.

The film resonates in many ways, making it more than a precursor to Shaw’s play, the Man in the Glass Booth. We see Eichmann only in that display case for a few fleeting moments at the end of the movie.

 

 

 

 

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Colonel Effingham & Trump Style

DATELINE:  General Nuisance?

patterson Grand Dame Eliz. Patterson!

A long-forgotten movie from 1945 with Charles Coburn is called Colonel Effingham’s Raid. It concerns a retired blowhard army officer who returns to his Georgia boyhood town to learn they are taking down the Confederate monument in the town square.

It seems ripped from today’s headlines, but was a pop novel by Berry Fleming, another forgotten literary dim bulb of ages ago. It is supposed to be whimsical by standards of a century ago. Appalling would be a better word.

The notion that people would fight to keep up a symbol of racism in the Old South is played as a comedy! Indeed, black kids sit around and listen to the old white mayor praise the slave-owning South. Effingham hires black servants and treats them like basic training punching bags. Yikes.

One progressive woman (Joan Bennett) blames the corrupt mayor and his home-grown political party for hiring his “poor white” relations in town patronage jobs.

Effingham is a colonel in the general sense of Trump military leaders. Pompous and patriotic in an old-fashioned way, he will lead a pre-World War II Georgia town to rise in revolt to protect the Confederacy. How quaint, but it made America great back then.

The film is notable for its costars Cora Witherspoon and Elizabeth Patterson, two old biddy character actresses, as grand dames of the South. It also features the fake news media, up to its tricks for Trumpite Effingham.

If you want to see what made America 75 years ago, this hoary movie may be a rattling of your teacups. Ef-ing-ham is a satire, unlike his real-life counterpart in the White House, but both are ridiculous for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island: Rocky Roads for Season 6

DATELINE: Bring On Dr. Travis Taylor!

Gary with Peter Gary & Peter.

We’re back to Oak Island with a two-hour extravaganza called “Rock Solid,” but there is quicksand everywhere as 2019 starts.

The million-dollar boondoggle at Smith’s Cove has sprung multiple leaks. Was this not foreseen? It’s so bad that the two nephews, Alex and Peter, are sent by Uncle Rick to go to the outside and use silicone sealant along the seams of the steel barrier. Young and dumb always wins the dirty work.

We saw that TV commercial where the guy sprays sealant on a screen glued to his boat bottom and he sails with the sharks visible underneath. Alex and Peter have to work quickly, lest the tide and time take them.

With Gary Drayton finding another hole filled with goodies, they bring back the drudge government archeologist Nivens, who immediately takes a garden trowel to the site. Come back in a few years to find out what’s there.

Alex Lagina and Charles Barkhouse return to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to look in an old business for the Rosetta Stone of the pirate treasure. Guess what? Two years ago they couldn’t find it in the dingy basement tunnels of a city business.

However, this time, eureka is not just a Latin word. The long-lost stone with odd hieroglyphs from the original dig has been located: 200 pounds that needs laser treatment to recover the messages once on its surface.

So, they called in the big gun:  fresh off his series on History that was canceled about Nikola Tesla, the notable PhD star, Travis Taylor enters. He immediately shakes up the team with a new theory.

You never know what will eventuate when History Channel transports old stars to a new setting. Dr. Travis Taylor notes that the island is actually a star map—and blame those pesky Masons yet again.

We seem to be revving the engine for something in the coming weeks. Curse of Oak Island has never looked more promising.

 

 

Aliens & Astronauts, or Something Like That

DATELINE: Old Horizons

moonshot

A streaming Amazon documentary of sorts has two titles: good luck in figuring out which is the right one. Aliens and Astronauts: UFOs on the Moon is one choice, and the other is Alien Origins: UFOs on the Moon.

If this strikes you as a good emblematic statement about the film’s contents, you are on the money, unlike its producer, director, writer, and narrator who are all one person, named J. Michael Long.

Long is an expert director on Bigfoot and space aliens. Lately he has even branched out to Elephants & Donkeys, on the political crisis in America. Alas, he speaks like a non-native, mispronouncing dozens of words (even simple ones). It also adds to the aura of inauthenticity.

We’d be the last ones to call a documentary fake news, but we think the “fictional hypothesis” of the Moon being hollow is hardly fiction.

What do you call people who eat this up? Moonstruck or Lunatics?

The film tries every angle to convince us the Moon is hollow. It even begs the question of the question, which is penurious.

Nicely developed with good visuals, the film does raise the legit question of why we haven’t returned to the Moon in 40 years: someone doesn’t want us there? Hmm, yes, if the Moon is an artificial satellite brought here from another galaxy to help colonize the planet with Atlantis residents.

Oh, it all ties together. Director Long even suggests the Moon has only been out there for 11,000 years, which means the Sphinx may be older than the Moon. There must not have been much night-time construction, without moonlight. Long tells us in long-hand that the Moon is older than the Earth, by quite a bit, having machinery inside that brought it here.

Long is short on logic but heavy on repetition. Conspiracy theory addicts will find this stuff is catnip. Meow.

 

 

 

 

Trumpet Blowing at Midnight

DATELINE: Blowhard Comedy

Bugs Benny

For most of his career, actor and comedian Jack Benny blamed a movie called The Horn Blows at Midnight for ruining his movie stardom. In fact, he never made another movie for decades, succeeding on a newer medium called TV.

In some ways he was a re-actor, mostly playing off situations and people. Having a personality with notable quirks; vanity, greed, among his most notorious deadly sins, he was mostly asexual and devoid of anger issues.

Here he is faced with irony after irony: he drinks Paradise Coffee that ‘helps you sleep’. He is too ineffective to start the doomsday scenario.

As a milquetoast, he was the antithesis of heroic post-World War II men–those tough guy approaches bordered on psychotic (all the major stars went from their usual roles to a more sinister version in the years after the war).

That bring us to Midnight: where and when Benny is a second-rate angel in heaven given the task of blowing Gabriel’s horn (Heaven’s real star’s too busy) at midnight in New York City to end the corrupt world of a small planet called Earth.

It is whimsy gone mad. Nearly every joke is told twice. It almost becomes a Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon. Yet, the film was directed by action  helmsman Raoul Walsh. It used fantasy special effects and had a cast to die for. Yes, that is the original pantywaist Franklin Pangborn, and yes, that is Margaret Dumont from the Marx Brothers. Oh, yes, that is Robert Blake as a kid. Yes, that is every notable second-banana in second-banana roles. They are wonderful to behold.

It is not much more than a mild, simple whimsical tale with a few digs. Worse yet, the gimmick of the movie is blatantly false, which undercuts its sharpness. We won’t tell you if Benny falls asleep too often.

It was not a bad film, but no one went to see it—and Jack took it personally. Of course, it does not help when Jack tells the audience that, if he saw this stuff in a movie, they would not believe it.  They didn’t.

Benny retired from movies. His last starring vehicle is a diversion for the cynical, harsh times that followed World War II and the burgeoning Cold War. It also fits for us today in a mad, mad, mad world of Trump daily crises.

Equalized by Denzel Again

DATELINE:  Inequality!

denzel as mcCall

Don’t infuriate The Equalizer, as played by Denzel Washington for a second time in Equalizer 2.

We loved the Michael Sloan series about “retired” agent Robert McCall on TV with Edward Woodward, and we really like the idea that he has retired into hiding, faked death, to work as a vigilante for hire to help the helpless. We do miss Robert Lansing as Control.

Here he lives in Boston, and the backdrop of the Hub is photographed with all kinds of reverence, from the Zakim Bridge to Roxbury. We also like the notion that to meet people, McCall now works as a Lyft driver.

An old familiar face plays a Jewish passenger. We were shocked to learn it is Orson Bean, whom we have not seen in 40 years.

The corrupt people at the Agency, the Company, or whatever you want to call that American secret spy group, going by odd alphabets, seem to be worse than ever. No wonder McCall wanted out. Now, one of the few people he liked and trusted, Susan, another retired agent (Melissa Leo), has met a mysterious circumstance.

When Denzel goes into full mode, the bad guys should cringe, though these kind of villains always think they can match the hero. Otherwise, there’d be no entertaining movie.

The moral questions about the right of agency’s to off people they deem bad guys, without proof, is at the heart of this film, which makes it a cut above the usual death-by-gruesome-means movies.

Director Antoine Fuqua is adept and amusing enough to set the climax in a hurricane, which certainly helps with the dispatching of bad guys.

 

Holy Relics: The Quest & Question

DATELINE: Shoddy Documentary

Pia's 1898 negative photo

Another French documentary tackles the tricky question of the history of relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

With so many collectible and miraculous items over two centuries, it is hard to believe that no documentary has given itself time to debunk them all. Holy Relics: the Quest aims high, but we must confess that we are not happy with those who want to gut crypto-science by fallacies.

This show wants so badly to expose the frauds that it commits fraud in itself.

There is no shortage of Jesus relics: his shroud, the nails, the true cross,  the crown of thorns, his sepulcher, the lance that pierced him, even samples of his blood. They have all been saved and sold for profit and political gain by the faithful and the greedy.

Taking each in turn, the documentary presents false information: claiming the shroud is done by dyes and blood in Medieval times, the so-called Italian scientist fails to recognize that the tests done proved it was not a dye or paint on the shroud.

The film does explain “contact relics” which are items of nails, cloth, or wood , that touched the original. According to Vatican laws, these are as good as originals. So, there are over 100 known nails (only 3 were used on Jesus –featuring one spike for both feet, but the documentary claims 4 nails). Pieces of wood from the True Cross are innumerable.

There is even rare footage from inside the tomb in Jerusalem where the body of Jesus rested for three days. It doesn’t look too special. And, the stone slab on which the body of Jesus was washed is a proven replacement item. It does not seem to make any difference for worshippers.

Yet, in its brevity as a documentary, items are omitted: the lance that pierced Jesus’ side is given only a cursory mention—and there is no mention of a bloody cloth in Spain that was used to wrap around the face of Jesus.

So, the film has more holes in it than they even realize if their zealotry to debunk all religious icons.

As much as there may be a need for a catalogue of iconic relics on Jesus, this show is not it.

Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.

Watership Upside Down in Bugsy Demeanor?

DATELINE: Hare-brained cartoons?

Watership Down Bugs & Daffy, or B’rer Rabbits?

Two movies about rabbits we have seen recently are cartoons. Of course, by today’s high-falutin’ standards, they are now called ‘animation’. Watership Down, based on a children’s book, is a think-piece, now remade with a couple of big-name Brit stars.

The other film we saw was a compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons from the Golden Age of 1942-43. The gulf between these two film works transcends streaming DVD and enters the realm of unreal hare-brains.

Stars Nick Hoult and James MacAvoy have definite chemistry as actors together, as B’rer Rabbits, in Watership Down. They play the voices of Hazel and Fiver. You may not see it, but you can surely hear their rapport.

The new version of the animated story has shown up as a Netflix movie series. Unlike Disney animation, in which characters can be distinguished, this film has a bunch of hares and bunny rabbits that are clones. After a while, we are trying to determine accents and vocalizations to tell if we are listening to Nick Hoult or James McAvoy.

We love both actors, and that’s the long and short of it.

We also do not love four hours of animation to tell a story. Alas, even broken into 4 episodic chunks tested our mettle. On the other hand, the eight Warner Brothers cartoons are about six minutes each. They are also racist, filled with fat hatred, and feature Bugs in drag often, but can’t end soon enough.

Though Warner cartoons are claimed to be highly restored, they grow increasingly unwatchable as color fades and clarity blurs. On the other hand, you can see every fur-laced lash of the hares of the new animation in Watership, if you really care enough.

The Biblical tones and literary pretensions of one are undercut in the other’s attempt to play down to Brooklyn rabbit accents and fat Elmer Fudd. Yes, Fudd has not yet gone on a diet in these early films—and even wears a corset in two cartoons.

If there is a big difference in the films, one has personality unleashed, and the other is less brash.

We may find that in each lesson it may be that teachable moments are less successful in cartoon form. It undercuts and underscores at the same time. However, in the age of superheroes and Marvel Comics, we suspect this is the new Dickensian epic-style.

We’d just like to see Hoult and McAvoy in human form. Give us a real movie please.

Secrets of History: Templars on the March!

DATELINE: French Perspective

Gerard Depardieu

Perhaps Oak Island has ruined us when it comes to conspiracy.

We turned to an all-French documentary, hosted by Stephane Bern, with subtitles galore. It is perhaps a quite thorough look at who, what, where, when, and why the Knights Templar went extinct.

If you don’t know the story, you still will be in the dark after almost 90 minutes. This tale sets its sights strictly on the group’s work in France. They avoid trips to the new world, England, Oak Island, or anywhere else the Templars may have gone to hide their alleged loot.

This film lost fans because it takes the unpopular position that there is no Templar Treasure. It’s all a hoax, if not a legend.

Along the way we may hear that some people think the treasure could be religious objects of art. It is not gold, and we hate to break the news to Dave Blankenship of Nova Scotia.

In between some stunning re-enactments, which include scenes from a 2004 series in which Gerard Depardieu acted out as Jacques DeMolay, we must listen to some blowhards monopolize the discussion. Bern can’t shut them up and lets his other guests languish in silence. It is not pleasant.

The Knights Templar were ground-breakers: they were a war-like monastic group that took people from all backgrounds (usually single men) and educated them. They became bodyguards and bankers combined. It was international in scope and challenged the right of sovereigns.

No wonder that King Philip IV of France used Friday 13th to wipe them off the map by accusing them of sodomy.

 

Secrets & Mysteries of Columbus?

DATELINE:  Spy Who Came in From Portugal.

Oak Island Templar spy Christopher :

We may have mixed up our holidays, putting Columbus Day in lieu of Xmas. What’s worse, this new documentary contends that experts have known for a long time that “Columbus” was a pseudonym and that he was not Italian. He couldn’t even speak the tongue.

We took in the documentary Secrets and Mysteries of Christopher Columbus, not sure exactly what the mystery might be. There is no mystery that Oak Island is on holiday, and this guy is the sub.

Yikes, cancel the Columbus Day parades. It now seems that Columbus was the son of an illegitimate Portuguese prince and a Jewish mother. It also appears that his biological father was a Knight Templar of Portugal—and an admiral.

We always like to tie in one conspiracy series to another conspiracy documentary. The Curse of Oak Island needs to hear about this.

Since Marty and Rick on Oak Island are on a holiday hiatus, we will fill the void with these drilling down details.

So, Columbus sailed that ocean blue in 1492 with some distinct political purposes: to set a treaty with Spain that might give most of undiscovered South America and, heaven forbid, Oak Island of Canada to Portugal.

If you like to hook your mysteries together into a scintillating package of conspiracy, there is one even the Lagina Brothers have not yet figured out:  Columbus did not discover America but was merely following in the wake of his political progenitors, the Templars.

This neat little film covers some old ground with new insights. It seems Columbus was born in Cuba, Portugal, and thus he named the big island after his hometown.  What’s more enlightening is that he gave forty hot spots around Cuba the names of towns and locations around the Portugal town of his birth.

As the documentary states, it is geographic DNA.

Like Oak Island, the floodgates have kept us at bay, preventing us from finding out whether Columbus really wanted a route to Oak Island and went too far southward. This one irritated at the finish by suggesting “to be continued,” when DNA results are ready.

 

 

 

 

 

Twilight of the Hollywood Gods

 DATELINE: Gemstone Ignored?

twilight

It was 20 years ago that Paul Newman played one of his last tired, cynical, lethargic private detectives up to his eyeballs in corruption. The movie was Twilight, and it was so laden with talent that it apparently sank into oblivion.

On the other hand, there are dozens of movies with Twilight in the title, and most are forgettable.

This ignored classic is out there for those who want to stream through it. Thank heavens we found it. And, it is well-worth the time. This is high-quality, high-level movie-making. Every scene is gripping and intriguing.

When you look at the stars in the twilight of their careers from this picture, you wonder if there is a double meaning:  Gene Hackman, James Garner, and director Robert Benton, join Newman at journey’s end. The fictional stars are on their last legs too.

Playing at a coverup of corrupt Hollywood stars in the murder for pleasure motive, Newman plays a former cop and private eye who does the cleanup for big stars. The plot centers on some dirty blackmail scheme, but by whom and why?

Your second generation of stars include Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon as the daughter of the stars and her dubious boyfriend played by Liev Schreiber. An honorable mention goes to Margo Martindale as the zaftig rinse-bottle blonde.

As you may guess, this is first-class travel all the way—and makes us wonder why it fell through the cracks 20 years ago. It was likely just too familiar ground for Newman whose posturing resembles a teenage boy, not a man in his 70s.

By today’s dubious film standards, this movie is a sheer delight of crime melodrama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Edge: Greene for Danger

DATELINE:  Literary Marvel

Greene  The Other Shade of Greene

Before Graham Greene was known as a Native American actor and movie star, he was one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  Oh, they were different people with the same name.

British writer Greene joined Hemingway as a character as vivid as his heroes of fiction. Like them, he was a converted Roman Catholic with severe doubts and moral lapses. He was, like them, often a writer and journalist, and he shared a background as a spy with many of his literary heroes. He was not a nice man.

And he loved to write movie reviews. Well, he wasn’t all bad.

As a cinematic novelist, his works often reached the screen with great influence: from This Gun for Hire, The Third Man,  Power and Glory, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt, and on and on.

He seemed always to visit a far-off location right before it blew up into an international crisis spot: from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam.

As a boy, his father was the headmaster of their school—and all his classmates regarded him as a spy for the old man. The notion stuck.

He was notoriously promiscuous and a womanizer, as well as an inveterate traveler. He was virulently anti-American for the most part—and loathed the movies that messed up his message (Quiet American Audie Murphy comes to mind, which can be seen in the book Audie Murphy in Vietnam by William Russo).

He defended notorious Communist Kim Philby, the Brit spy, and one of his closest friends. He accepted honors from the Soviet Union, but not from the Nobel Prize committee. No wonder the FBI and CIA kept him under surveillance.

Greene was also a suicidal manic-depressive most of the time, though he lived until his 80s and finally came to realize his mission was to write. He believed his work ultimately was his life and his identity. He was not far wrong.

The documentary about his life, Dangerous Edge, even features people like John LeCarre, his likely successor in literature, and the film uses many clips from the famous movies. He used to call his less serious work “entertainments,” but it all ended up as serious and entertaining.

The Twonky: 1st Artificial-Intelligence Movie

DATELINE:  Non-conformist Weirdo Stuff !

twonky To Twonk or Not to Twonk?

When the protagonist of your movie is a pedantic philosophy professor (the ubiquitous Hans Conreid) in 1952, you likely had a bomb of a movie on your hands. When star Conreid said this to director Arch Oboler, the temperamental auteur noted he needed a tax write-off for the year anyhow.

The Twonky was based on a Lewis Padgett short story, one of the earliest visionaries to see computers and AI as the controlling force of the future.

Robbie the Robot and Gort were the mechanical men of the age (though a primitive slave robot was at work in Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire in 1935). It was the Twonky, a creature from the future who took up life in a modern TV set.

As eggheads decried television as a wasteland back in the 1950s, it is all the more ironic that the future visitor and time traveler would end up as an animated TV set.

Though Professor Conreid finds it distasteful to be at the mercy of a trained computer that tries to fulfill every wish, it would today make for a great weekly series on TV. The Twonky is there to make life easier for humans—and to monitor them, depriving privacy and free choice.

Its comedic elements are frightful, and the man who sees it all to clearly is the college football coach, an old geyser played by Billy Lynn. He drops pearls of insight and knocks the hero for not knowing his science fiction.

Arch Oboler’s weird film is decades ahead of its time, criticized for its humor and poor technical effects, the movie is actually on the marvelous side. We enjoyed watching the Twonky climb stairs, throttle a TV repairman, and strip a bill collector down to the birthday suit.

The best moment for us, as former college professor, was when the doctor offered Professor Conreid a sedative. He demurred as he had to write his college class lecture that night—to which the doctor noted, “Oh, well, then you don’t need a sedative.”

Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers

DATELINE:  The More Things Change….

twins Guess Which Bad Penny?

Thirty years ago the bespectacled scientist burst onto the UFO scene by exposing the US government as having spaceships from another world hidden in Nevada. At least that was the gambit.

This new motion picture of Bob Lazar has a title that is interestingly punctuated: no commas required. When the title’s style is of interest, the rest of the movie may not be. Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers.

After a whirlwind of dangerous controversy, Bob Lazar disappeared into the mists of the 1980s like a rock video from MTV. Like Edward Snowden, he was unverifiable, having claimed his identity was erased by the government’s black ops. He feared he would be erased.

So, he went underground and refused to have anything to do with George Knapp and the UFO radio network that later evolved into Ancient Aliens and a cottage industry of crypto-science.

Now he returns like a bad penny in a new documentary.

He looks fairly much the same as ever:  characteristic eyeglasses now over a weather-beaten face. He has not gained a pound in 30 years, which may be due to alien technology.

The big questions remain: who is he? What motivated him? And why has he returned? This 90-minute film recaps much of the past but reveals not much of the present.

He seems prosperous, running some kind of science lab in Middle America. He has not gone into Witness Protection and is not living in abject fear. MJ-12 has not assassinated him. However, he is almost immediately raided by the FBI upon re-emergence. Somebody is watching.

Having successfully hidden for 30 years, we wonder why he would throw himself back into the breach. There is no answer, except the profits of the movie producers. He really has nothing more to offer, other than to provide a final chapter to the circus of his earlier life.

This is a slick, but ultimately empty documentary that covers old ground with a fresh, new coat of paint on un-Groomed Lake.