Mandela & De Klerk Teaches US Hard Lesson

DATELINE:  A Timely Movie from 20 Years Ago

mandela

With racial tension once again dominating the United States and with a president defending white supremacists as “many fine people,” we felt it was time to take a look at a 20-year old movie called Mandela & De Klerk.

Somehow, in our blithe ignorance, we missed this small film in 1997 when Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine took on the roles of the title. We doubt today’s self-righteous and self-leftists are even able to sit down and watch a thoughtful movie.

After 27 years in jail in a society based on racial divisions, Nelson Mandela’s movement to end apartheid flourished with millions of African people pitted against a minority of white people.

With the emergence of a reasonable and man of moral scruples in F.W. De Klerk came the détente and building of a relationship built on racial equality, if not a stronger tolerance.

To have two superstars come to play the roles gives the newsreel based footage something more intimate and human. The film was made on location in South Africa, and the actors are clearly well-chosen for their parts in delineating how race riots can be quelled by good men in temperate mode.

We usually eschew preachy movies, or overtly political allegories—but this film now seems more apt than ever for another country that has too long taken on a holier-than-thou attitude in the world.

Neo-Nazis, crypto-Nazis, and their ilk, have come to hate the loss of “white” culture in a world where inevitably the American nation will be dominated by minorities when people of color become the American majority within 50 years, or less.

It may be time to wake up and smell the coffee, whether you are alt-right, or alt-left, or just alt-of-this-world.

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The Stunt Man: Rush Job

DATELINE:  Mad Director Meets Madder Stunt Man

otoole

If you ever wondered what it might’ve been like to walk onto the set of legendary superstar Peter O’Toole during filming, your chance came in 1980 with the movie The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush.

The title is two words because Burt Reynolds sued director Rush over the title, wanting it for his movie tribute to stuntmen. They split the difference.

It’s a comedy action thriller drama Hollywood insider movie about the making of an out-of-control World War I epic anti-war movie with more explosions and killings than supports its so-called plot of the movie-within-a-movie.

It also costars Steve Railsback, in a rare heroic role as a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Fleeing from police, he wanders onto the set of O’Toole’s Eli Cross production and is immediately sucked into the ruse of taking up the role of a stunt man who was killed accidentally that day.

O’Toole knows he has a fugitive on his hands, but needs to prevent an investigation into his botched movie stunt.

Railsback was fresh off playing Charles Manson in Helter-Skelter for a movie mini-series. Peter O’Toole based his wacky director on his work with David Lean during the making of Lawrence of Arabia.

Flying around the set on a crane, O’Toole’s ego-maniacal director will risk anything to get his movie on film, including the accidental death of crew-members. Yes, this is a comedy, but not quite like you expect.

This movie probably would never be made today, even with rogue directors and winking cable studios financing the project.  Then, again, we admit that Twin Peaks was given a green-light.

When Railsback asks O’Toole why he is protecting the fugitive, O’Toole answers: “Because I’m in love with your dark side.” It makes perfect sense.

Railsback was never so handsome, and O’Toole was never quite so cuckoo.  It makes for a delicious movie, though it is about a half-hour too long.

In its earlier incarnation, it was given little publicity in its release. O’Toole commented the film was not released, “It escaped.”

 

Sleepless: The Big Snooze

DATELINE:  Foxx Fones in Performance

Foxx Fones in Performance

Noise, car chases, unremitting violence, do not make this film distinctive from a plethora of faint-hearted copies. It too wants to be a franchise “cops in Las Vegas” series with Jamie Foxx. It’s optimistically called Sleepless. Not to be confused with Sleeper.

Foxx has worked hard to achieve a status as a solid actor of intelligent films, but like so many other stars, he must pay the rent. This film is a lease on his new, multi-million-dollar penthouse condo in Vegas.

How bad is this movie? Well, Foxx is stabbed in the gut early on in the film, bleeds profusely, but can still fight, run, and lift heavy bags of drugs with nary a squint in his demeanor.

When his clothes are blood-soaked, he finds a hotel casino laundry where he can immediately locate a tailored suit with white shirt (all the better for blood, you know) with henchmen hot on his trail.

His entire family becomes involved with the mob family. There is no joke hidden here—as the mob kidnaps his son, thinking Foxx is a bad guy who stole their drugs, when he is of course merely undercover, trying to find the mule, or jackass, in the police who is the real culprit.

Oh, is that a spoiler? Well, try this: he steals a show car in the casino and drives around inside, knocking over civilians and bad guys alike. You’d almost think this was a terrorist attack, but no—it is merely criminal enterprise at work. Viva Las Vegas.

The movie would be over in 45 minutes if not for a complication in which an overeager Internal Affairs officer steals the drugs, creating another endless chase.

When the big shoot-out occurs in the underground parking garage of the casino, Foxx’s wife happens to drive through with her gun in the glove box. (She’s a nurse, what did you expect? A first aid kit?)

If you have confused this movie mess with The Big Sleep, you don’t have narcolepsy, a habit of liking narcs, or need a sleep aid. Yes, this is Sleepless. Almost as funny as Sleepless in Seattle.

Collide with Nicholas Hoult

DATELINE:  Overripe Vintage Villains

hoult2

Oh, no, not a noisy car chase movie with Nicholas Hoult? Heavens, spare us. On top of that, the Brit actor again plays an American boy with a surfer accent. Not bad.

He seems to have gone the route of James Franco—two inconsequential movies and one film of substance. Collide seems to be inconsequential, but not so fast.

We rolled our eyes when the first scene of Nick Hoult is his blue eyes in the rear-view mirror as he races down the highway, heading for a metaphoric crash as the voice-over notes how he did it all for love.

We prepared for movieland dismissal. However, something surprised us: suddenly there was Ben Kingsley in one of his patented creepy mobster roles, watching an old John Travolta movie and commenting on the bad acting. Oh?

He started calling Hoult by the movie star name of “Burt Reynolds.”  We were hooked, and then some when Kingsley’s archrival drug kingpin is none other than Shakespearean nasty villain Anthony Hopkins, playing the respectable son of a Nazi interrogator.

All the crime henchmen look like the bearded ladies at the circus. And, one of many chases was on.

It was ridiculous to say the least: Hoult’s girlfriend is on dialysis, but remains a party-girl for his love. Big crime will pay for a kidney transplant. Okay.

The chases and fights do leave Hoult breathless and agonized, which one seldom sees in heroes of this brand of movie. He clearly wanted to perform with the legends of Hopkins and Kingsley—and he manages to more than hold his own.

It’s all over the top, but we stayed around for the credits—never expecting that Hopkins and Kingsley would be billed as “Sir Anthony” and “Sir Ben” and then have stunt doubles listed.

Yeah, we liked this one.

Blackway Retitled

DATELINE:  Lost Masterpiece

blackway

When you change the title after release, you lose a movie sometimes.

In this case, the loss for viewers is palpable. Now using its original novel name, Blackway, this low budget, big-star cast is an allegory about evil set in British Columbia, Canada.

Blackway is the bad guy, and he is the epitome of bad. What better name for this pervasive force in the wilderness.

The cast alone will make you curious:  Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, and Hal Holbrook, makes for an aging, but brilliant tale of a quest against the ravages of ruthless evil.

You may wonder how such a trio as Stiles, Hopkins, and wonderful Alexander Ludwig, mismatched to fight bad guys, can stand up to Liotta’s ubiquitous town boss. He seems to be everywhere, having done dirt to many in the remote region.

He has power and ultimately engenders total fear among the residents.

No one will help the beleaguered Miss Stiles, except for Hopkins and his muscleman with slow wits. Each has a reason to go against Liotta’s reign of terror.

In one illuminating scene, Hopkins tells us that life forces us to face implacable enemies sometimes: whether it’s cancer, a car crash, or financial ruin. You must deal with it with bravery.

Director Daniel Alfredson has chosen his frightful woods in the world of nowhere quite well, and the adaptation of Castle Freeman’s book goes against the grain of the usual clichés.

So many viewers missed this film, when it deserves your full attention with performances, story, direction, and compelling message. How fortunate we were to stumble upon it by accident.

 

Point Blank: Right on Target

DATELINE:  Unusual Film Resurfaces

 point blank

Can it really be 50 years since John Boorman gave us his curious precursor to Twin Peaks, long before David Lynch had a brainstorm?

Point Blank confounded audiences in 1967 who were far less prepared for the kind of stuff Lynch gave us 25 years later. This film essentially introduced Boorman to serious audiences. It took a crime film and made it arty.

Lee Marvin is the dead Walker, left to die in haunted, empty Alcatraz after a botched crime pickup. Some undetermined time later, he is looking for revenge, in a gray suit with white hair. No one knows him by any other name, and everyone asks, “Aren’t you dead?”

Indeed.

Boorman films Marvin through screens, drapes, and other opaque filters. He even grapples with a ghostly sheet after he drives his nemesis off the penthouse roof.

Walker wants his money as well as revenge—and a litany of marvelous actors plays the hierarchy of the Mob, befuddled by him. John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, and a marvelous and hilarious Carroll O’Connor, are his lineup.

Angie Dickinson spends a full minute trying to beat him up, slapping and punching the impervious Marvin in an amazing bit.

Marvin is indestructible and single-minded as Walker.

The film is short in minutes, but long on violent moments that were a revelation 50 years ago. The film plays with haunting memories repeatedly as Walker seems obsessed with reliving them, like a residual spirit.

It’s a tour de force by Lee Marvin and John Boorman. Just wonderful and fresh 50 years later.

 

 

 

Money Trap Can’t Buy Respect

 DATELINE: Forgotten Noir Film

Rita & Glenn, post Gilda  Aging, but Fine Still

Twenty years after the amazing Gilda, Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth co-starred again in a small-budget film noir. This time it did not have the wit or undercurrent of the closet classic of 1945.

Ripe middle-age makes the pairing interesting for older film fans, but lost youth often is overrated. By 1965 Ford and Hayworth had faces and the best lines were in their faces.

The film is old-fashioned with dissipated cops, aging ingenues, and deep dollops of cynicism.

True noir was already past its prime when The Money Trap flopped at the box office, despite having costars like Ricardo Montalban, Elke Sommer, and Joseph Cotten. The cast is marvelous, hard-bitten, and gives last hurrah performances.

Baby Boomer audiences of the day fell down on the job of paying tribute to the formerly great stars.

In the film Ford and Montalban turn out to be corrupt cops needing big bucks, and Ford couldn’t handle his new generation rich wife, Elke Sommer. Instead, he found his old flame, floozie Rita, worth a second look. Yep, they had that old bugaboo, oft called ‘chemistry’.

Cotten plays a mob doctor with oodles of money hidden in his luxurious home—and the two cops need to steal it to maintain a lifestyle way beyond police salary. Montalban becomes too greedy—and therein lies a double-cross emeritus.

What a wonderful throwback, better appreciated today than when it was originally made with more gloss than grime in the production, but the tone is pure 1940s crime melodrama.

Depp is Really a Dope

 DATELINE: Actors & Politics

Tonto Means Dopey Depp Johnny Dope

They don’t call him Johnny Dope for nothing.

The semi-intoxicated movie star named Johnny Depp called for the assassination of President Trump at a British music festival this week. He compared himself to another actor named John Wilkes Booth.

That comparison raises Depp a few steps above his talent range.

Wilkes Booth was a noted actor of stage, known for his good looks and his explosive talent. Depp has always fallen short on both levels.

Booth, of course, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln with a group of misfits he assembled. There’s no doubt the Depp probably can muster up a group of misfits from his devotees. That’s his likely fan club.

As far as actors killing presidents is concerned, we believe Booth was a better actor, but as Depp brags: he’s a better liar than Booth. Heavens, there is no end to his talent: until now.

Threatening to kill a president you disagree with is a new low even for Hollywood liberals.

John Wilkes Booth was a great Shakespearean actor even at a young age. However, Booth was dead at 27, after a manhunt by authorities. Depp is still alive and kicking and pushing 60.  After his recent comment, nobody will be chasing him, especially film producers.

We also believe the Depp has never really tried Shakespeare, which separates the actors from the drunken liars.

The Secret Service is said to be aware of Depp’s Kathy Griffin moment. If we are lucky, the man who has played Tonto will be sent into retirement, not a moment too soon. His performance was an insult to all Native Americans.

In case you’re wondering, Tonto is Spanish for stupid. That may be the highlight of Johnny Dope’s career. Put it on his tombstone.

Original New York Terror Movie

DATELINE:  Classic Thriller

 

Matthau

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, from 1974, is a masterpiece

Directed by Joseph Sargent, it holds up after 40 years of action thrillers have passed into oblivion. Twenty-five years before 9-11, it showed New York City in full terrorist mode. Of course, back then, it was not called “terrorism,” but when a gang of dangerous criminals hijacks a subway train, the word fits.

Acutely written and underplayed by a bunch of New York actors, the leading transit policeman is Walter Matthau, a man give over to snippy one-liners and packaging disheveled frumpiness. He is at the top of the game here. And, his sidekick is Jerry Stiller, not Jack Lemmon.

Indeed, the passel of familiar faces from TV and movies of the era is a who’s who cast: James Broderick, Tony Roberts, Dick O’Neill, Kenneth McMillan, Dolph Sweet, Tom Pedi, and Doris Roberts. For the most part they throw out some zinger lines to break up the tension.

The bad guys are gems: Hector Elizondo and Martin Balsam, of course, effective as always, but Robert Shaw added another villain portrait to his growing gallery as the mercenary ringleader. His end rivals his work in Jaws the following year.

New York City is magnificent as itself, harsh, bustling, dirty, cynical, and unique.

To watch a well-put together suspense thriller, you may be surprised to learn it won next to nothing in awards, a few nominations, but nothing from Oscar land. They didn’t take terror films lightly back then, and this one dishes out some great entertainment along with the speeding subway trains and crashing police cars.

Neruda’s Politics Over Poetry

DATELINE:  Chile Politics

neruda

Pablo Larrain’s other important movie this past year, besides Jackie, is another off-beat biographical drama, this time centering on Chilean poet and political activist Pablo Neruda.

The film Neruda puts its focus on a year-long period in 1948 when the poet was targeted by the Chilean government for arrest and explains his attempts to flee the country while being chased by some kind of Victor Hugo-styled police detective. Bernal is utterly breath-taking in his 1940s wardrobe.

Told from the viewpoint of Gael Gabriel Bernal as the police pursuer, you have a man of no consequence taking his identity from chasing the biggest figure in his country’s history. As the cop finally begs the audience, “I am not a supporting character,” and we feel that Larrain is in total agreement.

The film hints that the pursuer was a creation of Neruda’s paranoia or of his self-important art. We tend to support the group that prefers to remember that Nobel Prize winner Neruda was a Stalinist communist, unrepentant and disdainful of much else.

In 1948 Chile perhaps it was chichi to be an unrelenting communist chased by a relentless secret police officer. Peanut-sized actor Bernal is strikingly brilliant in his dogged role. Luis Gnecco is equal in his performance as the frumpy, profligate poet Neruda.

Americans may wonder how this uninspired-looking man could motivate his nation as a martyr, or give voice to the downtrodden, that sent many who helped him to prison. It is all part of Larrain’s poetic vision of cat-and-mouse politics.

We must admit that the notion that an unimportant pawn of political corruption drawing his identity from hounding a greater man for his beliefs is a fascinating topic.

The film is fully realized, one of two powerful political dramas this year by the South American filmmaker Pablo Larrain, now taking part in Hollywood mainstream.

Neruda will be intriguing for those of a certain socialist political bent. The rest of us will conclude Neruda and the Nobel Prize are overrated, but the movie is not.

Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl: The Assignment

 DATELINE:  Singular Revenge Tale

michelle rodriguez  Ultimate Tomboy?

You won’t find many gender-bending mob hitman movies out there, but Walter Hill has directed and written the best one: The Assignment.

Literate, clever, and intelligent, as well as violent, this film manages to answer the question raised by the old Barbarians song.

This is a revenge tale with a twist of lemon. Frank Kitchen is one of those androgynous, bearded killers who looks like Ralph Macchio in most scenes and a bit like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront in a few others. Even as an attractive woman, Rodriguez still looks like Ralph Macchio.

The actor playing Frank is Michelle Rodriguez who in a clever bit of computer effects has a full-frontal nudity scene as a young man. She has the posturing and macho attitude to play the killer who meets the wrong doctor.

Also gender-bending is Sigourney Weaver, as a tough masculine female plastic surgeon who decides, beyond experimentation, to have revenge on the mob killer who murdered her brother. She drugs him and turns him into a woman. Yes, castration and breast implants do not make the girl quite.

Since Weaver’s doctor loves Edgar Allan Poe, she leaves the calling card “Nevermore” next to the gender-bent Frank, left with nasty instructions in a cheap hotel room.

Tony Shaloub is around as a psychiatrist investigator who has to hear the story from Weaver in a strait-jacket while in a mental hospital. She cannot convince anyone that she did the sex operation on Frank and he really exists now as a woman.

Weaver and Rodriguez have a few good scenes together, especially when she admires her plastic surgery by commenting that Rodriguez is attractive in a “shop girl/waitress” way. Tony Shaloub compliments Weaver for her “cheap theatrics” in her confession.

Good performances and a good script make this action revenge flick way above the pack of gender-bending tomboy movies.

MacBird Outdid Trump as Caesar 45 years ago

 Julius Trump?

DATELINE:  Shakespeare in Absentia

We have seen many updated versions of Shakespeare over the years. Indeed, we enjoy seeing the Bard transported to new locations and timeframes. It often electrifies the message that has become stale to modern audiences.

We have seen Shakespeare set in Nazi Germany (Richard III), in the world of bikers (Coriolanus), in the world of independent film students (Hamlet), a corporate boardroom (Othello), and now we find a stage production of Julius Caesar in American politics.

The Shakespeare in the Park production makes Caesar a lookalike Donald Trump who hath grown ambitious. He has that chock of blond hair weave and an overlong red tie. He also has a bloated ego.

The man who would be emperor is assassinated by senators with knives, just like 2000 years ago. How much progress we have made in politics?

This version has created a firestorm, causing corporate sponsors to try to stifle artistic expression by withdrawing support. It’s a tempest in a teapot.

We think back to the Vietnam War days—and back then we must have been less sensitive because Macbeth was presented on stage in the form of MacBird.

That little ditty suggested that Lyndon Johnson had been behind the assassination of John Kennedy. In this cruel satire, without the Shakespearean tongue, the Scottish thane Macbird and his wife, Lady Bird, are party to a ruthless series of killings to rise to the top of the nation. Was Lyndon not born of woman?

We recall amusement about seeing a dumb tasteless play that presented President Johnson portrayed for conspiracy theorists  as Macbeth, but it did not quite engender the furor that President Trump has exemplified in a Caesar mode.

Satirizing politics of the moment has become a dangerous business. Just ask Alec Baldwin or Kathy Griffin who claim they are subject to social anger on social media.

So, too, Julius Caesar has created a debate—not about politics, but about art. To be or not, we’ll wait for the movie version.

Is It Real??? or Just Another Movie!*

realkindlecover cover pictures include real and fake!

DATELINE:  New Book of Movie Reviews

Ossurworld wants to announce that a collection of reviews and commentaries on documentaries, docudramas, and biopics, is now available on Amazon.com for discerning movie fans and smart readers.

If Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” he’d be accused today of being a fake news critic…We have mixed up the real documentaries with those based on a true story in this compendium. You likely can guess when you have a real documentary on your hands, but not always. Sometimes it’s a biopic, or a docudrama, or just speculative facts and opinion. Sometimes the film is a masterpiece, and sometimes it’s just another movie.

We are sure that Ossurworld will start giving these away with a set of dishes sometime in the future. We think these reviews are swell, sometimes even funny. We hope you will too.

*Includes a few TV reviews.

 

Becket’s Unspeakable Love Story

Becket Cavorting Adults

DATELINE: Burton & O’Toole in Epical Struggle

In 1964 came the extraordinary event of a literate play turned into an epic movie. This was the Hollywood version of Murder in the Cathedral.  The more mundane play version by Jean Anhouilh was called simply Becket.  Its Broadway incarnation was a legend with Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn playing the leads, and exchanging roles every other night.

So, the movie version had big shoes to fill. Director Peter Glenville went out and arranged for the two biggest stars of the decade to go head-to-head:  Welsh Richard Burton, fresh off Cleopatra’s couch, and Irish Peter O’Toole, fresh off an Arabian oasis.

Everyone expected fireworks, but the two stars actually liked each other.

The movie shows it. O’Toole’s Henry II is utterly hysterical, and funny too. Burton’s Thomas Beckett is somber and sly. You will first be shocked at how young they are: the dissipation would set in, like dry rot, over the next decade.

They enjoyed their roles because, as O’Toole said at the time, in two blockbuster movies he was allowed a love interest of camels (Lawrence of Arabia) and Burton (Becket). And Burton was allowed only Elizabeth Taylor as his love interest. So, it was a natural affair between the actors.

Love interest indeed!

The docudrama goes grandiose in damp castles and Sherwood Forest, as Henry and Becket are like smitten boyfriends. That was the historical take—as no one could really figure how the Norman king and the Saxon aide-de-camp could be so entwined.

In a series of long capes, O’Toole is flashy and a hoot—and Burton’s character becomes more ethical and somber. Henry made Becket the recipient of many gifts: deaconship, chancellor, and Archbishop of Canterbury, to win his affection. Alas, it never worked the way Henry wanted, as Becket began to oppose his schemes.

Henry threw a fit in which he basically said he was surrounded by idiots, and the smartest man in the kingdom was opposed to him.

Well, the Knights took that to mean they had to relieve their king of a strange affection. As normal heterosexuals, they figured, you kill the one he loves. It’s a British tradition.

Of course, it all backfires. Henry II did penance with flagellation—and made Becket a saint, literally, by church canon. It makes for a rousing adventure and fascinating intellectual thriller.

 

 

Return to O.J. Unnecessary

DATELINE:  Guilty Even If Found Not Guilty

Rick Investigator Rick Levasseur

Before there was Aaron Hernandez shooting up the serial killer sports figure, there was O.J. Simpson who slaughtered his way into fame after doing light comedy in movies and heavy sports in youth.

Now O.J. is back with several examinations of his alleged crimes. One is enough for us. The 6-part miniseries documentary/crime expose is called Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence.  Yes, some people think the jury was right.

During the course of an overwrought investigation, it became clear no one wanted to re-open this case. We were astounded that Nicole Simpson’s sister and Ron Goldman’s father stood for additional tormenting interviews. Were they paid for their time?

It was rumored way back at the time of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ron Goldman that the real killer was O.J.’s son. Yes, the story was a kind of Mildred Pierce in which the parent is willing to take the blame for the crimes of their child.

As hard as it is to picture O.J. Simpson as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest mode, he seems tailor-made to save his troubled son, or more likely to throw him away. On the other hand, theorist William Dean was hell-bent on finding the “true” culprit whom he labeled Jason Simpson, O.J.’s son.

With glossy production values, the miniseries documentary features Martin Sheen as narrator. Chief honcho William Dean selects two matinee idol types, right out of central casting as forensic psychologist (Kris Mohandie) and former police sergeant (Rick Levasseur) as his leg men. They couldn’t be cuter if you cast real actors.

Bill Dean has been enterprising for years: he took possession of Jason Simpson’s diaries and hunting knife out of a storage locker. It sparked his manhunt attitude like something out of Hugo’s Les Miserables.  He is a dogged Javert.

Showing up to provide insights include Dr. Henry Lee and Detective Tom Lange from the original case. They give both sides of inept police work. No one from the prosecutor’s office would bother with this investigation.

The two boy-toy crime busters try to reach reclusive Jason Simpson, and he is stalked by private detectives hired for the series, showing only a rather sad, downtrodden, and unhappy man, but is he a murderer?

Ultimately Jason Simpson’s time-card from his job at the time of the murder would prove to be the investigation’s high-point. Yet, we ended up nearly as disgusted by the rehash as all the surviving original people.

Was any of this necessary?