Vera Cruz: Classic Western Fun

DATELINE: Clash of the Titans

 Coop & Burt

When you cast Burt Lancaster as the villainous rogue cowboy against stalwart Gary Cooper, you have a humdinger. So, it was in 1954 when these two titans clashed in a Technicolor epic called Vera Cruz.

Cooper was fresh off his High Noon Oscar, and Lancaster liked to do an adventure movie between his high-brow efforts (like From Here to Eternity).

It was a rousing Western in which double crosses and triple crosses were the norm. With friendly enemy banter between the two principals, you have a quest to steal a couple of million gold dollars in Mexico in 1869. It is sheer delight every step of the way.

Burt’s gang includes Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, and Jack Elam, which may be one of the foremost gangs of the 1950s. On top of that you had Cesar Romero as the aide-de-camp of the Emperor (George Macready, no less), who is also a rogue like a laughing cavalier.

The film starts with a series of set-up challenges between the stars, and their bonding and chemistry is delightful. Burt flashes all the teeth repeatedly as his tricks, cheats, and banters with Cooper.

The director is no slouch: Robert Aldrich of Baby Jane and Dirty Dozen, managing to orchestrate this rousing shoot’em up and horse chase movie.

Produced by Lancaster, the villain is so charming in his black hat and black leather vest that we may find ourselves rooting for the two actors to do a sequel. Nowadays, it would be standard. How could you waste such talent without a follow-up?

If there was a problem on the set, it was a production decision on whether to kill Burt Lancaster in the movie.

Alas, back then, franchise sequels were not really done.

 

 

 

 

Endeavour 5.4, Colours

DATELINE: Nazis at Oxford

 Jack Bannon

Jack Bannon, as Sam Thursday

With the latest episode of Endeavour entitled “Colours,” referring to racial and military problems, the focus switches to some extent to the adult children of DCI Fred Thursday.  Sam and Joan are definitely problems (Jack Bannon, Sara Vickers) to their by-the-book policeman father.

Sam has been in the military for the past two seasons but returns as a suspect and witness to a murder on a local army base. Jack Bannon returns to the series for a shot and a conflict with Fred (Roger Allam). Daughter Joan has begun to be socially conscious and is arrested at a protest against segregation.

We are in the midst of 1968 where Fred and his wife Win may be entering ballroom dancing contests, but murders seem to be rampant at Oxford. Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) always closely tied to Thursday and his children must remain objective.

Indeed, Chief Bright (Anton Lesser) takes Fred Thursday off the case because of his family connection to the death of a model (whose parents were Nazi sympathizers during World War II).

If all these complications seem to be mounting up, you need only see one suspect who has a photo of Hitler at her wedding in the early 1940s. It ties in neatly with the racial turmoil and prejudice at Oxford in the 1960s.

Characters continue to evolve: as two women in Morse’s life are moving onward to other police colleagues (DCI Strange and Joan & policeman Shelley and DC Fancy). This will certainly leave Morse in the lurch and explains 20 years later his bachelorhood in the original series.

Complex, subtle, and filled with red herrings, the series continues to provide challenging mysteries.

 

Mummy Dearest

DATELINE:   Tut-Tut!

Mummy Dearest Karloff!

Of the Quartet of Classic Horror from the early 1930s, the fourth entry in the series is often relegated to the bottom tier. The Mummy follows the legendary Frankenstein, Dracula, and Invisible Man. But he is no also-ran.

Unfortunately for him, we learn in the first few minutes of the 1933 film that the mummy is actually a misnomer. He is not mummified at all, having been buried alive.

So much for false advertising.

Beyond that, we have a whale of a movie—not James Whale: the director was famous cinematographer Karl Freund in his first directing effort.

As star Lita Johann said, he was a nasty guy—to her. Exotic star Lita was married later to John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield to you). Whatever he did to her during their 23-days of filming, she is marvelous as the reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s daughter.

As for Karloff, what can you say? He is so tall in his scenes, we think he was wearing lifts under his rakish robes. He looks like a bag of fragile bones, as the mummy-come-to-life.  His face is dustier and has more riles than a Moon crater as he plays Im-Ho-Tep (not to be confused with IHOP).

The biggest special effect is Karloff’s eyes, which is impressive indeed.

Scenes of a second unit, or stock footage, of Egypt, surely gives us a sense of the pre-Howard Carter King Tut world. And, audiences in the 1930s knew what a mummy’s curse was, which is played to the hilt.

The climactic scene is when the Mummy relates his unfortunate murder by the Pharaoh’s men. Juicy and grotesque horror!

As a love story, this is thriller covers 3700 years and incantations about the dead, which transcend undying love.

What a treat.

 

 

Spin Dry Man

DATELINE: Smarty Pants

spin dry

If you want a movie that gives a disservice, try The Spinning Man. This is one of those intellectual mystery movies, which is to say, you won’t have clever a plot, only an overwrought one.

The movie has all the ingredients for an excellent film, so what went wrong? The movie deals with a prickly, pompous, persnickety, philandering professor of philosophy who is suspected of a murder by a persistent police detective. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled plots too.

Stars are Pierce Brosnan and Guy Pearce. We presumed Pearce was the cop and Pierce was the suspect. How wrong we were to fall into the plot hole. That’s a great start.

However, we’ve known our share of philosophy professors at small private colleges—and none has been as obtuse and arrogant as Guy Pearce’s Dr. Birch. He antagonizes the police needlessly when they question him about a missing female student whom he may or may not have known.

Pearce is snide, even to his long-suffering wife (Minnie Driver) who also begins to think he not only sleeps with an array of beautiful nubile young students but may be responsible for something dastardly.

Pierce Brosnan’s detective is an intellectual equal to the professor, and he may be put off by the abject hostility. Okay, we know some professors see police as enemies. And, personal flaws render some police detectives to a parochial beat.

We then are thrust into one of those philosophical conundrums like you found with Guy Pearce in Chris Nolan’s film about memory. Lightning does not strike twice.

The audience is hung out to dry when solutions seem to come tumbling out. We were left a tad irritated more than intrigued, which is never good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decree, Ripper, & Sherlock Holmes

DATELINE: Solid Sherlock Entry!

Mason & Plummer

Back in 1979, another tandem of Sherlock and Dr. Watson came in the form of Christopher Plummer and James Mason. You certainly could not find a better pedigree. The film is Murder by Decree, one of the lesser entries in the Holmes movies.

The film deserves a better fate than to be forgotten.

Director Bob Clark (of Porky’s and Christmas Story) surrounded them with a stellar cast of actors (Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Susan Clark, David Hemmings) and some bad set-up minatures of London.

You can expect superior performances—and the Holmes/Watson team is highly watchable, though we took umbrage with Holmes wearing his deerstalker hat in London and showing tears after interviewing a woman in a mad house.

The idea of Holmes chasing after Jack the Ripper is always a staple notion of Victorian crime, though it is not part of the original Conan Doyle canon. Indeed, it seems as if someone decided to plunk down Holmes in the middle of a serious murder conspiracy theory of 1979.

The idea that the Ripper was a member of the royal family has been floated in various situations, but never played for a fictional interpretation with these results.

Blame seems aimed at the usual suspects of conspiracy theory. The culprits here are, once again, freemasons of the 33rd degree who now seem to be covering up the Ripper (other tales make them complicit in UFOs and the Kennedy assassination). With all the top government officials involved, we wondered where Mycroft might be.

In this incarnation, the Ripper plot goes right to Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister. This story seems to support the notion that the monarchy of England deserves to be dismissed. Of course, it is too radical even for Americans.

The politics of religion dominates the story as Catholics and Jews are also made part of the investigation, albeit as victims of prejudice and hate.

 

Alas, Poor Yorick and Poor Shakespeare

DATELINE:  Heads, You Lose!

cursed

Shakespeare’s Tomb is a marvelous documentary that deals with the case of the headless Bard of Avon.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, they were graverobbers who wanted the heads of famous people and in Yorick fashion, they took the skulls from older graves. Phrenologists were also collectors who were interested in having a genius skull in their study. You could so easily read the bumps in the cranium.

You may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon—not the more protected Westminster Abbey.

You may also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon, as if he had an inkling that someone would want his head on a silver tray.

One of the most fascinating documentaries in a long time takes the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to examine his strange burial—and possible vandalism of his resting place in the late 1790s.

It may well be they took the graverobbers took a wrong turn, and grasped the head of Ann Hathaway, in a shroud only three feet deep, next to Shakespeare.

For unknown reasons, this purloined skull was dumped at another church where it has rested without a body in a charnel spot.

Forensic experts studied the discovery and concluded that it belonged to a woman. The documentary makes little of that wrong head, but she was the right age to be Shakespeare’s late wife who is buried next to him next to him in a shallow grave.

Apparently, Holy Trinity Church tried to cover up the problem by putting a new stone over Shakespeare’s dug  up grave and not telling anyone. Ground penetrating radar allows the film crew to examine Shakespeare’s grave without opening it.

Good detective work and charming hosts of the show make this little hour-long documentary is brilliant and worthy of your attention.

 

Perfectly Human Diet, Not a Fad

Perfect Diet, Not a Fad

diet

Though we have been taken with recent scientific study of human health through diet, we were unprepared for the superbly thorough documentary by C.J. Hunt.

A media journalist who suffered from debilitating heart conditions at a young age, the director and writer of this expert examination of paleodietic information may be dropping the final word on fad diets.

In short, the film is a history of diets after a 19th century fat man decided he needed to find out why he was morbidly obese (5’5” and 300 pounds). Blame it on the Industrial Revolution.

It appears that changes in the human diet began fairly recently in the epoch of evolution. One scientist uses the football field analogy to great impact. Homo Erectus was at the end of the field and working one’s way up to today, you find that in the inch before the goal, we humans began to eat grains.

Hmm. Meat eating appears to have, by all agreement, caused brainpower. That caveman diet of bone marrow and sweetbread was far removed from Wheaties.

It seems the modern diet is shrinking the brain pan. You can hardly call a return to paleo-eating as the latest fad. Blame your misinformed government on telling you to avoid fats and eat more carbs.

Nearly every health-conscious scientist agrees that vegetarianism is too exclusive. You need only avoid sugar, carbs, processed food, and salt. Nobody under 2 needs a glass of milk every day. We are victims of economic diet plans—marketing for money-makers.

A walk through the supermarket with a dietary scientist and doctor is an argument against browsing.

C.J. Hunt has provided one of the most illuminating and intriguing of insights into health and food. He puts politics, religion, and nutrition, on the list of hopeless argument. He already knows he is preaching to an empty choir.

 

 

 

 

 

Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, & Gisele Bundchen Star!

 DATELINE: Bad Bad Bundchen

 bad bad bundchen.jpeg

Mrs. Tom Brady Did It!

Hail a Taxi in a New York minute! This is a must-see movie classic.

Well, okay, it isn’t exactly Citizen Kane.

However, the 2004 movie called Taxi impresses in so many ways. First, its cast includes Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, and Giselle Bundchen. Unlikely and perfect casting?

Yes, the future Mrs. #TomBrady is in her movie debut with third billing. There is not even a hint of “Introducing….” She is the star. Having a billion bucks can do that.

She is top of the game as the villain, a tall model-type bank robber, heading a gang of shoot’em up women. What? You were expecting Anna Magnani in Open City? It’s enough to convince us that, if she teamed up with Tom Brady, for a movie career, we’d have another Burton and Taylor, or at least a potential Laurel and Hardy.

The movie is about a New York cabbie with a penchant for speeding (Queen Latifah in her patented sassy tough girl role) and an inept New York copper (Jimmy Fallon with a run-off at the mouth speed).

Luc Besson directs and writes this stuff to guarantee there is plenty of car-crashing action. He is the Fellini of the urban circus movie. Yeah, we give this one 8 and a Half.

If you expect to see Downton Abbey, you took a wrong turn at Antonioni’s Blow Up. Gisele rivals Vanessa Redgrave here.

We mainly stayed agog during the entire film because it is fifteen years old, and the three principal stars look exactly the same today. They have not aged one whit. #Latifah, #Fallon, and #Bundchen just stepped out of The Time Machine.

Who among us can make that claim? You might start to wonder where the Fountain of Youth is located in Central Park. Is it Tom Brady’s avocado ice cream that tells us the proof is in the pudding?

Yes, the cute strawberry blonde playing Jimmy Fallon’s mother is that Viva Las Vegas girl and Elvis co-star, Ann-Margaret. Talk about ageless

This movie is a Manhattan cake-walk.

Killing Jimmy Hoffa: a Profit-able Enterprise

DATELINE:  #Hoffa Conspiracy

Young James Young James (not Jesse)!

Al Profit (a You-Tube personality named Alan Bradley) directs this muckraking report and also appears, billed as historian. However, he presents himself he manages to give a provocative look at the life, death, and influence of union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

We presume that the brash Profit sees himself as the Francis Ford Coppola of crime documentaries.

His film on Hoffa indicates there beats the heart of a really serious filmmaker under the bravado of a con man, #AlProfit. Alas, for Bradley, the need to make a living, shaking his booty and hawking T-shirts, transcends his movie making skills.

Putting aside his groupie-inducing personality, Profit’s film suggests that Hoffa hated Robert Kennedy and was instrumental in the murder of John F. Kennedy to remove Robert as a smug snobby nemesis. There is no suggestion that Hoffa could have orchestrated RFK’s killing.

Hoffa had ties to the mob certainly: including Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, notorious peripheral conspiracy figures in the Kennedy Assassinations. Hoffa was also tied into Robert Maheu (notorious #HowardHughes chief aide) and the CIA.

On top of that, Hoffa was indeed pardoned by Richard #Nixon, presuming that the union leader promised to be an FBI informant against the Mob.

James Hoffa was scheduled to appear in 1975 before the Church Committee on Assassinations when he disappeared, and two other mobsters were murdered shortly before telling what they knew about political killings.

Hoffa was associated with Jack Ruby, and Sam Giancana may have ties to Oswald.

Add this one to the raft of theories with disturbing credibility.

Endeavour 5.1 Returns to Egghead Crime

DATELINE: Thinkers Apply

 Shaun Evans Morse’s Code

Young Morse, now a detective sergeant at the Oxford, England, constabulary, returns for a fifth season of Endeavour. It is welcome murder mystery territory, adjacent to Agatha Christie Land in an episode called “Muse.”

Morse’s first name is Endeavour, though no one ever calls him by that. As played by cutie-pie Shaun Evans, he is an anti-social, opera-loving, crossword puzzle kind of guy. He is, according to one of his colleagues, “prickly.” We like him.

The series returns for its longest season, owing to its growing popularity, and its setting which is the Swinging 1960s. As this fifth season opens, we are on the edge of the historic assassination of Martin Luther King. It’s not a plot device, merely a marker of the times.

If there seems to be a flaw in the series, it is that the Beatles haircuts that were all the rage of Carnaby Street and London appear to be absent in the students of Oxford as shown here.

As for the murders in academia, we find ourselves once again mixed in with a dangerous group of scholars. Between organized crime and academic dons, Morse must weave his over-educated presence, fitting into neither world. He is amused when his superior, Fred Thursday (Roger Allam’s crusty vet) talks tough to thugs.

This season the usual supporting cast members all return—the business-oriented female cop (Dakota Blue Richards) who respects Morse and likely finds him attractive but unapproachable. She must stoically stand in the interrogation room while a prostitute suspect slices and dices Morse’s character with a scathing psychological analysis on the mark.

There is the coroner with his macabre humor, and the head honcho Anton Lesser as the standoffish commander of the precinct.

This case centers on a Faberge Egg, now on display and likely to be stolen when a series of odd murders occurs in conjunction with its showing before auction.

The suspects are always cleverly lined up, and the red herrings are never ahead of Morse’s eye.

This was a juicy, intelligent murder mystery to start the new season, which is rushing headlong into the world crises of the 1960s and 1970s. Every little movie is a gem and, in this case, a jolly good egghead story.

 

Westworld Grand Finale, Season 2

DATELINE:  Who knows?

 ben barnes.JPG

 Back in the Saddle Again!

If you expect us to save your sorry series Westworld, you are barking up the wrong portal.

The Mighty Jonathan Nolan has struck out, and there is no joy in Westworld 2.

Anyone who can explain what happened is a false prophet.

The season finale ran about ninety minutes, an epic of sorts in which Westworld turned into John Wayne’s Alamo. Yes, we might conclude that everyone died at the end. However, HBO has signed up for Season 3,  which may be ready in a couple of years, and by then we expect that loose ends will mean that more than a few cast members will cut loose.

Those who have long-term contracts may be back. Alas, your favorite’s fate may rest on the volume of fan mail that demands a return.

We thought for a moment we were returning to prequel-land where Ben Barnes as Logan, now an android, runs Westworld. However, there were more endings on this series finale than you might find in a Steven Spielberg movie.

No writer or producer wanted to end this thing.

William, aka Billy, turns out to be Billy Pilgrim. Yes, we expect that madman Ed Harris’s character will make a full recovery, and we expect that technicians will selectively pick from among the hosts all your favorite characters for re-programming.

We think too that in the chaotic confusion that a few other characters revealed themselves to be hosts, not human guests.

Of course, you can never be sure on this loony-tune series that what you saw is what actually happened.

Beware of those who tell you what really happened. Only Jonathan Nolan knows, and he isn’t telling.

 

Origins of Lone Ranger, Tonto, & Silver

DATELINE: Hi-ho, Hi-yo!

tonto  Jay Silverheels

When you tie together the first 3 episodes of the 1949 TV show The Lone Ranger, you have an early TV movie. Indeed, some years ago, the producers edited these extraordinary moments into a short film. Sometimes it is called Enter the Lone Ranger, or Origin of the Lone Ranger.

The latest edit is called The Lone Ranger Story, answering all your questions, according to the narrator.

You have to guess which one of the six Texas Rangers is, in fact, the one who survives a terrorist attack by a Manson-style gang. You never see his face until he dons the mask. He cannot put on the mask until his face heals.

On top of that, he will presume to be dead, making an empty grave for himself. He is a ghostly vision of revenge against lawlessness. He rises from the dead after three days in a near coma.

His faithful companion, Tonto, bleaches his hat white as a symbol of his new identity. He cuts a mask from the vest of the Ranger’s dead brother.

You see him crawling to a spring to save himself, but only when his childhood friend Tonto appears is the Ranger likely to survive to another day. As the narrator states: “He was a fabulous individual.” He was indeed a walking fable.

In case you forgot, the Masked Man is rich: he owns a silver mine—and takes his payment from that. He also casts silver bullets: another symbol of justice, never to be used on another person. He will hand them out like calling cards. He wears Tonto’s ring around his neck.

And, to finish the silver motif, he finds a white stallion of great indomitable spirit with whom he bonds. Hi-yo, my goodness!

The film is old, simplistic, and utterly charming with the exciting William Tell Overture as a musical background. Clayton Moore’s baritone is authoritative, and Jay Silverheels is the ultimate in noble savage. The horse ain’t bad neither.

What a treat from the thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again. Oh, you, Kemo Sabe.

Vikings Unearthed: Real, not Reel, Story

DATELINE: Takes One to Know One

  snow  Dandy Dan Snow Job!

Though we tried to watch the soap opera series on History about Vikings, we were drawn to something that provided the real story.  If you want the dirt, digging through the literal and figurative dirt, try Vikings Unearthed, a genuine documentary on the Norse.

A two-hour special on use of satellite technology and old-fashioned archaeological digging provides a thorough look at the life of the Norse who ravaged Europe in myth and actually were a culture of savage machismo. They went east to Asia as well as west to North America. You’ll love their silver rings and amulets, as well as forged swords.

Perhaps it helps to have as your on-the-ground researcher and scientist, a handsome Brit Viking named Dan Snow. He is lithe, Thor-like, and taller than anyone else in the show. Indeed, they seem to surround him with other men who look like pygmies or children next to his Conan the Barbarian style.

Yes, those Northumberland monks were treated badly by the Vikes. Our Viking host is a tad more civilized.

Dan Snow, our personal choice for Viking of the Year, is often paired with adoring nerdy men who can only marvel when he takes up an axe to work on a Viking boat replica, or when he listens to the description of a scientist who shows him Viking fecal matter to explain their medical problems.

You have to enjoy scientists who marvel that a satellite 400 miles over Earth can take photos in infrared to find sod brick Viking longhouses that are buried a foot below the ground and invisible to the naked eye.

Without leaving monumental buildings, so they say, the Vikings simply came, saw, and did not conquer the New World.

The upshot is to prove that the Vikings went all over present-day Canada and United States near New England and the Great Lakes.

Why would anyone doubt these prototypical macho men went wherever they damn well chose?

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.