Surrogates Again

DATELINE: AI Goes Bad

bee-strung surrogates Young Bruce Replicant!

It’s been ten years since one of the most clever and intriguing films about Artificial Intelligence in the future came out. Surrogates deserves another look because so little has superseded its message and style.

All the robotic replicants have bee-stung pouts.

This was another in a series of highly intelligent films made by Bruce Willis in the sci-fi mode. It may be the best of the lot.

Set in Boston in 2054, it tells of an era when the Supreme Court has allowed surrogate robots to replace you in daily work and routines while you lounge in a control seat.

You will be a fat slob, aging and ugly, but your surrogate will be a beautiful toy of whatever gender you choose. So, all the day-to-day people in the film are stunning and stiff, wrinkle-removed and smooth skinned. What’s amazing is that Bruce Willis looks like Baby Jane Hudson-young with his blond locks and handsome young physique.

We could not figure out whether he needed more makeup and special effects to be his middle-aged self, or his young replicant self.

He plays an FBI agent who must investigate the murders of surrogates and their masters—but he has to become a true gumshoe and go out on the street as his old self to do it, despite the agony and stress of being out in the “real world”. He constantly surprises his beautiful partner cop (Rahda Mitchell).

The notion that AI will legalize identity replicants is not so far-fetched, and the hilarious satiric barbs at “loaners,” and other modern problems is delightful. Intermeshed here is a murder mystery.

Yes, there is an obligatory and over-the-top car chase through the streets of Boston, though we have no idea how they did it in reality, so we presume it was all faked.

And the climax in which all surrogate replicants must be deactivated is a delight to see as they literally fall in place around Boston. It was a pleasant, summery diversion during an ice storm in Boston.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power

DATELINE: Classic Bad Leaders

olivier Olivier as Trump?

Leave it to Curiosity Streaming to come up with a documentary on tyrannical leaders as delineated by the Bard. In this curt show of 35 minutes, the complexities of Shakespeare are also explained simply by down-to-earth experts, including Stephen Greenblatt (who wrote the scholarly book on which this is based).

You have here a film that exposes the foibles of criminal leaders in historical terms without ever mentioning the name of the “bloody dog” Trump. It’s called Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power.

Instead, there is a smorgasbord of scenes from Macbeth, Richard III, King Lear, including clips of a delicious Laurence Olivier as the evil king Richard, looking more like Vlad the Impaler than Donald Trump.

What do the experts uncover? Well, these Shakespearean monsters are all inveterate liars. They can’t help themselves. And, each one has a problem with women with power, from motherhood to wives. Heaven forbid a woman wants political influence. These bad guys are cursed with a childish sense of self-deception.

It only grows worse:  you will find they are delusional and humored by aides surrounding them for their own reasons. It is likely those aides will be betrayed, as the monster tyrant sees loyalty as a one-way street. He will send loyal workers to the tower in an instant.

The tyrant also uses and abuses children to his own political gains: tormenting them, killing them, locking them up, separating them from family and protectors.

Imagine, not once does the show mention the President of the United States in 2019. It does end with one of the great characters celebrating the death of the “bloody dog,” after his tumultuous reign. We should be so lucky.

 

 

 

Mr. Stalin, You Have a Lovely Daughter!

DATELINE: Defector by Heart

 

svetlana Alleluyeva to You!

The only daughter of Soviet mass murderer and megalomaniac, Josef Stalin, is subject of a fascinating Australian documentary, called forthrightly Stalin’s Daughter.

Being the object of a doting father who is a psychopath could prove daunting to most people. Maybe Svetlana was different.

Stalin extended his ruthless exercise of murder to those in the closest orbit personally. His second wife was Lenin’s secretary, which made her attractive for many reasons, but her independence irritated the Red Despot.

Though Svetlana’s mother gave him two children, a son and daughter, she was quickly alienated from her husband and found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. The official cause of death was appendicitis. Svetlana learned of this by translating an English magazine as a young girl.

She was thought to be a princess, but not as spoiled as Vasily, her brother. As a girl, Svetlana was faced with a father who disapproved of her boyfriends: they ended up in gulags, if not with their families executed.

She was a prisoner of the Soviet state, never having true freedom. When her father died, she took her mother’s name Svetlana Alleluyeva. It wasn’t enough to escape the stigma.

In the 1960s, she married a non-Russian and took his ashes back to his home country: India. There in 1967, she went to the American embassy and defected. The CIA vouched for her.

Thus began true American celebrity. First, no one believed who she was—and then she spoke English fluently and wrote a best-seller that made her millions.  A media darling throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, she became increasingly erratic, like her father.

Her sad story ended with poverty, a nursing home in America, and a forgotten end in 2011. Who knew?

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Brooklyn Bridge to Serve as Mexican Border Wall

DATELINE:  Trump’s New Solution!

untitled

In the great tradition of American business, President Donald Trump will follow in the footsteps of Mae West and Bugs Bunny and will sell shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. He believes that, if enough Republicans buy shares, they can charge Democrats a large fee to use it.

At the least, he believes the Bridge can be shut down to keep undesirables out of Manhattan. He believes most of those who use the Brooklyn Bridge are illegal immigrants.

The idea was said to be floated by Sean Hannity and Lindsay Graham at a dinner with the President who noted during dessert of Baked Alaska about furloughed government workers: “Let them eat cake.”

Trump tweeted that “Number A, this is a great idea with a chance to make a huge profit for the American people.”  Trump went out to cite the purchase of the London Bridge by American investors some years ago. They moved it to Arizona.

Trump believes this is a template for the latest effort to take the Brooklyn Bridge, stone by stone, and move it to the Mexican border. Trump believes this will kill two birds with one stone.

Sean Hannity reportedly told the President that the Brooklyn Bridge was a boondoggle, built by corrupt Democrats and that his legacy will be affirmed when he tears down the bridge and makes it bigger than the Berlin Wall.

 

 

Neeson & Harris Don’t Run Fast!

DATELINE:  Oh, Daddy-Boy!

oh, daddy! Chip off the Blockhead?

Run All Night is a movie with Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. It’s the kind of movie that you will think is great if you never saw Citizen Kane, or ever heard of Ox-Bow Incident.

This film manipulates a certain audience of un-educated film fans who would likely tell you they don’t eat sugar and won’t ever “catch” diabetes. They live on empty starch and carbs, one way to describe this movie that stars Neeson and Harris.

If you think this movie is the best thing since sliced bread, you may also decry Hollywood morality. You may think that a border wall is what makes America great. In this film you will likely think mob killers are deep-down nice guys. This film is white bread all right, down to the empty carbs.

The plot has to do with honor and family, but this isn’t your Godfather’s crime drama. It is more like letting inmates run the asylum or control the federal prison or write a screenplay.

Fan reaction to the Neeson action movies is generally a belief that a great actor never can demean himself and elevates any tripe on which he puts his name. This is not Ed Harris doing A History of Violence.

You can like Run All Night, or Taken, as an occasional dollop of mindless entertainment, but if you eat a steady diet of mindless entertainment, you surely have lost your mind, if you ever had one.

We have sworn off comic-book superhero movies as things of childhood best put behind us, but voters still support Donald Trump and love this sort of movie stuffing.

Put action crime thrillers with antiheroic white men into the mix. Shake well and pour it into the mud pie. Yum, yum, eat’em up, and go back into your cave. Rub two sticks together whilst sitting on a powder-keg and watch it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Brazil, Where the Nuts Are!

DATELINE: Beyond the Twilight Zone

acting chops Whose Acting Chops?

If you thought nutcase movies are here today, you are about 30 years off. Brazil is a movie aficionado’s fantasy and nightmare, defying convention and logic. You just passed the signpost of Ipanema.

Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) went out of his way to make the Citizen Kane of kookoo-bird movies in 1985.

This was no small achievement as the film holds up as beyond modern and relevant. Its madness may yet to be realized in the future.

Like Blade Runner, the future is the past. There is an aura of 1940s film noir interspersed with superhero comic fantasy.

Jonathan Pryce is some bureaucrat by day and by night, in his dreams, some kind of flying circus performer out to save a damsel in distress. In the meantime, he works in mindless government agencies that are after Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro) in an early comedic performance as a heating engineer who is a wanted man for doing duct work without a license.

Pryce’s mother Ida Lowry is played by the youth-conscious Katherine Helmond in a face-stretching performance with Jim Broadbent, as her fey plastic surgeon, striving for tighter skin.

Included in the shenanigans are such familiar faces as Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and Ian Richardson. If they wanted to kick off the unorthodoxy of their careers, this film is definitely the forerunner.

If you want a plot, you will fall into a black hole and likely be stretched to kingdom come.

You can ride the wave of this movie from one loony tune moment to the next, not bothering to connect the dots or the scenes. It’s like being in the Trump Administration: you just sit back and experience the Cinerama of movie magic to the mambo-jumbo notes of the song “Brazil.”

Heavens, or is that Land of Goshen?

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Noir Classic: He Walked by Night

DATELINE:  Movie as TV Pilot

Dragnet

We had never seen He Walked by Night, and it took us aback right away. It is thought to be a 70-year old black and white masterpiece of low-budget, poverty-row studio. Even the directorship is mysterious: was it really Anthony Mann who sneaked over to another studio to do the work?

Right from the Prologue, we recognized the classic line: “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” What’s more, actor Jack Webb had a featured role!

Then came the ponderous narrator talking about Los Angeles, a big city, etc.. This was followed almost immediately with a long discussion of a dragnet across the city!

Yep:  it was Dragnet!  We were about to see some kind of movie prototype of the famous police show of the 1950s.

Webb did not play Sgt. Joe Friday. No, he was some lab rat in the forensics department, and young virile Scott Brady was the cop.

We learned later that Jack Webb befriended Marty Wynn, the LA technical adviser (whom Brady played). They partnered and came up with the radio/TV show Dragnet in 1950.

This movie was unusual for other reasons. The LA criminal psychopath was played by young Richard Basehart—in cashmere gloves and Brooks Brothers suit. He was a tech-savvy genius, creating 12-foot TV projection screens 40 years before they really happened.

This villain was brilliant and diabolical in his murdering rampage. The intriguing concept of Dragnet, always, was that the pedestrian and bland cops were flatfooted, but persistent.

The other feature here was the deadpan humor of the police, likely a defensive response to the evil they always encountered. It too would surface on Dragnet a few years later.

Also a bit ahead of its time, the climax in the underground flood tunnels of Los Angeles is a precursor of the Third Man where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was chased by police in Vienna.

Do You Trust This Computer?

DATELINE: Person of Interest?

Nolan Auteur Jonathan Nolan!

It’s a loaded question, perhaps more nefarious than asking whether you still belittle women in the ERA of #Metooism! (jk omitted in earlier version).

A documentary on the doomsday likelihood that artificial intelligence is already here may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It does not stop the filmmaker from stacking the deck.

Do You Trust This Computer features a couple of the brainiest culture commentators—and a gaggle of AI experts from Sanford and MIT.

Elon Musk (of Mars colonization fame) and Jonathan Nolan (creator of Person of Interest and Westworld, two of the most intelligent computers on the tube) offer extraordinary insights.

Nolan is so handsome that it almost seems unfair that he is brilliant too.

If you need villains, you can find them on your devices: Facebook and Google, both of whom are working on super intelligent computers that may endanger humankind.

As one observer notes, psychometrics means that computer are already able to tell your intelligence, religion, sexual orientation, and politics, from facial recognition. In the hands of dictators, or even a Trump, this could prove frightful.

An expert notes that artificial intelligence is the true psychopath: no conscience or morality to stop it from fulfilling every mission.

Autonomous robots are already out there in killer drones. If you are the target, you are dead meat. War will make AI public enemy #1. Medical robots may decide who lives and dies, as humans begin to lose all skills that have been usurped by artificially intelligent creatures.

As people come to rely on these monsters, they will have fewer skills to combat the AI abuses. They are already winning at Jeopardy, chess, and other games, years ahead of schedule.

Androids will soon look like us and have no foibles.

Do you trust your computer? It’s already too late to be suspicious if we are to believe this documentary.

That’s Dah-veed to You, David!

DATELINE:  Bloody Marat!

David & Death of Maratmarat

 

Jacques-Louis David may be at the top of a short list of great French painters of an ilk.

Alas, this documentary pegs him all too accurately for the slime-ball he was, despite his fabulous technique. Be warned: this documentary is in French—which makes the sleaze sound all the more elegant.

David & the Death of Marat deals with the most famous painting of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. You know, the period where they chopped off heads with aplomb.

David was one of the ring-leaders, voting to kill King Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette. He was a political advocate of assassination—unless it hit too close to home.

It seems Jean Marat, the journalist agitator, was a friend of David. He was upset when a monarchist defender, Charlotte Corday, knifed the writer in his bath (he was soaking his rotting skin).

She was, of course, another historical victim to be handed her head.

David took a while for his propaganda to coalesce. Most painters wanted to depict the rotting corpse of the martyr Marat. David was smarter, and portrayed a man serene in his death, writing for the masses.

It was a brilliant work, leaving out the more sympathetic Corday and putting focus on dead Marat with his carotid artery spliced with a dagger.

Simplicity ruled, and the picture became famous, but David’s hypocrisy for the little people seemed misplaced. He became Napoleon’s court painter—and later hid his works among his aristocratic friends (the ones he did not vote to behead).

This extraordinary documentary shows contemporary French art experts delighted with the guillotine even today. Illuminating little hour.