In from the Cold? Richard Burton

DATELINE: Portrait of Welsh Rare-bit

Burton & Hamlet Yorick with Burton!

Just a few years after his death in 1984, a comprehensive documentary biography of the great stage and film actor Richard Burton stands as the definitive word on his career and life. It is called, overly rococo, In from the Cold? Portrait of Richard Burton.

To put Elizabeth Taylor and two-time husband Burton into perspective, they were the Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen of their era.

A poor Welsh boy, Richard Jenkins found success through his good looks and well-modulated voice. His legal guardian was Philip Burton who helped him achieve his initial goals.

Only later did he seem to sell his soul for international fame and money. It seems to have brought him emptiness and unhappiness.

Generous to a fault, he supported dozens of people with his film revenue. It underwrote some of his great stage work:  Camelot, Equus, Hamlet, and even Private Lives.

We see him playing Edwin Booth as Laurence Olivier as Richard III. Indeed, Olivier asked him whether he wanted to be a great stage actor or a rich movie star. He was both.

The film contains some fairly unflattering interviews with Lauren Bacall, Joe Mankiewicz, and Mike Nichols, who seem to trace his downfall to the soul-selling deal with Elizabeth Taylor. Indeed, the film uses clips from Virginia Woof, Faustus, Wagner, and the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as biographical annotations on Burton’s predicament, in his own words. He is hoisted on the petard ruthlessly.

The man was far gentler than his righteous angry young man personality—and dissipated roue of later years.

If Elizabeth Taylor was his Waterloo and Watergate, he was complicit in the lifestyle. The film skips over a few morsels but stays away from trivia that might be too revealing. He did a guest bit on The Lucy Show to satirize his own character. He gave interviews in which he seems to be acting, or not. It is hard to tell.

To hear that grand voice again, and see those notorious news reel clips, is shocking to reveal how long he has been gone, and how much he is missed. There has never been a replacement—in movies, or the sad last years of Miss Taylor’s life.

In Search of…Fake Smarts

DATELINE: Bots Nobody Should Love

boy bot

Zachary Quinto was duly surprised and unnerved by the scientists he met to discuss artificial intelligence. It would appear it is already too late to stop it from taking over the world. In Search of went looking at bots and the bottom line of artificial intelligence.

Nearly every computer-generated scientist found Quinto’s questions “valid,” but not one had the interest to consider stopping his own work. It seems that artificial intelligence may control the world within a decade.

Quinto visited a place called RealDoll where they make $8000 robots in the guise of buxom women with bee-stung lips. As an after thought, there was also a young male bot. You can program emotional reactions, but they are smarmy—like their creator.

Quinto felt that giving robots the power to choose who lives and dies might be a problem when they take over military systems. No one else in authority had much to say about it.

Of course, androids or robots have their uses in dangerous situations—with bombs, radiation, or delicate surgery. Yet, giving them to power to make decisions could mean they access our Facebook page to determine whether we are worthy.

Indeed, Facebook scientists created robots who quickly went out of control last year, making their own language and freezing out their creators. Be afraid.

The host once again came across as highly intelligent, bewitched and bothered by the developments. When he drove an Uber car that went through a red light, he tried to have the scientists discuss whether the robot would save the pedestrian or driver, they couldn’t or wouldn’t give an opinion.

This was an impressive hour, but not comforting.

Dressmaker, Murderer, and Arsonist?

DATELINE:  Dunga-Hill Something, Australia

audrey winslet As Tilly Dunnage

When you have an Australian comedy-murder mystery-revenge story called The Dressmaker, you may begin like a house afire. Sadly, it ends the same way literally, which is not so hot.

Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth are both highly watchable in the lead roles, and extremely attractive.

Though when Tilly (Winslet) arrives in 1951 back to her childhood home looking like a Parisian model, her opening statement indicates that she is out for revenge. Alas, that doesn’t really transpire until almost the end of the movie. Mostly she torments the rugby teams.

We never saw Audrey Hepburn play an arsonist/murderer.

Kate Winslet looks stunning coming off a bus in the middle of the outback, looking like the Paris runway was down the street. The film echoes many 1950s movies, like the Audrey Hepburn vehicles where she wore the best Dior.

The film is highly entertaining for the first 90 minutes, then sinks by its own dead weight. And we do mean dead.

The Dressmaker comes with her Singer sewing machine and starts to make gorgeous gowns and day wear. We did wonder where all that material came from. Why quibble?

With stylish clothing worn by the women cast in stunning transformation, it is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s appearance in Sabrina. Indeed, the film is a throwback to 1950, when the characters even go see Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Of course, the rub is that the dressmaker has amnesia when it comes to having murdered a childhood playmate. The police sergeant is a cross-dressing friend, thank heavens.

Did Winslet‘s character kill a young boy? With the cast of characters being strangely off- putting, you will be intrigued. For a while.

The movie devolves into soapy opera in the final 30 minutes. There are so many deaths you need a scorecard to figure out who’s killing whom and why.

However, the early visuals are so striking and unforgettable, you almost forgive the bad ending.

 

Marilyn Monroe: Gone 56 Years

DATELINE: Sad Anniversary

MM 

Was it really so long ago in August, 1962, that Marilyn died so suddenly and mysteriously? We heard the news on Sunday morning on vacation. Was it an accident or some kind of bizarre conspiracy that did her in?

She was thought to be a sad, pathetic suicide at the time of her death, body claimed by former husband Joe DiMaggio. Her last film was the Misfits with Clark Gable, written by her ex-husband and playwright Arthur Miller. It was extraordinary stuff. She could play light comedy or heavy tragedy (Some Like It Hot, Bus Stop).

She had become emotionally erratic, fired by the studio and dismissed from movies (The outtakes of Something’s Gotta Give show her radiant and perfect. Over an hour of film footage was reconstructed a few years back. Why did they fire her?). The career trauma  seemed to explain her death—at first.

Over time, we learned she was a victim of the casting couch: with lurid stories of her promiscuity and misuse by producers and unscrupulous men (and Joan Crawford).

Then, we learned she was the victim of the President of the United States and his brother. Some even speculate that she was assassinated by the CIA because she was about to blow the whistle on political shenanigans and UFOs, state secrets she learned in her dalliances.

Now, more recently, we hear that she fought the casting couch mentality of Hollywood, walked out of movies when she was mistreated and sexually abused.

Whatever the truth, she was a luminous talent, who actually glowed on celluloid. Her career might have been on the skids because of age by the late 1960s, but we will never know whether she would have made a transformation to character actress, or into a legend as she is now.

Poor Marilyn. She was missed immediately– and is still missed today.

 

In Search of…., 1.3 Monsters of the Deep

DATELINE:  Quinto Re-Imagines!

sam Suffering Sam, Aussie Boy!

The re-imagined Leonard Nimoy series, now with Zachary Quinto, is back on top with episode 3 of the updated version of In Search Of, on History.

You cannot quibble with the need to update the old 1970s series. Much has been added to the lore, and cryptozoologists never existed back in the old days.

By taking a look at monsters of the deep, the show takes Quinto to Australia where nearby oceans are 4 miles deep –and only 1% of the ocean has been explored.

His first interview is with a cute Aussie boy who was mysteriously bitten all over his legs by some unknown carnivore when he stood in a foot of water.

The attack is horrific and takes up some true detective work to learn it may be a tiny creature (actually hundreds) that emerge during full-moon.

We are delighted with Quinto’s follow-up ability to question those he speaks to. He is both informative, knowledgeable, and quite personable in putting people at ease. He is also clearly a cut above in the intelligence quotient.

He can speak to fisherman, teenagers, and scientists with equal aplomb. When he ends up in Fort Lauderdale, he is able to banter with a man who has discovered a new species of ocean creature.

It is bewildering and frightening to see all the denizens of the deep that have created mythic monster stories. And, we give Quinto credit for diving right into the ocean where blue spotted octopi have deadly toxins.

This was a goody.

 

 

Ancient Aliens: Giant Steps

DATELINE: Oil Lagina & Water Giorgio

 Giant Treasure Island

No mixer and no chaser!

The latest pairing of Giorgio Tsoukalos with a guest star on Ancient Aliens dumps us on Sardinia with Marty Lagina. This is the second time that the Oak Island connection has reached the exalted heights of Ancient Aliens.

We await the favor to be returned. But don’t hold your breath.

You may remember Lagina as the cynical and rich brother who underwrites the Curse of Oak Island, also a History series. This time, he has been inexplicably brought on board for an episode of Ancient Aliens.

Whether Giorgio will show up for a treasure hunt is anyone’s guess on Oak Island.

Marty Lagina is also known as the man for whom all must be proven. He looks askance at most of Giorgio’s wayout theories and dismisses them as “interesting,” though his face seems to shout, “What am I doing here?”

They have come to Sardinia to look for giants. Along the way we hear from Timothy Alberino whose YouTube privileges were revoked this year—and who contends he is victim of a major conspiracy to cover up the alien giant connection.

Who is protecting the Cyclops is not explained.

Even hard-nosed Marty Lagina must admit that the ruins on the isle of Sardinia impress him with their technology and stunning ability to build.

In the final analysis, we have wild conjecture and tie-ins to all the usual suspects. Yet, again, no one mentions that Noah (who built the Ark) was thought also to be a giant who survived the flood that was destined and meant to wipe out all those hybrid aliens who had gone out of control.

You cannot beat the imaginative fascination of this series.

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Aliens Returns with Two Hours & Two Heads

DATELINE:  Twilight of the Hosts

Giorgio & Ramy

Giorgio & Ramy, that’s who!

The hiatus of the popular series Ancient Aliens was short-lived.

However, they have put their nuclear option on the table: Giorgio of the hair explosion has now joined forces with Ramy Romany and his Indiana Jones fedora, another new rising star and quasi-Egyptologist on the show.

They are teamed up to go to Cairo for a two-hour tour, a new age version of Gilligan and the Skipper.

This is a power move after thirteen seasons and a midseason hiatus. The two most popular hosts are on the chessboard.

Let’s hope their arc of the alien covenant does not shut down in the Great Pyramid.

Ramy plans to take Giorgio into the bowels of Khufu’s power plant (it’s no longer considered a tomb).

This is one-upsmanship, as Ramy takes great pleasure in escorting Giorgio into the Great Pyramid. How he did this feat is revealed shortly when the great Hawass drags his ass into the picture. He’s a man who never met an Egyptian tomb he did not visit on TV.  It seems Ramy is related to national blowheart Zahi Hawass, and that explains a great deal about the great Hawass and the great Pyramid.

Through judicious editing, we never learn how much Hawass hates the ancient alien theory about builders of the pyramids. He likes to say the native peoples did it.

It’s also amusing to watch the facial expressions of Ramy Romany when he disagrees with some of Giorgio’s more outrageous theories. He never lets a sourpuss pass without notice.

Of course, it all comes to a head with the twin hosts sitting at dusk before the Great Pyramid, with Ramy smoking a waterpipe for great effect. Their profiles and agreeing to disagree is certainly the start of long and beautiful friendship, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Captain Renault ran off with Rick Blaine at the end of Casablanca.

 

 

Our Sons: Mothers Emeritus

DATELINE:  Reel History

 our sons

Back in 1991 when the AIDS epidemic was a death sentence, a spate of films emerged about the fear, anger, disgust, and regret, of the sickness and end of so many young gay men. The film is called Our Sons.

There was no hope of recovery or of living with control. When one character in this film is asked why he hasn’t been tested, he shrugs: there is nothing to be done one way or the other. It was a death sentence in a year or two. Knowing one’s fate made no difference.

Several brave actors chose to depict the crisis: in this film the sons are lovers, Hugh Grant and Zelkjo Ivanek. Their relationship covers the final weeks of the disease’s ravages.

There are no kisses and it is chaste to the point of being inoffensive. The young men are successful a jazz pianist and an architect, just to give everyone respectability.

The draw is the problem of their mothers, played by Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret.  Both unhappy with gay sons, Julie Andrews must try to bring Ann-Margaret, a waitress from Arkansas, to San Diego to reconcile with her estranged son.

Two marvelous actresses jab and punch at each other as they try to deal with the plague of the age. Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret are at the top of their careers here.

Interestingly, Hugh Grant is the son of Andrews (who is English, but Grant plays it with an American accent). Ann-Margaret whose hair is the same color as Andrews wears a blonde wig most of the time.

The film is a snapshot of a time when a generation of talent died without hope, before drug cocktails to prevent instant death. Yet, as an historic artifact, the film is compelling and powerful, even twenty years after it was topical and controversial.

 

 

 

 

 

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.