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.

 

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miner or Minor on Oak Island?

 DATELINE: Rick Lagina Always Finds Them !

Miner or Minor Rick’s Hard Rock Geochemist!

The famine of discovery continued for the most part early on: the seismic mapping appears to be fraught with false positives. As usual, Rick Lagina puts a happy face on unhappy news that dry sand had been read as tunnels. There are no metal casings, only bedrock.

So, the drilling comes up empty yet again.

In the meantime, 95-year old Dan Blankenship made a rare appearance, remaining in the car as Rick took him down to the cove to see the new retaining wall being constructed. As one might expect, he is duly impressed at the new technology. This true figure of heroism remains our most favorite figure.

Rick Lagina must have quite an international network of references when he does a stellar manhunt. Another interesting development is calling in a German geochemist to analyse the Templar Cross of lead. Tobias looks like a teenager but must be some kind of doctorate in the field. He can take the lead out of your worries.  He knows when it was mined and where.

He looks like a minor, not a miner expert. But Tobias is on the money from Germany on Skype. He brings the best news of the night’s episode.

Once again we have been impressed with Gary Drayton who knows all too well what they find by giving it a cursory look. He found the Templar Cross and was on the money from the start.

It appears that Templars may have come to Oak Island to hide their religious artefacts: and those may be too glorified to speculate upon. Oh, well, let’s shoot: it could be the Ark of the Covenant, or some suitable items from John the Baptist who was the Templar patron saint.

They talk to another expert writer on the Templar secrets, but are fairly dismissive of her research.

In the final analysis, this week’s discovery is so titanic that it makes all the waiting worthwhile. We feel closer than ever to some kind of revelation of Biblical proportions.

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.

Cursed Oak Island 6.5: Treading Water

DATELINE:  Hold Your Horses & Other Pauses

avast there, matey! Buried Treasure ?

We now interrupt this empty episode for more commercial messages on Curse of Oak Island for the fifth episode of the sixth season.

Yes, there is no golden banana under the drilling. The core samples seem to indicate that there are wooden beams over 100 feet down in two new segments for the drilling. No news is not bad news.

This is a no-show week, with progress reports on various angles of treasure hunting, including putting in a retaining wall at one of the coves. It is an eyesore for sure, but will allow excavation to learn if booby traps were placed at this point for a tunnel system throughout the island.

However, this week’s show is highly repetitive, with self-congratulations and fat middle-aged men in repeated hugs with each other. Don’t snack while watching this episode.

There is a preponderance of endorsements. A company donates “temporarily” a prefab house to serve as the repository of the donated papers of a recently deceased researcher. She has willed the materials to Rick Lagina who has a house converted to a library. No librarians, please.

Also, another author of Oak Island tales calls in to announce his new book will be forthcoming—and he will show up to give them an autographed copy (for free). The rest of us pay.

No wonder that Marty Lagina is mostly absent from this episode, phoning in his comments.

The sole true find of the week belongs, again, to Gary Drayton who locates what appears to be a hat insignia from a French dragoon who was on the island, oddly enough, in 1740s or so.

It was when a legendary soldier of fortune from France and the Templar mode brought treasures from the Holy Land. Is it true? You’ll have no answers this week.

 

Soylent Green Revisited

DATELINE: Ben-Hur Takes on The Rifleman?

soylent

In 1973 came a prophetic movie about greenhouse gas and environmental calamity in the ruse of a murder mystery. Its cast stuns:  Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotten, Chuck Connors, and a raft of familiar second bananas like Cyril Develanti and Whit Bissell.

Apart from the all-too-soon prediction, suggesting the calamity arose by 2022, the film is prescient. We think it may be the world of New York in 2073 when crowds teem the streets and heat and lack of supply dominate the lifestyle.

Only the rich have soap and beef. When Heston the cop goes investigating, he is awestruck by the luxury.

His roommate (perhaps college professor mentor of years past) is Edward G. Robinson in his final acting role.

Chuck Connors has a wig also as outrageous as that on Heston. You keep wondering why it never fell off during those crowd scenes.

From its opening montage of fossil fuel guzzlers and growing population, the film has several bravura sequences. Reminiscent of Nazi liquidation and final solution, there is a “home” base where people go to die.

Cue up the Tchaikovsky symphony “Pathetique,” used also in Howard Hughes’ movie called The Outlaw.

It remains a highly prized movie by aficionados of the genre, making it the second act of sci-fi flicks for Heston after his epic heroes like Moses and Ben-Hur. This one is less known than Planet of the Apes.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to figure out the problem with soylent green, the new foodstuff. And, it all seems quaint in the age before computerization. An early computer game is played in 1973, a half-dozen years before the craze caught on.

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island 6.4: A-Ha Moment or Not?

 DATELINE:  Curses, Foiled Again.

Alex Alex Lagina, just for Luck!

Once again, we bought into the Lagina Brothers’ claim that we are about to have that notorious “Aha!” moment.  Well, in Season 6, episode 4, that may be only partially true.

We felt more like a “Bah, humbug,” moment at this time of year.

Despite all that expensive seismic testing, they began to drill down to the usual 170 feet, and instead of finding a treasure or vault, or even a searcher tunnel, they hit bedrock.

Hit the snooze button.

Among other highlights, or depressing lowlights, one of the few women to be heard on the show, had passed away at age 88, but she left her research papers on the Knights Templar to Rick Lagina. He and his nephew Peter drove from Nova Scotia to Manhattan in a U-Haul truck to pick up the loot.

Despite throwing money around like crazed millionaires, they usually eschew flying and drive. Last week they drove a couple of thousand miles to Alberta. Penny-savings seem to be the way to go.

They also spent some time on last week’s big find by Gary Drayton:  that bolt shaft for a crossbow. They initially thought it was Medieval—and took it to one university for analysis that suggested it was iron with magnesium (older than suspected).

It was an antiquities dealer who shocked them with the news that they were 1000 years off. The bolt was dropped on Oak Island closer to 2000 years ago. It raised questions for sure.

We could be accused of saying, “Aha,” at this moment, but finding something doesn’t make it an artefact that was dropped by a Roman centurion as he buried the Silver Chalice of Jesus.

We’ll tune in again, whether you say “aha,” or not.

Outside the Lines: Fake or Fortune

DATELINE: Art for Art’s Sake

fake or fortune gang Culprit Among Art Gang!

Though it sounds like a bad game show, the Netflix series from the BBC about art detectives is quite intelligent and fascinating too.

The show’s misleading title Fake or Fortune does not do justice to the subjects or the experts. Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould work as a marvelous team. They are joined by historian Dr. Bendor Grovesnor who always seems to find key clues.

In essence, someone has a problem painting, without provenance or paperwork, and they cannot prove its true value, or actual artist. In comes the sharp and smart team of experts to track down the truth.

Inventive and dogged, the three detectives manage to find all kinds of evidence to show that Winston Churchill painted a scene in France, or that L.S. Lowry did a couple of small primitive works using unusual pigments.

What is most maddening about the series are the forces or powerhouses in the art world. As you might expect, these snobs are never satisfied with proof, tangible and common sense, if it undercuts their privilege and power.

As a result, many of the brilliant logical discoveries of truth are rejected by those who are threatened in their smugness as owners of definitive art houses.

Heaven forbid that you learn these pompous egos who run the art world are threatened by upstarts and those who are not rich collectors. This is a closed world of dilettantes and snobs.

The combo of scientific and technology with the historical legwork in libraries and archives makes for a pleasant and happy hour in this short series (only four episodes). You may be tempted to send a nasty email to David Coombs, Winston Churchill expert, but it won’t do any good with these inveterate know-it-alls.

 

Oak Island 6.2 & 700 Years and Counting

DATELINE: Exciting Discovery

seconds.jpeg

 

We are all aging rapidly as the sixth season moves along for Curse of Oak Island. You can see it in the faces of the Lagina Brothers, and even in their young hotshot heir apparent, Alex.

As we proceed deeper into the sixth season, the scope of the enlarged budget for treasure hunting is impressive. Now, technology that has heretofore been ignored, is dropped onto the small island.

Seismic scanning with a dozen experts setting off small explosions will render a seismic map of what is below the surface at 200 or 300 feet. That alone may be revealing in ways nothing before in five years of episodes has shown viewers.

However, this season’s discovery of a second brooch by metal detective Gary Drayton proves again to be the shocker.

Taking it to experts as far away as Calgary, Marty and his son Alex receive some stunning news. Though the red ornament inside the setting is glass, it could be 700 years old.

We are always first to throw cold water on the hyped discoveries. Just because it is made around the time of the Templars (or earlier) does not mean those folks were on Oak Island around 1300. The item could have been dropped, lost, or buried anytime in the past few hundred years.

However, it does not alter the stunning news that something is happening, though it is still not clear. We’ve stuck with the show and its padded episodes because we have kept faith that a mystery will be solved.

It may take a few more weeks for revelations to be dumped into the series, but we are constantly impressed at how this team manages to keep its secrets for months before shows are aired.

 

Walk on Water: Mossad at Work

DATELINE: Multi-Lingual Approach to Nazis

walk on water

We must admit that intelligent gay movies are far and few between, but this one is a treasure. Put aside young coming out stories; this one is about a dangerous Mossad agent/killer who must track down a Nazi war criminal in his dotage and kill him.

Walk on Water is another Israeli film that finds drama and suspense in characters on the periphery of the gay world. You don’t normally find such cerebral films in the American gay movie canon.

Along the way, the deadly intelligence agent must deal with the gay grandson of the Nazi. The film moves in two parts between a visit to Israel by the German heir to the Nazi mantle, and a trip to Berlin by the agent to trap his prey.

The ultimate issue is whether people are responsible for the sins of their fathers (or grandfathers). The firebrand Israeli agent begins to have doubts, and the young German descendant is equally appalled by the skinheads around him.

Throw the gay angle into the mix, and you have another element of the crypto-Nazi doctrine and the Zionist advocate that is exposed from both sides: after all, the concentration camps killed both Jews and homosexuals.

The Israeli agent is working under the stress and post-trauma of having a license to kill—and then finding his wife a victim of suicide over his lifestyle. He finds himself in an emotional roller-coaster with a German brother and sister.

If you want a movie with an intelligent premise, this certainly is up there—above and beyond anything that might be called a gay movie, with a major character in a heroic role. This is a gay-theme wrapped in an enigma within a mystery.

 

 

Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.

 

 

 

Three Identical Strangers

DATELINE: Triplets Separated at Birth

3some Reunited for a time.

Oh, a feel-good human-interest documentary? It’s called ironically Three Identical Strangers.

Not so fast. This movie is a roller-coaster that takes you to

emotional heights and depths you may not expect. It may be the most powerful film we have reviewed in quite some time: disturbing, funny, horrifying, exposing some unethical natures in our world.

Three gorgeous 19-year old men discover they are triplets separated at birth by a ruthless agency and uncaring birth mother. Eddy, Bobby, and David, are charming, but the little princes are about to face adversity.

Their tale of discovery is delightful and fun as they become 1980s media darlings, showing up on every talk venue of the era. They had found each other and nothing else mattered.

Their adoptive parents were distressed that the boys had been cruelly separated by the Wise Jewish Adoption Agency. But, the group stone-walled them and celebrated holding them at bay.

At first the boys did not care much, too overwhelmed in finding each other. Yet, as time passed, they began to see some horror in the mysterious separation.

About half through the film, you too will be shaken by the ruthless human experimentation: deliberately separating children who were twins or triplets for the egotistical study of a notable New York psychiatrist.

Even today, surviving members of the business shrug it off in an infuriating manner. Playing like Nazis with the lives of children did not bother them at all. It is revolting.

As for the boys, growing up to learn they were lab rats, may have done even more damage. The journalist who discovers the ugly secret cannot compel powerful forces to reveal why they did this nasty experiment—ripping apart children from their closest relatives.

The ultimate tragedy that befalls the triplets undercuts the happy-go-lucky age of discovery that had in 1981. What ultimately transpires will stun you.

This is powerful story-telling about crypto-Nazis in America.

 

 

Dominic Dunne: Party On

DATELINE: Murder Will Out Gossip

 DD Character Assassin’s Best Friend

His friends always called him Nic, not Dom. And, he was the biggest social climber in Hollywood for a time, and then he was the biggest crime writer in America.

Dominic Dunne: After the Party is an Australian documentary from ten years ago that is making its waves now on streaming video.

Dunne fully cooperated, and he shows no mercy to himself and his youthful flaws. His son, actor Griffin Dunne is first to join the chorus of critical bric-a-bracs.

Not truly a journalist, he was not even a writer until age 50 when he started writing novels about social climbing society types, like the Two Mrs. Glenvilles. Only later, after his daughter’s murder in Hollywood, does he change his metier and go after the bad guys: the rich and pampered who think they were above the law.

Among his famous cases: O.J., the Menendez Brothers, and Phil Spector. He is merciless about their guilt and their unpleasantness. He makes big-time enemies, like Robert Kennedy, Jr.

He knew them all in the 1950s, joining in some monumental parties with names that are unforgettable. Then, he produced a bunch of movies, like gay groundbreaker Boys in the Band and plastic surgery breaker Ash Wednesday with Elizabeth Taylor.

He was married to an heiress for a time, but he never admits much beyond this as his sexploits are concerned. Only in later years, he admits he is celibate and carefree.

Like many social butterflies, he seemed to miss the point that these fests with big names were hollow and as much for their name-dropping as anything else. He is still not above or below the idea of dropping names or embellishing his luxuries. His son disdains this quality, but he is right about his father.

A compelling picture of a Hollywood groupie who found a passport to the inner world, this documentary is gossip on a high-level, high-octane whirlwind.

 

 

 

 

 

Geriatric Death Wish

DATELINE: Don’t Call Him Dirty Harry!

what's it all about, Alfie?  Dirty Alfie?

When you take a premise to the British producers, you will have something better than the original American version.

So, when someone floated the idea of a British vigilante going after bad guys that the police cannot catch, you end up with Harry Brown, outdoing Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis in Death Wish.

This thriller is about an octogenarian who takes on teenage hoodlums single-handedly. Now, there are a raft of British movie stars who could come out of retirement to play such a role (Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, etc.). However, this one is delightful because the man of the gun is a version of Dirty Harry, Michael Caine.

As far as the teenage bad guys, they seem motiveless and simply evil for their own pleasure, which could likely be true enough.

Michael Caine is driven to draw on his heroic soldier roots from Belfast’s conflicts. He notes that the enemy in that British conflict actually stood for something they believed in. These drug-infested youth are just nasty for their own sake.

You throw in some highly inept British police that are typified by Emily Mortimer as an all-business detective, and you have the need for an aging hero to try to chase kids down the mean streets.

Caine’s righteous anger simmers and you believe this retired gentleman can draw upon something from his past when he goes rogue. We need to see a tough guy without mercy who is 80.

Obviously, the world of movies and the old stars still has a draw—and the aging boomer generation still loves its Alfie and 60s spy. We know what it’s all about: showing that age has not slowed down heroic feelings.