Hard to Kill, Harder to Watch

DATELINE:  Hard Jobs

Tim Unleashed Tim Kennedy Unleashed

Tim Kennedy, formerly of Hunting Hitler as the go-to adventurer who investigated dangerous people, has gone a step beyond for a new Discovery series.

Hard to Kill is one of those “dangerous job” shows where some rank amateur tries his hand, without training, at doing something where you need a few years of experience to do the job right.

So, Tim Kennedy, former Green Beret, muscle-man, pushing forty years, is perfect as the guy being a man in a world of wussies. In the old days we called him a dare-devil, or simply foolhardy, or blithering idiot.

He shows guts and lack of brains at the same time.

In the first show, he tries his hand at “American bullfighter,” and it’s not what you expect. In the jargon of pop culture, this job is rodeo clown:  the guy in clown makeup who distracts the rampaging bull from running over the fallen rider.

This is risky. Breaking bones is the easy way out. Jumping to the fence to escape the bull’s charge is not a good idea, as these pros tell Kennedy: you can be impaled on an immovable object (a fence slat).

Bulls run at 35mph and are reasonably adept at hitting their target. You can plainly see that the rodeo men take it seriously to protect their own—and sending out an untrained person is not only foolhardy, but unethical. Yet, the price of TV fame comes high, so to speak.

Kennedy is personable and overly energetic, but these kind of adventurers were the explorers of yesteryear. They may seem anachronistic today or suited only for TV derring-do.

 

 

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.

 

Portrait of a Fantasy Classic

DATELINE: Robert Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie

Brackman Jennie Brackman Painting Used in Film!

Portrait of Jennie is unusual movie fare by any standard—whether it is today or when it was released in 1949.

Back then, audiences were better educated for sure. The movie starts out with quotes from Euripides and Keats on mortality and the philosophy of death. As if to prove you are not in Kansas, the film uses the stunning music of Debussy’s “Nuages,” with an assist from Dmitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann. Phew!

You don’t have music like this as background audio nowadays!

Unsuccessful painter of landscapes, Eban Adams (Joe Cotten), cannot find a plug nickel for his work in 1934. When he begs art dealers Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway to buy one of his pictures, they take pity on him. However, the price is to be told there is no love in his work, in critique by a spinster art collector.

When he meets a turn-of-the-century little girl in Central Park, she tells him she will grow up fast to marry him. Lo and behold, when he sees her again, she is older, and then again older. He is enchanted, and forced to do detective work to find her.

The twosome finally conclude that there is some error in the time-space continuum, no mean feat considering when the movie was made. They are not supposed to cross paths, let alone find the love of their lives, of all time.

You know that something is afoot when the screen goes garish green toward the climax.

The actual prop portrait of Jennifer Jones, breathtakingly beautiful, was actually done by Robert Brackman—and kept in the library of producer David O. Selznick, married to Miss Jones at the time.

With another gallery acting job by Joseph Cotten—and an assist from Ethel Barrymore, the old lady with a crush on him, you have an instant classic—and more.

Throw in Lillian Gish and Cecil Kellaway—and the film noir photography of Central Park at night, and we can forgive any logical weirdness in the storyline.

You owe yourself one romantic fantasy in a lifetime. This should be it, and never let drowning in a tsunami stop you from going to Land’s End on Cape Cod.

 

 

Borg & McEnroe, Not Exactly Chums

DATELINE: Clash of the KooKoo Birds

great acting

Telling great sports rivalries has become a movie goldmine for Bobby and Billie as well as Bird and Magic. The latest sports film is called Borg Vs. McEnroe.

However, the two most unlikeable figures among elites are the pairing of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in 1980. If you don’t remember how it turned out, this movie’s suspense will be enhanced.

Essentially this is the story of two crazed competitors. Yes, we guessed that to compete at a high level you must be touched in the head. Indeed, these two may seem dissimilar, but both were “not quite right in the head,” according to the movie.

The Swede was often called Ice Borg or CyBorg, to indicate he was a robotic and inhuman creature. On the other hand, American John McEnroe comes across as Norman Bates in a McEn-psycho mode.

There really was no relationship between them outside the tennis court. They were not enemies, friends, or even friendly antagonists. They barely acknowledged the other in person.

Instead of showing us, the movie prologue states that the 1980 match changed both men. We never see that. Epilogue cards tell us they became best friends and even served as best man at the other’s wedding. We don’t see any of that.

As for the performances, they are uniformly brilliant. Shia Labeouf is perfect as McEnroe, and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnasson is equal to the ice borg. They are riveting in the roles, and that makes the film well worth your time and investment.

 

 

Devilish Fun with Sooke

 DATELINE:  Porno, not Inferno

 sooke Sooke, not Cooke

How the Devil Got His Horns is hosted by a new media sensation from England named Alastair Sooke.

He is an expert is ancient art and classic art work. If you are expecting Alistair Cooke, you will discover the new generation is decidedly Alastair Sooke. And, the differences go way beyond white hair of Alistair Cooke to the lithe Sooke.

This young art critic has all the smarts and sexy appeal too.

Looking like an Oxford undergraduate, but the smartest kid in the class, the expressive expert from England is made for social media. He is ambiguous enough in sexual terms as to make you wonder about that wedding ring.

Sooke travels around Florence, Venice, and museums, wearing sandals. When he stops to explain an early depiction of Jesus on a church mural, he happens to be wearing the same sandals as JC. No coincidence we suspect.

He explains  how the Devil, Lucifer, originally was a blue angel on the left hand of God, before his precipitous fall. He is described as a bureaucrat in heaven, which explains his rebellion.

Lucifer’s initial beauty downgrades to ugliness over the years, as you need corruption to supervision corruption. Sooke raises the issue that Lucifer’s transformation was far more an aesthetic decision of poets and artists rather than Church leaders.

Sooke also revels in showing us the most depraved depictions of hell fire and suffering. As he tells us, it’s more porno than Inferno in the art world for the Medieval viewers.

If you want a blue angel for your guide, there is none better than Alastair Sooke.

Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

Lance, Mason & Friend Lance,  James Mason, & Friend!

When in 1979 we heard James Mason was doing a Stephen King TV movie, we were appalled. We refused to watch one of our perennial favorites demean his career in its last years by doing something as cheesy as Salem’s Lot.

Today we eagerly watch it and devour his every screen moment.

Who would have guessed that James Mason slumming on TV could be so delightful?  With Tobe Hooper directing like he is doing an imitation of Vera Miles approaching Hitchcock’s Bates mansion, you throw in some performers we always liked: Lance Kerwin, Ed Flanders, Elisha Cook, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Kenneth MacMillan and Fred Willard!! What a juicy little horror—just a tad silly around the edges.

It’s a little perverse too. James Mason is the procurer for some kind of Nosferatu in Maine, finding little boys for him to devour. Lance Kerwin seems ripe, but he has eyes only for David Soul. Their smoldering subtext is off the charts in its own way. Did anyone making the movie understand the word ‘latent’?

James Mason and Lance Kerwin share only a couple of glances in their scenes, but it may be that they saw something utterly disdainful in the other.

With an uncut three-hour version of the old TV miniseries now available on streaming, you can sit back and wallow in low-rent horror that remains top-drawer compared to the junk of today. There is no needless blood and/or off-the-computer special effects. Here actors rely on their wiles, not on the blue screen.

James Mason is the full show here, delivering lines with an inimitable throwaway snobbery. Wait till you hear him pronounce, “expertise.”

Most of the movie he is either entering or exiting doorways and looking askance. He clearly enjoyed making a movie with his wife, Clarissa Kaye, and chewing the scenery. You will enjoy it too.

Play the Devil, Billy Budd in Trinidad

DATELINE: Another Budd Movie

tormented petrice Petrice Jones, a Face to Watch!

Director Maria Govan’s intriguing character study will not be acceptable to those viewers who want someone else (director, actor) to telegraph who’s the bad guy. The film is Play the Devil. Govan is playing Devil’s Advocate.

You have to think when you watch this movie, and you may not be happy with your decisions. What seems on the surface to be one of those May-December gay romance stories, set in the poverty-stricken island of Trinidad, turns into Billy Budd.

Beautiful and naïve, young Gregory (Petrice Jones) is the promise of his family. Approached by an older (but not old) businessman (Gareth Jenkins) with plenty of money, he finds himself flattered by the attention—at first.

Here is a chance to escape poverty, receive an education, and live in indolent luxury. It is tempting, but the young man has second thoughts—and needs space. Perhaps he is not gay after all. However, his obsessed older fan won’t take no for an answer and begins insinuating himself into all aspects of Greg’s life.

Feeling more and more trapped and cornered, Greg sees how such a relationship will ease the burdens of his family and open up a new world for him. Yet, his stalker knows better—and insists that the young man is merely fighting his nature when he should give in to it. It’s enhanced by two remarkable performances by the leads.

You know this is heading in a negative direction, but perhaps you will not see how it must conclude.

Set against the Carnival of Trinidad where young men paint themselves in blue and act the role of devils, chaotically racing through the streets, you have a clear case of possession. You may not have just another gay movie here.

Director Govan is not making this easier with her parallels to Billy Budd, and her film becomes an un-gay parable.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.

 

 

Hitchcock’s Little Bang!

 DATELINE:  Short Suspense Subject by the Master!

Mumy boy

What a treat to find ourselves looking at the last half-hour episode of his TV series actually directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself.

Sandwiched between Psycho and The Birds, he gave us a gift of a timeless tale about dangerous weapons in the hands of children. “Bang! You’re Dead” is a minor gem.

Once again, he used a child star who would soon climb to more legendary fame. Back in 1954, he came up with Jerry Mathers as the little boy who discovers the dead Harry in Trouble with Harry. Mathers later went on to more trouble with Leave It To Beaver Cleaver.

In 1961, he picked out Billy Mumy, half-a-dozen years before he made a star burst on Lost in Space. Mumy was an extraordinary child actor, and his brilliant performance makes the episode all the more chilling. In one scene, while adults around him talk, he keeps an unblinking eye on his uncle, just returned from Africa and promising a special gift to the boy.

In an age when all the boys were pretending to be cowboys and had hats and guns, Mumy finds a gun and bullets in his uncle’s suitcase and presumes this is his gift. He puts one round in the chamber and switches his toy gun for the real one.

Spinning the chamber as if playing Russian Roulette, he begins a journey around the neighborhood, figuring to plug those people who give him a hard time: and there are plenty of candidates from the mailman to an annoying father and daughter at the supermarket.

Hitch zeroes in on the little fingers stuffing more bullets into the chamber and spinning away, making each shot more likely to hit a mark.

The excruciating suspense is nasty as each incident makes the growing menace more frightening. At the least, the episode ends with seven years of bad luck.

Extraordinary short film is from the seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

 

Inventor of Xmas? Charles Dickens, Really?

DATELINE:  Ghosts for the Holidays

Dickens with ScroogeDickens with Scrooge!

One presumes Dickens would be appalled that he was given the label as The Man Who Invented Christmas because in 1842 under financial pressure, he wrote a little ghost story in six weeks. We always thought Jesus probably deserved a little credit for inventing Christmas.

Having dozens of movie versions of the famous holiday tale about the reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, it seems only fitting that a charming tale, slightly mythological rather than biographical, would be the latest incarnation of the story.

Dan Stevens, hot off Downton Abbey, plays a stylish, boyish Charles Dickens, a man surrounded by his own spendthrift ways and a brood of interruptions in his home, faces a daunting deadline to come up with a novella to make ends meet.

Stories about writers are usually deadly dull and impossible to show creativity, but this film manages to show how the characters, and caricatures, came to life for Dickens.

No small feat is the marvelous performance of the difficult quarry of Scrooge in the person of Christopher Plummer. He argues he wants his point-of-view better expressed, feeling the story is too one-sided!

The cast is up to the weird exaggerations of Dickens, including Jonathan Pryce as the author’s father. Many people in Dickens’ life take a role in his story.

Cute, by some standards, we see snippets of dialogue picked off the streets as Dickens goes on his daily duties. He hears the best lines and incorporates them into his text. But, it is his debates with Scrooge who visits him in his room that is the heart of the film.

Dickens purists might take issue with the pabulum portrait by Stevens, but this is a sentimental story, intelligently told, without profanity, sexual situations, or other unpleasantness, while maintaining dramatic and psychological effectiveness.

This is a film that insists Dickens did more for Christmas than you may want to believe. Yet, this is more than a holiday fest and more than a simple biographical movie. It is charming, an addition to the Christmas canon.

 

Life in 2049 Once Again Falls Short

 DATELINE: Disappointing

 sean Young 2049

Sean Young with Body Double and Advanced CGI

If Blade Runner 2049 is any indication, Los Angeles is not going to improve any from the first Blade Runner. We believe it seems to snow much of the time.

If we are going back to the future, give us Looper. It looked like a place we’d like to visit, not this horror.

Last time we caught Ryan Gosling, he was singing and dancing in Los Angeles. This time around, he appears to be a replicant, or some derivative thereof. It’s hard to tell a Tyrell replicant robot from the latest bioengineered creatures.

Gosling is an unhappy, soulless creature. No time to sing and dance here.

There are still ‘blade runners’ hired to exterminate these illegal older versions by newer versions. What we have here is the revolutionary notion that these machines can procreate semi-humans. That inspires the new Tyrell model mogul, in Jared Leto’s odd performance.

It’s complicated.

It’s also a mess of a movie, running nearly three hours of unremitting Dickensian darkly future predictions.

You have a remarkable cast, including Robin Wright as the head cop—and appearance by Edward James Olmos in the retirement home, and Sean Young appears as her ever-young self in a cameo that must take CGI to the limits. She doesn’t look a day older than the 1982 movie. She’s now 58. Pee Wee Herman should be jealous.

Harrison Ford is around mostly for decoration because you don’t have a movie without him as Deckard, older than dirt.

If the movie doesn’t leave you comatose, you may be a replicant. If someone believed that this film would stand up to the frequent re-views like the original film did, you’d be deluded. This is not the classic, brilliant first movie. It’s a shake-your-money-maker mind-numbing sequel.

Fans of the first film paid homage by giving this one an Oscar for special effects.

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Own Country: Forsaken and for Rent

DATELINE: Intelligent Human Drama

 god's grubby country

If you want a movie that combines Brokeback Mountain with Far from the Madding Crowd, you have fallen into the sheep dip of God’s Own Country.

In case you’re wondering, God’s country is in the Northumberland section of Scotland where sheep are sheep, and men are men.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is an uptight, hard-drinking, unhappy young man living with his handicapped father and aging mother on a remote sheep farm in cold, desolate, and in a kind of run-down in the dumps setting.  He spends time at the local pub and local urban area and meets a fair share of attractive men, but he is miserable.

He falls down on his homestead duties—and his father brings in a Romanian gypsy-type (but don’t call him that). It’s hate at first sight, until one of those cold, desolate outings to the outback where outing becomes all the rage.

This is actually a fascinating little film, way beyond the ground-breaking of Brokeback and unlikely to be made in America where sheepskin is only for college diplomas.

Actor Josh O’Connor has a rough-hewn attractiveness, and Alec Secareanu is smoldering. They really carry the movie, as the cast is tiny and the lack of population doesn’t make for much company.

When the affair consummates, it enflames, but the drama is far more subdued and intelligent. At least we don’t have to listen to disco dolly music and fashionistas with witty repartee.

This movie is by director and writer Francis Lee and comes from a world of whence he knows. Though the characters seem to think they are in God’s beautiful country, they clearly need to take a trip to the tropics.

In terms of gay films for a gay audience, this slice of life with calves being yanked out of a mother cow, and lambs being yanked out of ewes may be too much for city slickers. It’s nature’s way, apparently, when out in the country.  It will be too much muck for some viewers.

RECOMMENDED! ALLEGED BOOK!

DATELINE: Penknife Mightier than the Sword

Patskindle

Now read all your favorite blogs for the year in one handy location: your tablet, your smartphone, or your computer.

PATRIOTS PLAY POLITICAL FOOTBALL 2017

Now available, The Loser’s Edition.

Normally we compile a book of annual snide comments about the winner of the Super Bowl, but this year we change horses in the fourth quarter.

Now you can trace the sour grapes of Malcolm Butler up to the sacking by Coach Belichick in the final hours!

Now you can see the complete reviews and reactions to Tom Brady’s reality TV series and all its deadly fallout!

Now you can learn how Trump has poisoned the Patriot well of victory!

Now you can find the fake news about Gronk’s Hollywood career!

Now you cannot find much about Julian Edelman, but he still shows up on the pages now and then!

Now you can see how the Yalta Peace Talks between Kraft, Belichick, and Brady really came about and really went nowhere!

Now available on Amazon, cheap price, cheap words, cheap ideas!

Recommended for smart readers always!

 

 

Hollywood Beckons Gronk

 DATELINE: Retirement Among the Movie Legends

say it ain't so

Those who have read our Gronk commentaries over the past few years know that we have advocated a Hollywood trade for the big lug. He has a face and a personality and a body that won’t quit, which is enough to become a film star.

Now we hear that Rock Dwayne Johnson and Rocky Sylvester Stallone have told Gronk to go west to the land of swimming pools and movie stars. You can die hard on the screen. Gronk hits his marks and learned a complex playbook from Belichick. He can certainly memorize a few monosyllabic lines and hit the bad guy in the nose.

He can make $10m in one movie and a few commercials without breaking a sweat.

On the other hand, though we love watching him as a Patriots star, know that CTE and a concussion are the end of the line sooner than later. We want the best for Gronk, and we cringe every time we see him hit on the field.

We want to tell him that John Wayne played football too, but he made his mark in adventure movies. Gronk has a flexible face, and he could be in comedy, adventure, westerns, or sci-fi as the good guy, the comic relief, or the imposingly big villain.

We know that Foxboro is not exactly Beverly Hills where movie stars, swimming pools, and big bucks in the sunshine can be had, but we’d urge him to consider how well he’d do in movieland.

We’ve seen Gronk interact with Bieber, Kyrie Irving, David Ortiz, and myriad others on the screen. We’ve heard him read Chinese war lord Sun Tzu’s philosophy, and we know that James Bond could use him as the next opponent.

We love Gronk. Movies are his calling card—and small-screen series too. Maybe Westworld needs a new automaton.

Go west, young Gronk. Go west.