Bend Unbroken, Stir Unshaken

DATELINE:  James Bond Satire

Chris Lew Kum Hoi Dr. Tu Yung

How amusing is a gay parody of James Bond? Well, if you tune into Matt Carter’s one-hour spoof, you may be more than pleasantly surprised. It is not too violent, nor too sexual.

It’s Jayson Bend: Queen & Country.

So, it falls into a Goldlocks world of gay cinema. And, thank heavens, it is not about teenagers with a coming out angst and done on videotape.

Some of it is heavy-handed, as it is always difficult to satirize a satire—and people often forget that James Bond was Ian Fleming’s satiric secret agent. He is taken too seriously.

Matt Carter seems to have his name and paws all over this little film. It stars Davis Brooks as Jayson Bend (not Bent), but it’s Jayson with a “Y”—and don’t ask.

We find the cute girls are replaced by cute boys—and Dr. Tu Yung is an adorable villain (played by Chris Lew Kum Hoi).

What may be a great surprise is that this film has a big budget look about it. The color is bright and bold, and the fast cars and special effects are just right. The only violence is at the start, and the sex is chaste: hints by kiss.

It’s safe for straight guys.

Tripping Again with Coogan & Brydon

 DATELINE: Another Sequel, not Deja Vu

 tripping

No, you didn’t read this movie review last week here.

What more can you ask?  Beautiful scenery, lovely music, and witty conversation. Yes, those two British actors (one with 2 Oscar nominations) are back to delight us.

We have skipped the second trip to Italy for now and cut to the chase with Trip to Spain. These two marvelous performers can hit the road and still hit their marks. This is another followup to their British series, The Trip, condensed and made into a feature film. No, it’s not a mid-life crisis movie, despite what the New York Times claims.

They seem to make the films every three or four years, which is just about right. They are reality-based, as the stars play themselves, notable thespians and comedians on a journalistic journey for the New York Times as food critics, or culture commentators.

With each stop at a breathtaking locale, Steve Coogan foams at the mouth with his erudite knowledge. Heaven help you if you know more or have enough. Rob Brydon can match him every mile, and that makes them chemically compatible.

Each morsel is back-lit with some of the funniest conversations this side of reality. Coogan notes how sorry he feels for anyone who thinks this stuff is not scripted and fully ad-libbed. It’s likely a circle within a square is outlined and the two drop in their witticisms.

However, the impressions make all the difference over the meals. When they argue over who does the best Mick Jagger impression as he plays Hamlet, you have moments that will knock fans of Noel Coward into the aisle.

Coogan remains prickly, but Brydon manages to break him up several times this trip, which may not have been planned.

If Coogan reminds us of ourselves, then we have had a bittersweet lesson. Sheer delight awaits the viewer.

 

 

 

Three. Two, One, Blasted Off Your Screen

DATELINE: Billy Wilder Classic

Cagney & grapefruit

Cagney reprises grapefruit scene.

Topical political humor has a short shelf life, and you have only to see a few clips from Saturday Night Live to understand how quickly controversial becomes outdated.

When a major film tries it, as did Billy Wilder in 1962, only a few morsels remain fresh.

Yet, to take in One, Two, Three, the Cold War comedy, is less satisfying than say, Dr. Strangelove, which maintains its relevance.

When Wilder’s outlandish satire was released, East Berlin put up a horrifying wall that changed history—and it was virtually ignored in the movie, except by a voice=over addition shortly before the film was released.

What survives in a favorite comedy is the manic performances.

James Cagney plays the head of Berlin’s Coca-Cola division, unhealthy capitalism at its best, and he is marvelous to behold. He grows more intense with each passing scene, stealing anything he make merry.

Others in the cast are less successful—but seem now perfectly placed in their roles:  game show actress Arlene Francis didn’t forget her line was snide off-put wife. She is surprising effective, though the German jokes are thick.

Pamela Tiffin as the sex kitten from Atlanta is decorative, but she faded fast, unlike Ann-Margaret who might have run with the role. And, as her East German Commie boyfriend, Horst Buchholz sends out a post-James Dean vibe that shows how misused he was.

Leon Askin as the Russian commissar is delightful, and Lilo Pulver dances on tabletops in the Grand Hotel with lesbian couples while a hapless band plays and sings,  “Yes We Have No Bananas,” in German.

The music of the intense and insane “Sabre Dance” is stirring to the break-neck pace of screwball comedy, already a dinosaur in Hollywood.

Cagney’s version of My Fair Laddie turns a Commie lout into Austo-Hungarian royalty during the hilarious second-half of the film.  Cagney hated working with Horst and quit movies for years after. His best line to Buchholz who wants to lead a revolt of workers is: “Put your pants on, Spartacus.”

You shouldn’t miss it but brush up on your Cold War etiquette before tuning on the stream.

National Enquirer, Catching and Killing Bad News!

 DATELINE:  Laughing Pecker?

Laughing Cavalier Cavalier Enquirer?

Pick a peck of David Pecker.

Not since J. Edgar Hoover have we heard of “secret files.”

Well, they’re baaack!

David Pecker picked a peck of pickled poodle politicians. The peck of Pecker picks were pols who parlayed their hidden scandals into political careers, like Duncan Hunter (R) California, and Chris Collins (R) New York, your typical corrupt Congressmen now indicted and refusing the resign.

It appears that the owner of American Media, the National Enquirer dirt rag, and friend to Donald Trump, has a safe filled with signed “catch and kill” contracts. Mostly they are used to pay poor Pecker ploys and protect Trump loyalists.

Yes, the Laughing Peckerhead collects salacious stories and kills them by paying big bucks to whistleblowers—who cannot then publish their truth anywhere. It is how he protected Donald Trump from hookers, payoffs, illegitimate baby-momma stories, and heaven knows what other Russian mob ties.

Recently, Special Prosecutor Robert Meuller picked on Pecker for immunity for his pretty poison pens.

Now we learn that the spineless, gutless Congress may be filled with people blackmailed by Mr. Peckerhead who has dirt to keep them quiet. Yes, he catches and kills a scandalous tale and then turns around and sleazily demands obedience to him, not the United States Constitution.

It sounds like he has taken a page out of Putin’s compromising videotape series of Moscow nights with potty pee players.

Hoover was said to have files of recordings, depositions, and other evidence of wrong-doing at the FBI for decades, insuring his power.

If you have a whistle to blow, Pecker protects by paying to kill the catch and then turns around and demands a favor—like support Donald Trump (or be ruined by his private stash of stories).

Now we learn that David Pecker has picked a peck of peccadilloes out of the pockets of pusillanimous politicians.

Springtime for Trump

DATELINE:  Trump Sings & Dances!

springtime for trump

In the classic Ponzi comedy The Producers, the big Broadway musical number that did in the crooks was called “Springtime for Hitler”. They oversold the show, hoping it would flop and they’d walk away with tons of money. Manafort and Cohen are the new producers. They oversold Trump to the gullible public.

In Springtime for Trump, his investors (all Russian mobster types) expected him to lose—and make a big profit. Alas, he won—and the undoing of these producers is now unfolding. May they all wind up in federal prison where they can put on a show.

In Mel Brooks’ original version of The Producers, Zero Mostel was the overweight man with the appalling comb-over. In the White House today is an overweight man with an appalling comb-over. He is a bigger crook than Zero’s character.

Mostel’s producer would sleep with dozens of women to procure their investments in his musical. In Trump’s world, he pays off dozens of women with campaign funds and a crooked lawyer to guarantee his tenure in office.

The big musical number was meant to shock people: goose-stepping showgirls in formation, a la Busby Berkley, dancing in a swastika conga lines. Trump’s conga lines include words like “dog”, “lowlife”, and “rat.”

Alas, they all apply to the biggest shyster ever to sully the white White House where Nixon claimed there would never be a white wash.

After Trump is impeached, we may need to fumigate the place.

We laughed uproariously at Zero’s crook, and we fumed at Nixon’s crook. Trump’s crook is still lining up the chorus.

Cue the dancing girls: we are about to sing the refrain from Springtime for Trump.

 

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.

 

Ideal Home is Broken

DATELINE: Gay  Grandparents

coogan & rudd

A big budget, well-acted gay comedy is not to be taken lightly. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth.

This one features a couple of solid actors:  Steve Coogan often is unrecognized, falling into parts like the protagonist who helps Philomena. In this film Ideal Home, he is a refugee from La Cage aux Folles.

Coogan’s partner is Paul Rudd (who plays a Red Sox catcher and real-life spy in another recent movie). He too can strike many poses. The two actors play a TV producer and his celebrity chef star and boyfriend. They are convincing.

Their extravagant and funny life is complicated when a nine-year old grandson of Coogan shows up in a shocking surprise. The foul-mouthed kid is not adorable, and the ultimate fuss over him seems implausible. He is pedestrian.

The strain put on the middle-aged gay couple is the source of humor and good-natured joking. It could have gone over the line and been offensive to gay people, but good actors tend to prevent that liability.

Alas, the plot is routine. The ne-er-do-well son of Coogan’s chef wants his son back when he is released from prison. Apparently, there is no problem with returning custody of a child to a convict.

The two grandfathers have, rather expectedly, grown accustomed to the child (for reasons that escape our comprehension).

Since this is a fun picture, you can expect an ending worthy of the Friends of Judy, which literally seems to come true.

All in all, it is a frivolous entertainment, and you could do worse than spending time with these loose cannons.

When a gnarly little boy is sent off to live with his gay grandfather who is a TV celeb chef, you have merriment galore.

This is enhanced with really good actors like Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan giving it their gay walkabout in a luxurious Santa Fe ranchero home.

 

Odd Couple 2, Bittersweet Reunion

DATELINE: Original Stars, 30 Years Later

grumpy old odd couple

Grumpiness as a Joy to Behold!

The two men who single-handedly created a movie/TV franchise of Neil Simon’s comedy classic stageplay, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, returned twenty years ago, aged in the wood, to reprise their roles as Oscar and Felix.

We discovered Odd Couple 2 to cheer us so many years later.

We confess to having missed this event when it happened, and we were surprised to find it available now on streaming format. It is, however, a sad and bittersweet experience to behold. The two great stars keep their chemistry, but age has sapped them of vitality. It is like watching Laurel and Hardy in their final film.

Time is never kind.

Oscar and Felix have been separated for nearly twenty years, though they made the original film in the late 1960s, and the sequel is 30 years later. They are brought together by the marriage of Felix’s daughter to Oscar’s son.

Jokes about slobs and neatniks have been replaced with a series of old age jabs and dollops of humor.

More than ever these grumpy old men (Lemmon & Matthau) epitomize Oscar and Felix, as if the aging process has turned them into fine wine.

The storyline is filled with pratfalls and lowbrow situations as the two men battle each other’s foibles in the California desert, trying to make it to a wedding.

Though the situation is forced, you must see past that and simply enjoy the actors as they return to their beloved characters, not missing a beat, not letting age and time distract their timing and their experience.

 

 

 

Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, & Gisele Bundchen Star!

 DATELINE: Bad Bad Bundchen

 bad bad bundchen.jpeg

Mrs. Tom Brady Did It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This movie is a Manhattan cake-walk.

The Nightmare Alleged Documentary

DATELINE:  Nod off Elm Street

nightmare

We find the subject of sleep paralysis fascinating, having experienced it as a small child. The experience was so frightful that we recall every minor detail and our fear.

So, of course, a documentary on the topic would be illuminating and helpful. This is not the film for that. The Nightmare from 2015 is a snooze-fest.

No wit, no snide comments, no satiric barbs, could help us review this atrocity. Anything that makes it remotely interesting is a disservice on our part.

Rather than give bad reviews to films, we usually ignore a movie and move on to other, more interesting efforts. However, this particular film is probably the worst one we have encountered in many years. We cannot allow it to pass without notice.

The filmmaker uses no experts. He cites no authorities, and he puts together a cheap horror movie on the fly, pretending to be something more. He may be good enough to pull this off.

With a minor sample size of eight individuals, none of whom appears remotely professional, intelligent, and only recently drug-free, he allows them to mumble on and on about the sleep paralysis they suffered.

They strike us as rejects from a casting call for Friends. It looks like millennial night at karaoke. If you want your audience to empathize, make sure they do not deviate from the narrow profile for your demographic appeal. What a bunch of losers.

Intersperse these accounts with cheap theatrical shadow figures and worse animation to indicate neurological turmoil.

You won’t believe a word of these “actors” giving an audition for the director who knows what a profitable movie looks like.

Terrible. A disservice to the subject.

John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Death at a Funeral: DOA Either Way

DATELINE: British or Black?

Dinklage (with friend in coffin) Dinklage with Friend in Coffin

In case you did not realize, there are two versions of this movie, made within a few years of each other. The first was your classic British dark comedy, and the second is your black-face remake in American ghetto mode.

Both movies are called Death at a Funeral, which certainly makes sense when you see how it all plays out. The Brit version is from 2007, and the American from 2010.

You can flip a coin, or perhaps you prefer Ivory-Merchant to Madea.

We went across the pond for ours. There are familiar faces, but we’d probably know more of the cast in the American version. However, one small face stands out in a big part: Peter Dinklage came up to snuff in both films as the blackmailing small guy.

He is rather good, for sure. The rest of the cast is obtuse, but we must confess that Rupert Graves is always a joy as the successful brother returning from America for his father’s sendoff.

We are not sure how funny the central concept is that some poor benighted fools are given LSD by accident by those who think they offer valium. Is that really funny?

Beyond that, there are some jokes about oldsters, women, and sex-starved creeps among the mourners. It’s all directed by Frank Oz, hardly anyone’s idea of Ivory-Merchant, unless you see in big screen Muppet. Peter Dinklage apparently is playing Kermit in this film—and in the other too. He is marvelous.

We aren’t sure how this comes off with Chris Rock, et al, when the British posh types seem more suited for deadpan comedy.

 

 

 

Re-fighting the Battle of the Sexes

DATELINE: Gay Lib, Not Gay Lob

Bobby & Billie Truly a Doubles Match!

Many viewers may not know the story of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs and their ridiculously hyped tennis match of the early 1970s.

The earlier TV movie was called When Billie Beat Bobby. This new version is the Battle of the Sexes, but it’s more of a coming-out story.

Many may not know that an earlier cable movie effectively told the story with all the limitations of small screen propriety. If you wonder about the differences, there was no hint of gayness in Billie or her marriage. She had no bedroom scenes with a female hairdresser.

She did not have a gay best friend (marvelous Alan Cumming as Ted). She did not have a cantankerous relationship with Margaret Court in the first movie who is always holding a baby in the remake.

You did not see Bobby Riggs’ nude layout. You did not see his marital problems, or his hilarious attendance at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

You had a greater sense that Bobby and Billie were, above all else, “good sports” and actually remained lifelong friends.

The big screen smash has magnificent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell, looking more like their real counterparts. Carell is making an industry out of playing peripheral sports characters (Dupont in Foxcatcher). There are some marvelous effects too, bringing Howard Cosell back to life to play himself.

This is a big budget film with a great music score, pictures of celebs of the times, and the Houston Astrodome itself.

We recall the match was a grand joke, only taken seriously by those who’d be willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Bobby Riggs. How could anyone think that old man could beat a young athletic woman?

Well, as we recall, yes, there were men crushed by the defeat. This movie brings it all back to us.

Tom, Giselle, Boris & Natasha!

DATELINE: Met Gala Stun Guns Again

Tom, Giselle, Boris, Natasha

Yes, right after the Kentucky Derby “and they’re off—” comes the notorious Met Gala in New York where the show horses and would-be celebrities fall all over themselves on the red carpet.

Yes, on the heels of the bizarre nature of Westworld’s second season comes Evan Rachel Wood, Kim Karadasian, and Elon Musk, on the red carpet.

Our favorite had to be Tom Brady, erstwhile ageless quarterback and his wife (the billionaire), looking like refugees from 1960s Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, you had to wonder if Jonathan Nolan had produced the glitzy extravaganza as a means to publicize his TV HBO weirdo series.

You can’t tell the androids from the guests.

What Tom Brady has had to do to cause his wife to agree to let him play for two more seasons? You have only to look at his outfit as the twosome cavorted with other Barbie and Ken dolls.

Yes, Tom is wearing nail polish. You can’t see the multi-colored nail polish on his feet. And he looks like he is storing botox in his cheeks. Yet, the rash comments that he and wife look like James Bond villains is a tad off-the-mark.

Tom is not auditioning to play Dr. No, nor Goldfinger. He is acting like a friendly Russian that would charm President Donald Trump, whose hair would have fit right in on the red carpet.

Tom and Giselle came across as Boris and Natasha, those 1960s spies who gave Bullwinkle Gronk and Julian the Flying Squirrel fits.

Halloween comes early. However, we did see Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his young Baby Mama. To our shock, Kraft was NOT wearing his blue collar/white shirt. He did have de rigueur tennis shoes with his tux.

You have to love insanity with money.

 

 

Coward’s Italian Job, Mad Dogs & Englishmen

 DATELINE:  Sir Noël

Caine & Coward Caine & Coward Comedy!

Noël Coward and Benny Hill? In the same movie?

Our attention has been caught big-time in this 1969 crime caper movie, a genre all the rage in the 1960s, with epitome The Italian Job. Forget the recent remake.

As if pairing those Benny and Noël was enough, you add in Rossano Brazzi and Raf Vallone as the genuine Italians—and Michael Caine as the British mastermind of a robbery in Turin, Italy, of gold bullion being driven through its narrow streets.

The film is lusciously produced with all those magnificent scenes of the historic Italian city and the gorgeous Italian Alps with its twisty roads. You can figure on car chases that will outdo all those hills in San Francisco.

As with classics like this, the actual production is less impressive. The stars seem self-contained in their roles. Indeed, there are no scenes with Brazzi and his fellow stars at all. The closest Benny Hill comes to Noël Coward is standing 50 feet away on a mole hill at a funeral.

The glue is a boyish and charming Michael Caine, so young that when he meets Noël Coward in a lavatory, you almost feel it is salacious.

Waspy Coward is a mob kingpin, believe it or don’t, who has bribed enough people to move in and out of his British prison cell with aplomb you’d expect from a sophisticated star. He runs everything with an iron fist in a dainty velvet glove.

Technology, alas, is ancient here. Good heavens, Benny Hill plays a computer nerd running around with a ten-inch reel of programming. Communication is also primitive with 16mm film as the preferred mode to send text messages. Yet, the charm is delightful and timeless.

Once the cars start piling up, you have a traffic jam for the pre-Euro-dollar ages.