Reel History: Day of the Outlaw

DATELINE: Big Daddy Burl Ives

 

outlaw day Burl Ives center stage

When movies had to compete against 40 weekly Western TV shows, you had to do something special.

Day of the Outlaw immediately hit a nerve: it was black & white when all the TV westerns were the same and movies were all in glorious color. This film put the action out in a real snowstorm in Wyoming, and it also featured a brutal horse caravan through deep snow. Music is minimalist, but effective. The film was lost in the shuffle back then, but is a stunner today.

We felt sorry for the horses who seemed to be suffering in the harsh weather and cold location scenes, including filming in a real snowstorm. However, the actors were out there for real—and looked just as frozen amid the ice-covered tundra. Only Burl Ives looked holly and jolly, riding hard and heavy on his long-tortured horse.

The other draw here was Robert Ryan, one of the most under-rated tough guys the movies ever created—as Blaise the hard-as-nails rancher who goes up against Big Daddy Burl Ives’s gang.

The faces (good guys & bad) are all familiar—from the gang to the beset upon townsfolk. Yes, that was William Schallert in small role.

We particularly were impressed with Ozzie & Harriet’s son, David Nelson. While his brother Ricky was a musical heartthrob, David tried his hand at real acting. He is quite impressive in his two-day beard as one of the bad guys.

The film is slow as a character study, but director Andre DeToth knew how to move his camera and create a grand entrance for Burl Ives, which is marvelous to behold.

Oh, yes, Tina Louise is here as a love interest before her career was shipwrecked on Gilligan’s Island.

This adult Western is uncompromising and ultimately no TV show. It’s worth the watch.

Mother Whistler’s Son

DATELINE: Butterfly on Social Media

Mother Whistler

Whistler’s mother worried about her son. James McNeill Whistler was not your average 19th century artist.

James McNeill Whistler and the Case for Beauty, an unwieldy title, makes an interesting little documentary on his life and work by director Karen Thomas who offers the viewer more than a few surprises.

For openers, though he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, he spent most of his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father worked for the czar!  Whistler was not your average boy in the 1840s. After he tried West Point as a cadet and failed, he moved to France and England, taking up a brush and a pot of paint for the rest of his life.

He was, however, the epitome of an American Oscar Wilde. He cultivated being dandy.

Yes, with a bleached streak of white hair in his massive curly locks, often tied with a red ribbon bow, he predated outrageous art for art’s sake by decades.

He was wild before Oscar.

Witty, snippy, and living the life of a bon vivant ahead of his time by a 100-years, he held Sunday morning salons that were the delight of London. He had collector rivalries with Dante Gabriel Rossetti over blue and white porcelain. And, he painted his mother for instant fame. Whistler would have loved social media.

He was a young man still when the old lady showed up in London, forcing him to clean up his act for a time. If you ever wondered why that mundane painting caused a stir, you likely will learn from this film.

Whistler knew how to stay in the public’s eye and attract the attention of rich patrons. After all, that was the name of the game. He clashed with critics frequently, extolling the virtues of art and the lack of knowledge of critics.

He took famous British art critic John Ruskin to court for libel when he claimed Whistler was overcharging for his art.

Those were the days when civilized men learned the powers of litigation. Whistler was ahead of his time that way too.

Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

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.

Off the Wardenclyffe: Tesla Files 1.3

 DATELINE: Bell Tolls for Tesla

Stapleton Stapleton 

The Tesla Files continued to impress with the latest episode in the series.

Several investigations followed the pattern Tesla took after he returned from Colorado in 1900. At this point he went to the New Yorker Hotel as his new headquarters. An interesting trip three floors below street level revealed a major tunnel system.

The hotel also had its own power source, which likely convinced Tesla that his experiments might be better served by the proximity to a major city. Around this time, he also made a deal with J.P. Morgan that floundered and caused the tycoon to lead a movement to discredit Tesla and his inventions.

It was out on Long Island that he used much of the funding from Morgan before it ran out. Here he built a tower for communications or power, no one knows which, and perhaps too an elaborate tunnel system, over 100 feet below the surface and extending out to the ocean.

The show cannot investigate the shut-down lab because of deadly mold, but they can send in a drone, giving insights into the workplace of Tesla.

Also intriguing is the parallel to the German World War II “Bell,” which might have been a time machine or anti-gravity device. The footprint of Tesla’s tower on Long Island matches exactly the footprint shape of the Nazi experiments in Poland.

Our journalistic investigator, Jayson Stapleton, with tattoos and a down-payment/goatee (known as an imperial in some circles) has become a man quite sure of himself. Having both a goatee and down-payment is sort of like wearing a belt with suspenders.

Who said TV wasn’t educational?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Boston Hits a Low Spot: Trolley Cars Underground

DATELINE: Boston’s First Big Dig

dig down No-park Street Station

American Experience presents some interesting little films that collect amazing movie clips and photos. They then intersperse them into literate narratives.

This one is narrated by Michael Murphy and tells the fascinating history of how Boston became the first major subway system in the United States. The documentary is oddly titled The Race Underground, which is misleading and has unfortunate connotations outside the point.

Explaining how people associated the underground with dead bodies six feet under, there was a general belief that travel beneath the Earth was unnatural, if not demonic. The electric trolley ended man’s inhumanity to horse.

When big dig excavations down Commonwealth Avenue uncovered Revolutionary War graves, you might find the point being made as a warning.

Tracing the electrification of motors to Frank Sprague, an independent inventor who tried to shy away from that behemoth of American technology, Thomas Edison, he sold his electrified trolley systems. It didn’t matter much because Edison inevitably bought him out and took his name off the product.

Without Sprague, the underground subway would be a dark and dirty trip, filled with soot and fright.

We enjoyed seeing the old trolleys in turn of the century film with destinations to North Cambridge and Roxbury Crossing. And, the information was new to us: how Boston was in the 1890s one of the most congested cities in America, worse even than New York—a rivalry Bean Towne would prefer to lose.

You don’t have to be a local Bostonian to enjoy this little film, but having traveled on the rapid transit when Scollay Square was a stop, we found it a delightful trip back in time.

Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille Found & Lost

DATELINE:  Sphinx Knows

 Sphinx nose

It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.

In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.

Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.

When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.

DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.

When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.

Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.

In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.

This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.

 

The Gut: Our Second Brain

DATELINE: Pass the Probiotic

 the Gut- Our Second Brain Twins!

You might think an hour-long documentary on the bowels, guts, and inners of humans would give us more laughs per line than you’d find in a stewed prune.

The Gut: Our Second Brain shows that there are twin controls on our lives.

After watching this French documentary, we weren’t laughing, or even busting a gut. We fell headlong into a pot-bellied bowl of microbes.

Scientists have discovered that the stomach area contains more neurons and sensitivity than the brain of a dog or cat. Yikes, no wonder our stomachs growl.

The brain developed after the intestines in our progenitors who climbed out of the primordial soup. Indeed, scientists will now tell you that your stomach contains thousands of billions of bacteria that are not exactly without their own willpower or way of life.

Yes, the gut can control your feelings, emotions, and provide more pain than your brain wants. We belong not only to three blood groups, but to three bowel groups. Bacteria are not only inside, but outside—and we are reacting to their preferences.

Experimenters have fed mice microbiotic diets that gave them bacteria to make their behavior fearless: in fact, they fell in love with cats who promptly ate them. It seems the bacteria grow even more efficiently inside cats–and know which way the diet falls.

You are what you eat or won’t eat. Probiotics like antibiotics can have a big influence on the ecosystem of our bodies. Yes, there are more bacteria inside us than stars in the galaxy, dear Cassius.

If you feel a little queasy, your bacteria may be acting up for a reason.

A little knowledge is always appreciated. But cognitive overload in the gut drives us mad. What an extraordinary documentary.

 

 

Proto-Protocols on Ancient Aliens

DATELINE: 13.3

DocTravis Doc Travis, Redneck-at-Large

For a show about ancient aliens, we are having a bonanza of recent and current events. Most of the new season episode 3 of Ancient Aliens deals with all the latest news from 2017.

‘Protocols’ is the examination of how Earth people are to interact with aliens, whether defensively, or peacefully. Alas, there appears to be no public or world-wide protocol for rules that are binding. In fact, if aliens show up in the global village, we will likely have a free-for-all.

Those aliens are too smart for us. They won’t announce their presence to a world on the verge of anarchy.

All this is triggered by last year’s cigar-shaped asteroid that was dubbed Oumouamoua. Ancient Alien theorists believe it was hollow and filled with creatures from another solar system. Fake moons and asteroids are great covers for space travel.

Our latest expert across the boards is Dr. Travis Taylor, with a corn-pone accent and now two series running back to back on History. He hosts the new Tesla Files.

The series seems to think those religious leaders, from the Dalai Lama to Pope Francis, are goodwill ambassadors because they already believe in a second coming of a religious leader. AA also hints that the United Nations has a secret ambassador to space aliens universally, but they won’t reveal this to the world’s hoi polloi.

Along the way, the show deals with Pan-spermia and indicates that we are bombarded daily with alien life forms coming through the rye and the atmosphere.

Ancient Aliens also takes the high road when it comes to Carl Sagan’s Gold Record on Voyager, telling the universe who we are and where they can find us. Not a word is mentioned that Stephen Hawking, before he died, said this was a big mistake.

If the series is right, it is already too late to recall the open invitation for space creatures to walk among us.

 

Kinky Puss’n Boots

DATELINE:  A Really Big Shoe

 kinky boots Kinky-Dinky!

Kinky Boots may kindly be called an old-fashioned character drama. The difference is that it’s about drama queens in men’s shoes. It was later turned into a smash stage show, but the 2006 version is one of those working class British angry young man movies (except the young man dresses like a woman).

The two characters in juxtaposition are, first, the son of a shoe factory heir facing bankruptcy for making traditional footwear for men when disposable sneakers are the rage.

The second young man likes to wear high-heels and becomes a cabaret star in drag shows.

Under normal circumstance, you almost would expect the two men to slip into each other’s loafers at some point. Thank heavens, Kinky Boots keeps us in our own lanes and avoids any moments with glass slippers.

Joel Edgerton is the scion of shoemakers who learns that market niche for men’s boots with stilettos is high end. He meets Chiwetel Ejiofor in a career-busting role as Lola, the giant man in glitter. They kick up the story. Chiwetel also sings us a torrid version of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Unfortunately, to walk a mile in one man’s shoes, or high-heels, may be a stretch too far. The movie makes its points early and often but keeps on giving us more. The climax on the runways of Milan for shoe biz is too much glitz for our own good. Hero and audience fall flat.

Lessons in what defines masculinity and manhood are made a few times too many. It’s always hard to figure out British men anyhow since, to American eyes, they all look ready to put on a feathery boa and dancing shoes.

Not Exactly Winchester Cathedral

DATELINE:  Helen Mirren, Ghost Buster

Eamon Farren  Eamon Ferren

Nearly every role in Hollywood movies for women over 50 will go to Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, and/or Helen Mirren.

The so-called “inspired” true story of Mrs. Winchester, widow of the gun manufacturer is one such script from that the tandem of aging stars. Helen Mirren should have passed this ghostly horror into the slush pile of scripts.

Mirren accepted, and now has her first ghost/horror movie under her bonnet and on her resume. The actor whose resume should be enhanced is Eamon Ferren, playing a creepy footman (so to speak). He has a bright career ahead as the next Vincent Price.

What’s next? playing a doting granny on a TV series?

Winchester is about as faithful as Johnny Depp’s movie about the Headless Horseman. Docudrama never had it so bad as Mirren taking on bereft Mrs.Winchester in her haunted house. Ghosts patiently wait to shoot up the joint.

The widow lives in abject horror that all those people killed by her late husband’s guns will haunt her. Indeed, she was so terrified she built a house to close off the endless parade of spirits who showed up for a seance some dark and stormy night.

The story goes ballistic on paranormal. You’d find more truth in the Blair Witch Story, or Poltergeist. As someone with first-hand haunting in our own home, we are indignant over nice spirits being given a bad rap by the Psychic Hotline.

We must deal with the hand we have been dealt in this film.

Promise is an ephemeral gift when ghosts deal you the Dead Man’s Hand. We first noticed that white-haired Mirren in widow’s weeds looks Grand Guignol. She does a turn as victim of an Exorcist.

From there it is all downhill and down the creepy hallway. When special effects hit you over the head, you are on the Gong Show, less frightened and more in shell shock.

There was a good movie in here somewhere, lost among the special effects monsters that demand big audiences and bigger profits. Mirren should have called Ghost Busters.

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.

Westworld 2.3: Lost in a Tortured Storyline

DATELINE:  Where Have All the Plots Gone?What's My Line?

Playing What’s My Line, on Westworld 2.3.

If you tuned in a little late to the latest episode of Westworld, you might have to double-check your channel listings. It seemed as if you had stumbled into one of those old BBC TV series about India and the Raj.

Such is the nature of the tortured storyline presented by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. You may not recognize the characters, surroundings, or goings-on. We supposed that was meant to be part of the show’s confusing allure.

New, old, past, present, familiar, unfamiliar, are all fair game for the Worlds Beyond Westworld. We go from the Raj to the world of Kurosawa over the course of the hour. Welcome to the ever-new, ever-dangerous Samuraiworld.

We are reunited with cast members thought lost, dead, or reprogrammed along the way of the latest series entry. There is some relief to discover the actors still have jobs a few weeks into the second season.

Indeed, the Brit writer in the series, not of the series, played by Simon Quartermain, can even mimic the words the android hosts will utter before they utter them. Well, that’s the power of the writer, which is not saying much or saying too much.

In the case of Nolan and Joy, creative forces behind the tortured storylines, they had a lot of ‘splaining to do on this night and threw the Bengal tiger storyline out of the jungle and into the Raj for a viewer hunting for an irrational story.

We also learned the fate of the woman with the Snake Tattoo, now back with Thandie Newton’s tech workers as her prisoners.

At this rate the new season of episodes will end before we have established where last season’s minor characters have gone.

Perhaps, unwittingly, we and HBO have just signed on for the long haul of five or six seasons. Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood) finds her old robot father and that his memories are not really erased after all, but have gone into some wild Westworld cloud, to be recovered by a tech wizard (android Bernard, Arnold, or whoever, Jeffrey Wright).

Yes, we are still here, but are finding the high altitude of Internet clouds are too convenient for lost souls of Westworld 2.3.

Tesla Files: Missing in Action

DATELINE:  Death Rays & Shocking Details

Tesla & sparks Tesla Enjoys a Good Book!

Brought to you by the producers of Ancient Aliens, History Channel has jumped onto the hot topic of Nikola Tesla, soon to be subject of a docudrama with Nicholas Hoult and Benedict Cumberbatch (Current Wars), and endless stand-alone documentaries.

The series Tesla Files uses a formula near and dear to fans of History adventures: they team up some mesomorphic men who like to go hop-scotching across the globe on quests that would delight your average ten-year old boy.

Indeed, never a girl is seen among the researchers, hangers-on, or production forces. So be it here.

The series starts off with a bang: Tesla claimed to have 80 trunks of research material in storage at the time of his death. The US government catalogued only 30, and the Tesla Museum in Serbia claims to have 60 (nearly everything by their tabulation). Jumping to conclusions, they ask: “Who stole the trunks?”

Indeed, the American researchers are indignant at the cavalier treatment of the Serbian museum director who dismisses them as amateurs and refuses to show them even signatures for verification. It couldn’t be more delightful to deepen their suspicions and mystery.

As you might expect, the Freedom of Information Act has allowed the American government to lie over the years, The researchers believe in a particle beam or death ray invented by Tesla, but serious scholars dismiss it as legend.

One of the highlights of the first episode is the revelation that President Trump’s uncle John Trump was the main investigator at the death of Tesla—and catalogued the files in his safe to reveal there was “nothing of…value.” So much for the purported Death Ray or Particle Beam he claimed to invent.

The show’s hosts want to fall all over themselves to announce that mendacity seems to be a family trait of the Trumps.

Tesla, a naturalized American citizen, was treated as an alien whose property was seized in 1943 by the government; an illegal action.

The series whets enough appetite for cover-ups, crimes against humanity, experimenting with Tesla’s inventions, and top secrets, that future episodes can run on the “electrifying” and “shocking” fumes of the inventor’s life.

You have to love a show that can use the word “electrifying” both literally and figuratively.