Westworld’s Version/Vision of Hell

DATELINE: Robby the Robot Need Not Apply!

 Ed Harris Looks for a Cut Throat.

Number Four of Westworld III  is a lulu. Perhaps the highpoint of the night is a fight between Evan Rachel Wood and muscleman Luke Hemsworth. It seems in our new age, a good fight among equals includes some give and take between the sexes as a little later Thandie Newton enjoys a good roust.

As for the series, in its mercurial way, remains cryptic beyond even its usual standards. In the fourth episode, we finally see the ravaged leftovers of Ed Harris, or William, who had been obsessed with Dolores from the start. Whether he is done for, or will come back, only four episodes left will tell.

Now, he is being played by other parties, haunted by the ghost of his dead daughter (or is she another robotic version sent to drive him all the way to the mental hospital?)

It seems a little early for everyone to receive his come-uppance, and whatever secrets Dolores is harboring, using all who enter her realm, there are several spearhead opponents—Maeve, Bernard, and possibly William. You can never count anyone out in this show where apparent death to robots means you’ll be back next week.

We are now so far afield from the original setting that it is hard to know where this vapid, wealthy future shall lead. We are not sure the series has anywhere else to go as we rush head-long into a robot apocalypse.

Jonathan Nolan has surprised us before, but he may well have overreached his play with this season of his intellectual treatise on the meaning of life and AI.

 

  Gorky Park: No Parking

DATELINE: Cold War Murder Mystery.

 Sable Hat Man!

Back in 1983 came the crime thriller about the Moscow Police Department (who had the unfortunate privilege of working under the KGB). It’s a definite low-tech crime CSI story about the cold-blooded Cold War killing of three people in Gorky Park.

Martin Cruz Smith’s novel was a best-seller, but based on this movie, the story is grisly and pathetic. Three bodies are found with their faces and fingers cut off to prevent identification. It seems a bit much for a small-time crime. Top-notch Soviet policeman William Hurt must solve the case.

There are some interesting moments in the film, but it pales next to today’s sharp TV crime dramas. Here in this film, it’s the cast that holds you in place, however miscast William Hurt is.

We were surprised to see great actor Alexander Knox (who played Woodrow Wilson once) in a small role as a Soviet general. But it is Americans like star Lee Marvin who steals every scene he is in: with second billing no less. He plays one of those American billionaires playing footsie with the Russians, and he is marvelous. He has cornered the market on Russian sables.

The late Brian Dennehy is also in the film in a small role, but with top billing as a New York cop doing an investigation off-duty in Moscow. He too is wonderful to behold.

As for the drudgery of Moscow with its 1970s cheap cars and unpleasant milieu, it’s all part of the flavor you can’t find anywhere else. But this is not Agatha Christie in the Kremlin, not even close.

Though some called the movie boring, its Moscow setting is dreary and mostly downbeat and dim-witted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eero Saarinen: More than a Crossword Name

 DATELINE:  Gateway to Modern Architecture

   Eero-port Terminal.

 American Masters did a one-hour biography of the notable architect whose name dominates New York Timescrossword puzzles. Of course, he is one of the most modern of all kinds of American architects (by way of Finland as a boy).

Saarinen is best known as the man who designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, iconic like the Pyramid of Giza. He wanted something to last 1000 years—and his arch may well reach that grandeur.

This documentary is mostly narrated by his son Eric who is a noted film cinematographer—not following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. He was alienated from his pater, but this film (he confesses) has changed him by seeing what marvels his father created: from a John Deere office building to Kresge Auditorium at MIT, or even a hockey rink at Yale.

His aides told him all hockey rinks were barns, so he designed one at Yale that is staggering in its Norse winter sports notions.

His father was hard to eclipse. Eero grew up with his father’s friends Gustav Mahler and Sibelius hanging around the house. He was bounced on Frank Lloyd Wright’s knee. Heavens, he was destined to create great buildings.

He made only one house—a glass marvel with stunning modern light. He is airier and brighter than Wright.

Yet, we must admit that these creative geniuses are not particularly good at being a family man. Eero was not an exception, but his second wife got him on the cover of Time—and the rest is history.

Shatner’s UnXplained recently claimed his great Arch is meant as a weather control system to deflect thunder and lightning. No such grandiose claims are made here—only breathtaking buildings and grounds, not to mention furniture.

He worked 60 years ago, but looks more modern than anything done today. This film also collects the withering criticism he took over his designs—by those who felt he pandered to 1950s American commerce. How wrong can they be?

We once heard an architectural critique as “nobody wants to live in someone else’s head.” Alas, most heads are devoid of creativity, individuality, or good taste. Thank heavens for Saarinen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westworld 3.3, Even Robots Get the Blues!

DATELINE: AI Goes Bananas

One of the Hemsworths.

 We are back to mad robotic Dolores and her plan to take over the human world. She has found an ally in human Caleb, who apparently is taking the place of James Marsden who died last season (if robots die forever).

This week is cryptically called “Absence of Field.”  Its absence will not make you nostalgic for previous seasons.

In the Tessa Thompson subplot, we have the robotic charade version of Charlotte Hale now running Delos Corporation. Alas, she is informed that some version of a Howard Hughes billionaire, the richest in the world, is buying up their stock.

This is the employer of robotic Maeve who is being groomed to do battle with Dolores to put the automatons back in Westworld where they belong. This week Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright are off on their subplots, likely to return next time.

We miss Luke Hemsworth who has bulked up over the past year and now is a little muscle robot.

If you are lost and confused, this is part of the chess match Jonathan Nolan plays with Lisa Joy to show you that dumb viewers are watching mindless sit-coms on another network.

In the meantime, robot Charlotte is having stress pangs—perhaps controlled the spirit of her dead human counterpart. Charlotte’s six-year-old son senses this is nothis mother.

This child-parent motivation has now gripped several characters: notably Maeve and now Charlotte, as impostor robots seem to feel actual biological ties. And, thrown in for good measure, we also have a mother-son relationship with the real person of Caleb who seems to have an inordinate amount of machine in him.

Whether these turn out to be red herrings, or plot keys, you know only that Dolores holds the key everyone seeks.

 

 

 

Ali & Cavett: Ali’s Main Man?

DATELINE: 60s & 70s

 Ali & Frazier fight Cavett!

If you believe the promo hype for this documentary, Ali & Cavett: Tale of the Tapes, there was some kind of secret friendship between Muhammad Ali and talk show personality Dick Cavett. There was more of a relationship with Howard Cosell (mentioned only in passing and one quick interview clip) and Malcolm X, intense and genuine, but fleeting.

Cavett survives all of them—and he is omnipresent here to discuss his friendship. It is based on the fact that Ali made more appearances on Cavett’s show than any other well-know blab/emtertainment series. That means Merv, Johnny, Jay, and David Frost.

Cavett was the most easy-going and most likely to let guests go off on their personal quirks. If there was a friendship, it was Ali’s sense that he could use Cavett. And, indeed, they have an easy-going time. Rev. Al Sharpton agrees.

There are really no indications that there was anything off camera, as there was with Cosell.  In fact, there are plenty of times that Cavett seems to be biting his tongue in disapproval of Ali’s political pronouncements.

Once in a while Dick shuts up Ali and tells him it’s his turn to talk—but there is seldom any serious rebuke. Too much starpower is in the balance: after all, Ali comes back repeatedly because he is never rebuked.

These TV relationships were golden in those days: whether it was William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal going at it, or David Frost taking on Nixon. It was an age of talking heads, not shouting Fox News fake debate team.

However, as the documentary proceeds, we see that Ali is genuinely fond of Dick Cavett, invites him to his private training camp, and in one great moment of live TV, Ali and Frazier on stage together turn on Cavett humorously when he calls them “palookas” and they lift him off his feet. He is truly shocked. It’s great stuff.

Ali reformed himself into a beloved figure rather quickly after the politics wore off: even Ronald Reagan invited him to the White House for some banter. When he tells Cavett that he’s the only one to invite him on his show after a defeat, he calls the diminutive talk host “my main main,” which does surprise Cavett.

The footage is as entertaining and smart as it was originally. Ali is handsome, garrulous, and charming, while Cavett is pesky, sarcastic, and fawning.

As you proceed on watching this little gem, it becomes better and better.

 

 

 

 

 

Westworld 3.2 Shows Nazi-world

DATELINE: Episode Two of WWIII 

You can’t keep track of the androids without a scorecard. They are everywhere, and we might even call them Replicants, but that’s another movie called Blade Runner. Same idea, different off-world rebels. This show is called Westworld III, and you may be lost in the escape from robotic Centerville. They don’t want to call it world of Nazi, so it’s Warworld. No, we didn’t see a Trump lookalike cavorting there, either as a host or a guest.

We’ve been a bit confused (who isn’t?) when normal humans are taking on dangerous roles as bodyguards, etc. Why are the robots not here in spirit?

Since everyone seems to have a duplicate robot version, powered by a dirty powerball, everyone should theoretically be back for another season. However, the man behind the curtain is the wizard of Westworld, named Jonathan Nolan, and he decides if you go over the rainbow, or are simply deleted.

So, don’t grow despondent if your previous favorite character is nowhere to be seen—like Thandie Newton. The actress now shows up as an incongruous black woman in Naziworld. Who knew?

All journeys end up back at Westworld—where we find Maeve, Bernard, and a couple of humans. One surprise is that one of our favorite humans turns out to be another robotic programmed automaton. Who knew?

Somebody knows that Maeve is an agent of rebellion because they are trying to entice her with her former human friends to tell them what Dolores is up to. Failing that, she seems to be the robot recruit of the month to lead opposing forces to stop Evan Rachel Wood’s mad automaton attack on human existence.

In case you are wondering why the robots are looking older, we figured out that most of the cast is in their 40s, and unique robots, they cannot hold back time. However, stars like Thandie look marvelous for the given age.

So this is the set up for the shortened season three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parce Domine,or Sing a Song of Sixpense

DATELINE: Joy in Nolan’s World

  Out into the World!

The most literary TV series of recent memory has returned for season three under the creative control of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. Nolan, of course, gave us the extraordinary Person of Interest, but nothing came close to this artistic juggernaut.

Welcome to Westworld III. It’s almost like World War III.

Now, with robots amok, we begin with a Latin Gregorian chant phrase, so typical of an overeducated TV production in an age of under-educated audiences.

Many stars return for the new season—but many notable names are omitted (at least officially so far). Dolores, the head robot rebel, is about to lead Armageddon on the human race by the hosts of Westworld.

Evan Rachel Wood now wears designer gowns after two seasons of a western petticoat. She is stunning in spike heels to say the least as a homicidal android.

Her first stop is a fifteen-minute visit to the billionaire world of the man who owned all the robotic worlds of androids. She is about to take his money and run. It’s quite an android future, based on the lifestyle of the superrich in 2060, or whatever future it is.

New character Caleb is introduced as what appears to be a second-rate criminal and war veteran. He must be presented in parallel to Dolores’s ruthless involvement with the powerbrokers of Westworld and the virtual world.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is on the run as responsible for the murder of Westworld’s Board of Directors.

Mostly, the world outside the robotic paradise is stunning visually: with most of the location shooting in Singapore and Spain. As far as Dolores is concerned, she is out to take over the human world for revenge (we presume).

This is a sumptuous production.

 

 

 

 

 

Cold Warrior Spy: Richard Burton

DATELINE: Don’t Make’em Like This Anymore

 Dazzling Burton!

The extraordinary 1965 film of John le Carré’s classic,The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, has been listed on Prime as an action thriller. Of course, it is neither. It is a bleak, sober, cold and dreary film about moral turpitude among the espionage community.

John le Carré himself was an agent of MI-6 who turned into a novelist.

This was a seminal Richard Burton performance: and no one ever, even today, can convey the dissipation and ennui as he can. To watch him staggering around (as a double agent) in rainstorms and walking around bleak streets, avoiding a tail is in itself remarkable. We even see him in a Volkswagen, as an M-6 agent pretending to defect to the East.

George Smiley, the most famous of all the LeCarre agents, is here in the form of an unimpressive figure (actor Rupert Davies) working for Control. We believe it is the first Smiley appearance in a movie, as he later became known for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyin several movie incarnations (Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman, notably). Here he is a plot key, but mostly as a spoken name.

Claire Bloom is the female lead. It was one of the few movies that Elizabeth Taylor simply could not play with her then husband. She would not make a convincing demure librarian—and had to pass on the role when director Martin Ritt put his foot down and said, “NO!”  Bloom is perfect. Burton was peeved and Taylor hung around the set causing mischief.

Oskar Werner has the other smallish but central part as the nemesis to the British secret agent. He is the elusive and dangerous East German spy that has hamstrung MI-6—and must be discredited to the Soviets.

That’s Burton’s job: not glamourous or exciting, but could mean his life is up for Cold War grabs.

Climax is at the Berlin Wall where double-crossing takes on a double meaning.

 

Burton’s angry speech near the end is worth the entire film.

 

 

Coronavirus or COVID-19: Return of Black Death?

DATELINE: Past is Prologue

 Resurrected London Victims!

To try to gain a perspective on the historical viral earthquakes in society, we went back to a 2014 British documentary called Return of the Black Death.

It gave us a non-comforting and chilling perspective on what is happening today. The archaeologists and virologists involved in this little one-hour film made it clear that the Black Death was no fluke: we can have another plague at any time. Viral decimation is more than ever a possibility, owing to our worldly incompetence.

And, in case you were unaware, the exact DNA of the original plague of 1349 is doing quite well in Africa right now. It’s in the rats and their fleas.

When excavating in London for a new subway five years ago, they encountered an old cemetery from the days of the Black Death. It was uncovered and a dozen or more bodies were disinterred to give some answers about what happened. Believe it or not, they really don’t know because records and medical info was not exactly scientific in those days.

The news is that 60% of Londoners died within 9 months. The Black Death came swiftly from Europe in November and stayed until summer. Since people were already ravaged from bad famines and poor nutrition, they were sitting ducks for the plague.

Burials were key: through funerary rites and procedures, the survivors took comfort. Bodies were laid out, stacked like lasagna (their metaphor in the doc), but the care for the dead buoyed spirits of the living.

These viral horrors can do devastation for the unprepared: but isolation helped in 1349—and it may today, but this could be far worse, owing to jet travel, viral passengers on everything and everyone. It could end up being an annual horror story.

Will 60% of us die? With inept leaders and shoddy politics at the cutting edge, we may be looking at a Black Plague that is more genocidal than anything Hitler devised.

From Afar, but Too Close for Comfort!

 DATELINE: Caracas Maracas

 Smoldering Luis Silva.

A few years back, a film made in Caracas called From Afar caused a minor stir in arty film circles. Indeed, some reviews left by “average” viewers noticed the only people who were intrigued with the movie were “professional” movie-goers.

What a miniscule, expert audience indeed.

Most called this a “hate” story, not because they were homophobic elements to the May-December relationship of a 50-year old denture technician and a teenage boy with an interest in cars, but because it did not fit the convention of an upbeat gay story.

Good grief. Two unusual and secretive people may well behave in non-traditional ways—and perhaps they are not really nice people deep down. Another critical crack at the movie pointed out that the ending was obscure, downbeat, or negative.  Oh, no, not in a gay movie!

It is what it is. But, activist gay types are limiting the rainbow colors. Only positive gay images should appear in your movie.

The two star-actors (Luis Silva as Elder, Alfredo Castro as Armando) are quite perfect in their roles. As a stand-offish older man who really isn’t into sex with an angry, passionate younger man who is “straight,” we have the makings of a power play of chess moves.

There is indeed something smoldering below the surface in which the younger (named ironically Elder) may be manipulated into a trigger man for a dirty job.

This is not a movie for those who see subtle psychology as “boring.” If you cannot read a Henry James short story, you may not be able to sit through a 90-minute film about motives under the surface.

As for us, we give all movies an even-break. This one deserves much more for its integrity.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Friends is Just Marvelous!

DATELINE: A Sleeper to Wake You Up!

 New Stars!

We had the pleasure of watching a Dutch movie that was not insipid, nor overly obvious. Just Friends is a gay movie with a light touch.

Subtitles are secondary to the beautiful production and images, and Josha Stradowsk is stunning to look at, and he meets a Syrian played by Majd Mardo. They have chemistry and are delightful in their growing friendship.

The usual angst over coming out and family conflict are truly not part of the sophisticated tale. They are sexy, chic, and well-to-do. There are other conflicts that impede their relations, but Majd takes a job as housekeeper at Josha’s grandmother.

She is a delight too, as matchmaker and wise old lady.

These are intelligent young men, and their maturity makes for a story that appeals to all viewers. Josha is the one who has a hobby with his drone, and he sees Madj surfing from above. It is intriguing how connections are made.

Without a doubt, you seldom meet people in character movies that you really would like to spend time with, but these two are pleasant dinner companions.

What impediments to their friendship that must be overcome are not melodramatic and work out, making your time with this story fly like the drone, over the Netherlands and its beautiful world.

If you’ve been stung by horrible gay-themed movies of all stripes, you need your faith in a good film restored. This is the antidote.

Knives In and Out of Fashion

DATELINE: Old-Fashioned Murder Comedy

Massachusetts mansion.

The comedy murder mystery of the year, of perhaps the decade, is a Charlie Chan rip-off that is as trendy as it is traditional. Knives Out  raises the question of why would anyone have a display of hundreds of knives in his parlor.

We think the set designer deserved an Oscar, or a strait-jacket.

An all-star cast of suspects seem to have as much fun making, perhaps more than those of us watching it. Director Rian Johnson moves his cast to the real star of the movie: a gothic house most suitable for his plot outside of Boston.

The lunacy of the house furnishings is like a Victorian nightmare, hardly something anyone would design, even an Agatha Christie murder mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) who hates movie versions of his books.

The family gathers for his 85thbirthday—including his mother who must be 100 at least. And, the family members and staff are equally troublesome.

The cast even gathers for the reading of the will, which entails just about everyone—except the murder victim.

The best line delivered by Chris Evans is about cornpone Daniel Craig, playng super sleuth Benoit Blanc as “CSI- KFC,”   in shades of Sherlock with Hercole thrown in. But, we keep seeing James Bond slumming.

Director Johnson is utterly cruel with his camera. We have never seen these old stars looking so old. Every crevice, crease, and open pore, is ready for your perusal. Even Daniel Craig looks surprisingly aged in the wood.

The red herrings fly by at an alarming rate, so quickly it’s hard to keep track of the lies and false statements. We suppose Plummer’s nurse may be from Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, or Paraguay, as everyone cites a different locale.

The few scenes around Boston are amusing for those of us who are homebodies—and we snickered when Gary Tanguay, a Boston sports reporter, showed up as a newsguy at another station.

It’s a silly romp and more like what old movies used to be, and those Sherlock/Chan/Poirot stories were more succinct. We suppose there could be a new series for James Bond here if he so chooses.

Serge Lifar: A Life with Ego & Dance

 DATELINE: Collaborator

 Lifar with Diaghilev & Stravinsky.

The French documentary is entitled A Revolution in Dance, and that is applied to Serge Lifar, a danseur and ballet maître who went from the era of Diaghilev to the dawn of Nureyev.

With covert and sly methods, the teenage Lifar managed to put himself before the grand Maestro—and caught the eye of the aging powerbroker. It led to an education, seven years of stardom in the Ballets Russes, and a future however Lifar chose to go.

After Diaghilev’s death in Venice, Lifar went to the Paris Opera House and made himself a home for thirty years. Literally, a home. He was there day and night, choreographing and plotting.

His outrageous demeanor became the stuff of social life and gossip columns. It was only incidental that he made ballets—and innovative ones too, Icare, based on the Greek legend of Icarus.

For a dozen years, he was the staple of the Opera House and transformed the focus of the Paris scene on dance. Then, the roof fell in: sort of.

When the Nazis captured Paris in 1940, Lifar was a stateless person—and played ball with Joseph Goebbels. He even met Hitler, at least twice we know of, and he allegedly refused to go to Berlin to start a corps de ballet there. We suspect Lifar would never deny Hitler directly. It led to charges later that he was a Nazi collaborator. He was even seen parading around in a Nazi uniform and the theatre for his performances were Aryan Nazi officers who loved his shows.

After the war, a tribunal banned him from dancing in France—but he wheedled his way out of that guilty verdict and was back on stage by 1947. You could say he overstayed his welcome, remaining a principal danseur until his mid-50s when his bones creaked over the stage.

When he finally retired, he was still a tabloid sensation, a good headline and an outrageous media person until he was 81 and the new era had fairly forgotten this legend.

Alien Secrets Beneath the Ice

DATELINE: Linda Moulton Howe 

One of the foremost female investigators in the UFO business is Linda Moulton Howe. Now she is acting like an auteur: directing, writing, producing, editing, and narrating her own special documentary on Antarctica: Secrets Beneath the Ice.

She astounds with her no-nonsense journalism.

With two whistleblowers with their identities in secret too, we have Lt. Commander Navy Seals telling us what they encountered: six giant facilities going miles under the ice at the South Pole. These giant levels are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

A coalition of governments have conspired to keep all this secret—and have done so since the days of the Cold War, which apparently thawed in Antarctica.

Howe also manages to extract shocking details that the Sphinx is part of the seven races of aliens who have been involved in Earth development. Some feel we have outlived our usefulness and want to be rid of the vermin on the planet. A few others want to protect us.

Howe learns the Sphinx is 35,000 years old and other pyramids with more information are buried under tons of sand.

If this is not enough, we learn that there are portals or instant wormholes on Earth, dozens of them known to the secret nation coalition. A few go from Alaska to Pearl Harbor. Some may go deep into the universe, or other universes!

If you want more shocks, this documentary has them all, including a trade agreement and space force that is out there on the dark side of the Moon. Apparently Trump and Putin have much in common with their secret alien allies.

And, yes, the Nazis clearly were in Antarctica and in contact with one of the destructive alien races that wants to diminish Earth’s population.

We seldom say that a documentary like this requires an additional viewing, but there was much to digest in this hour-long expose.

 

Radius, or Radiation?

DATELINE: Instant Classic!

 Klattenhoff acts puzzled!

An independent film made in Manitoba has the distinction of being a fascinating fantasy-sci fi-thriller of most unusual quality.

Radiustakes its simple plot and never exceeds its tight grasp on the situation.

Supernatural? Science fiction? Fantasy? This film defies categories and transcends all of them.

Radiusmanages to hold our curiosity and shock us with a lack of monsters, UFOs, or other junk you’d expect. Special effects are minimal, but have a fascinating power that reminded us of those 1950s sci-fi thrillers.

Two people with amnesia are hopelessly tied to each other. If they go outside of a parameter of fifty feet, one emits a deathly energy that kills any living creature.

Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan are the essential two-actor cast. All others are doomed to some mysterious death ray almost immediately. Klattenhoff also served as producer on the picture.

Trying to figure out what’s going on never violates your intelligence quotient. It grows steadily—and the revelations are more and more disturbing. If there is a paranormal, inter-dimensional connection, it has provided justice and redemption for the main character. It is morality coming from some esoteric alien force.

We cannot stress enough how surprised we were at the high-quality production, direction, acting. Some viewers were apparently bothered that the film did not devolve into the usual clichés.

We enjoy such discoveries and love to share them. Take in this film.