Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdum-dum

DATELINE: Another Pratt-Fall

New Rock Rock Hudson Redux?

Every generation has its own Ice Station Zebra, and this one belongs to the latest rip-off of Jurassic Park/World. This movie seems to be produced by Carl Denham while looking for Numb-Skull Island and the Eighth Wonder of the World.

That’s not to say it is watchable. It is execrable, but the cast is stellar: Chris Pratt returns as the action hero with the deft sense of comedy timing. He reminds us of Rock Hudson, the last of a classic type, though we doubt that Pratt will appreciate the comparison.

This special-effects bonanza is overwrought with silly dinosaurs—and sillier characters. Nevertheless, we must note that James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, as well as Jeff Goldblum lend their presence in throwaway roles that must have paid well. An actress named Price Dallas Howard or something like that plays Supergirl in a revisionist twirl.

Sam Neill turned them down, money be damned.

The plot features non-stop coincidence that defies logic but moves so quickly that you are on to the next improbable moment. Pratt is not George Reeves or Christopher Reeve, but he resembles Superman, even outrunning a pyroplastic flow down the mountainside.

Among his talents, Pratt is again the dinosaur whisperer—and the reptilian characters are tied to him like elephants to Tarzan. They bonded way back when.

If we gleaned anything, it is that the genetically recreated monsters are being left to die in a Darwinian economic move that resembles Mathusian Trump commerce. The government won’t spend a cent to save them, and once again we are at the mercy of billionaires who throw money away like an Elon Musk or Tom Steyer.

We don’t buy it. Let the buyer beware.

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The Real Tom Thumb: Tiny Superstar

DATELINE: Barnum’s Biggest Star

tom thumb Tom Thumb, 1845

Charles Stratton was 21 inches during his youth, and he grew to 25 inches in middle age. In between, he tied his star to P.T. Barnum and became the biggest celebrity of the 19th century.

The Real Tom Thumb: History’s Smallest Superstar is a British documentary that we learn most of the surprising details about this little person and his burst into worldwide fame, at the cost of truth from his roots in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Michael Grade is the ominipresent researcher and narrator, a showman and producer whose uncle was the late great Lord Lew Grade whose show biz antics left him with the nickname Low Grade.

Nephew Michael reminds us of Anthony Hopkins who made a name for himself playing in the David Lynch film, The Elephant Man, another freak of the 19th century.

From age 5, Stratton was known as General Tom Thumb and pretended to be an adult, to make his smallness more amusing to the throngs who paid to see him. Barnum discovered, however, that his freak actually had talent—singing, dancing, wit, and grew into a true stage presence.

With the advent of photography postcards and railroads, little Tom’s image went viral without an Internet. Thank Barnum for making them rich, at the cost of truth and integrity. There was a staged wedding to another small person—and perhaps a faked child from their union. Who really knows the truth—other than Barnum and his Tom Thumb.

World tours dominated Tom’s life. He managed to enchant Queen Victoria and Abe Lincoln too. Yet, he was troubled, even with success, likely with a drinking problem from his adolescent years. He also smoked cigars as a child to heighten the image of a small adult. All these likely contributed to poor health in later years.

The pathos of the tale is interwoven with Grade’s interviews with present-day midgets and freak performers to try to give us a sense of the theatrics.

Of all the surprising details, we were taken aback to learn Stratton retired to Middleboro, Massachusetts, not far from where we lived for a time. Who knew that he custom-made his house with tiny stairs and stove? Or, who knew he and Barnum were buried only a few feet from each other?

Not your likely choice for entertainment, this film compels in a way that helps us understand the 19th century vaudeville.

 

 

One Last Look at Rajon Rondo

DATELINE:  Go Away, NBA!

RondoLaughs Rondo.

A few years ago we stopped writing our satiric, light-hearted blogs about sports in the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

If you want to know why, take a close look at the antics of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA this weekend. A brawl of unimaginable hatreds broke out.

Former Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was at the epicenter if the blowup.  However, we were not surprised that Rondo’s deep-rooted emotional problems have not abated with age or change of venue. We wrote three books on him while he played in Boston. He became increasingly dark, like a Darth Vader figure. He wasn’t funny or amusing by the end of the Boston tenure.

We were more appalled by the vocabulary and attitude of the official NBA investigation to this latest “spitting” on another player incident. The NBA has millions of dollars invested in presenting the players as cute, all-American boys who have made good.

The truth is far more disturbing. You have pampered, spoiled, egomaniacs with emotional problems, ghetto backgrounds, and gang-related ties. The NBA does not want to talk about that.

There is now a media cottage industry geared to protect these guilty parties from themselves. The cash cows are all around the sport—products, foods, endorsements, personality cults, and it is all a fraud perpetrated on the gullible public for their entertainment—and to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to unsuspecting fans amid fixes.

Are we surprised a brawl broke out based on ten-year old feuds and jealousies? Are we amused by the outmoded macho attitudes of these testosterone-drenched idiots?

The answer is simply we don’t write about them anymore, and that should be our final response to those who ask why we don’t present those funny, double-entendre drenched blogs nowadays.

Zulu Dawn: Daybreaker of History

 DATELINE: Big Stars, Little Pictures

Epic Stars

Grandstand Stars in Peanut Gallery!

How can you pass up one of the last epic movies of Peter O’Toole?

Zulu Dawn was made back in 1979 to commemorate the British disaster of arrogance in the Old Empire in 1879 when spear-carrying Zulu natives beat the pants off of the robust British army in their pretty uniforms,

Not satisfied with riding 600 men to their deaths in Balaclava, and not to be outdone by the Americans with the Alamo and Custer’s Last Stand, the British class society puts its considerable stupidity on the line.

Great disaster events always seem to inspire epic movies.

We have to laugh again at Peter O’Toole’s sense of the uncanny, in asking “can he do it again?”  O’Toole was Irish, which certainly was a drawback that endeared him to Welsh best pal Richard Burton, but what they really had in common was playing British heroes with feats of clay.

In this epic that runs only two hours,  O’Toole’s job is to display all the tenacious idiocy of the British aristocracy. He is wooden in this role, but the film itself is like a totem pole on race relations.

The other aspect of the movie to make us scratch our heads was the top-billing given to an American star in a British epic of folly. It turns the screw on all those English stars playing Americans.

Yep, that’s Burt Lancaster, never too shy to stretch his accents. We love nearly every attempt of Lancaster in movies from Hemingway’s The Killers to Vera Cruz to Sweet Smell of Success. This time, the epic star of From Here to Eternity and Elmer Gantry wants to go up against Lawrence of Arabia and the The Lion in Winter’s better cousin Becket.

The movie also throws in Simon Ward, who tried his hand at epics like Winston and came up too short.

Well, forget it. This movie is workmanlike, like someone followed the recipe book and never added a pinch of salt.

Lancaster here plays the role of an Irish officer, which surely had to amuse O’Toole. Their epical petticoats were showing all too deliberately. He sounds like an extra from the Fighting 69th.

If you like to see the arrogant British colonial spirit receive its come-uppance, with a cast of great English second bananas (Denholm Elliott and John Mills and Bob Hoskins), you will enjoy this. As for us, we kept waiting for Michael Caine to show up. No, he doesn’t.

Leonardo: the Mystery of the Lost Portrait

DATELINE: More Da Vinci Uncoded

Leo Mess Portrait

An Italian production, but with American voice-overs to make it more palatable to English-speaking audiences, the latest Leonardo documentary puts a focus on a newly discovered “Lost Portrait.”

Indeed, the quest by the art historian is to put the interesting self-portrait through its paces. It looks, at first, too good to be 500 years old. Only when a restorer took off the varnish and repairs, it began to show its age: cracks and scratches over the face.

We think someone tried to scratch Da Vinci’s eyes out in a cat fight.

Experts are lined up from Salerno to Naples to Madrid, each specialist offering some different angles. Facial recognition experts try to determine if all extant self-portraits (and one portrait by a Da Vinci friend) are the same person.

This latest discovery is the Lucan Leonardo, thought for a long time to be a picture of Galileo.

Still, was the wood-based picture really done by Leonardo?

He looks about 50 and one test proved the feather in his cap was added in the 19th century: wrong kind of paint. However, the rest seemed authentic to 1500 or so.

This film features some unusual and unique techniques never done previously:  police detectives actually find thumb prints on the paint and match them to fingerprints on Leonardo’s manuscript codexes.

Forensic artists use all self-portraits to create 3-D versions of his head, and forensic handwriting experts decipher the backwards words in Latin on the obverse of the painting.

There’s something odd about the eyes, but…this one is worth your time.

Lindsay Graham: “I’m not gay!” with Qualification

DATELINE: The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Graham Demonstrates Technique It’s All in the Wrist!

Not two weeks after we postulated that Trump is blackmailing Senator Lindsay Graham for his support, Mr. Graham, the Cracker from Carolina, the recently emboldened supporter of Bone Spurs Trump, protested weakly,  “As far as it matters, I’m not gay.”

Whatever does that mean?

Let us try to clarify: in a nutshell, what it means, “As far as it does not matter, I am gay.”

That is Republican-speak for “I am in the closet, and don’t try to drag me out.” It also means he is worried that Trump will out him.

Graham may not be actively pursuing his interests or engaged in any relationship right now. That means it as far as it matters. We cannot imagine a threesome of Rudi Guiliani in drag, Bone Spurs Trump, and Graham Cracker. Well, we don’t like to picture it.

He is not marching in gay pride parades, beating a drum at the Stonewall, or supporting gay legislation, as far as it matters. We have seen Republicans in the past who were exposed for the same stance, or worse, or is that less?

What is Lindsay Graham so nervous about? Well, how about them voters in his home state? He also shared his view that calling someone gay, or outing them, is “belittling people” and he does not think it “funny as it used to be.”

As they say in England, don’t laugh at the Queen.

TMZ is not known for its frivolous exposes. Nor is the National Enquirer. They are sites that reveal sordid and salacious details that some want kept in the closet. Like Lindsay Graham.

Calling Graham gay is like beating a dead horse. Outing Lindsay Graham is like putting jimmies on your ice cream cone. You still have to do the licking.

 

 

 

 

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

DATELINE: Red Hot Mama!

Sophie & Tallulahwith Tallulah!

Without Sophie Tucker, you would never have her descendants in music and entertainment. She was the originator of the styles of Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Lady Gaga, and Mae West too.

She preceded them by decades. She first burst on the scene in 1903, and the loving documentary on her called The Outrageous Sophie Tucker was directed and written by people who never knew her personally. Yet, she left many people thunderstruck—and she knew them all in show biz from Jolson, Cantor, to Garland and Sinatra.

Sophie was the first and last of the Red Hot Mamas. She could do jazz renditions like Bessie Smith, leaving many black people to think she had soul. She was a Jewish girl from Hartford, daughter of immigrants who ran a kosher restaurant.

She ran through three husbands in short order, but also dominated three media—radio, television, and music recordings. Movies were a cameo away.

A full-figured girl, she made her size of zaftig a marketing bonanza. She could do self-deprecating humor with Berle, Durante, or Bob Hope. Sophie also believed that simply being friendly to fans was the best marketing gimmick in the world: she spent hours sending off notes and going out to dinner with local dignitaries on all her tours.

She told soldiers during World War II to write to her—like a mother figure she was, and she answered.

She was friends with Al Capone—and J. Edgar Hoover. Indeed, Hoover and Clyde Tolson came out to her. He asked for one of her sequin dresses—and she joked with him “You’ll never get into it.” She later swore off men—and had a series of female companions; perhaps platonic, perhaps not.

If you don’t know Sophie Tucker (she died in 1966) after a career spanning seven decades, you might want to spend 90 minutes reprising her life in this wonderful documentary.

 

 

 

 

How Far Lifar Travelled

 DATELINE:  Male as Diva

Lifar with Daddy Diaghilev Lifar & Daddiaghilev!

Today he is barely recalled, except by balletomanes.

Serge Lifar was a name in Jeté sets and Monaco parties from the 1920s to the 1950s. He was a principal dancer for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He was a sort of sub for Nijinsky on stage, in bed, and off kilter.

Lifar was ambitious, and his tale is fascinating to see played out in a documentary called Serge Lifar: Revolution in Dance. Interestingly enough, the word gay is never spoken.

Considered pale in comparison to Nijinsky, olive-skinned Lifar played the same roles for Diaghilev who tutored him and turned him from a late-blooming peasant boy into a stunning aesthete. He became friends with Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and a raft of Paris artists around the era.

Life was dramatic for Lifar. He was the epitome of a drama queen before the term took hold. He was a social media star when there was no such thing: he had a nose job to lessen shadows on his face when he danced.

As catty serious as this film is, it avoids tales of bedtime trysts, a fight with Boris Kochno (Diaghilev’s secretary) over the Maestro’s dead body (literally) in 1929. It details Lifar’s alleged collaboration with Nazis and handsome officers he needed to cultivate. He twice met with Hitler, and his Paris Opera House was always filled with front-row SS officers.

Yet, there is plenty of dirt to go around, even when spread nicely thin. Lifar refused to go to Berlin and start a ballet school, creating an epic ballet for the Third Reich. He was still convicted of collaborating by a French tribunal.

He regarded himself as homeless, a displaced person, a refuge from Russia who made a home for 30 years in France. He was an autocrat who saved the arts from Nazis, according to friends. He is often credited with “firsts” in ballet that rightly belonged to Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

He couldn’t give up the fame or infamy, having ridiculous duels and carrying on as a diva long after he should have retired. His greatest ballet creation was Icare, about the handsome young man who flew too close to the sun with wax wings. Delusions take many forms. How appropriate.

 

Funny Face: Frothy, Light, & Fun

DATELINE: No Ginger Needed?

winged hepburn Winged Hepburn!


In 1957 came the last great Fred Astaire movie, and his dance partner and costar is Audrey Hepburn, not Ginger Rogers. Funny Face is as good as you’re likely to find with a homage nod to those musicals of the 1930s.

You may cringe to see almost 60-years-old Astaire wooing almost 30-years-old Hepburn. The old dance trouper is amazingly youthful, though at times he looks tired after all those acrobatic steps. He watches a few numbers (jazz interpretive stuff with Audrey and two beatniks) with askance.

The older woman Kay Thompson is the fashion magazine owner and editor (and Ginger could have played this but chose not to do it). And, Kay steals all her scenes, including a few dances with aging Fred.

Within a few years, Astaire would turn to dramatic acting in films like On the Beach, dismissing himself as too old to dance and be a romantic lead.

Yet, when he is called upon: Fred still has the magic, doing a dance with an umbrella and a raincoat that turns into a matador’s cape. Brilliant late career effort.

Though producers denied Audrey a chance to sing in My Fair Lady, she does so in this film—and her voice is distinctive, not bad.

Fred plays an arty photographer on the lines of Richard Avedon (who took the real pix in the pic). Hepburn is a bookstore worm transformed into a model that she disdains.

Early claustrophobic stage scenes contrast with the wide-open location numbers in Paris, leading up to the real Eiffel Tower. Director Stanley Donen provides some marvellous moments outside the studio.

Gershwin tunes abound, including the constant refrain from “S’marvelous,” that emerges only at the climax of the movie.

In some ways, the movie is trying too hard to be special, like dancing on raft in a stream with swans floating by. Yet, you must give it credit for providing us with legendary performers doing wonderful things.

 

 

 

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.

In Search of….Life After Death

 DATELINE: Thereafter in the Hereafter?

alcor Freeze Your Asset Off?

Dead to rights, you are likely afraid of death. This episode of In Search of…would not be a comfort if you are. It seemed to spook Zachary Quinto, the unflappable host.

The series tackled the question of surviving death, immortality, fountains of youth, and cheating the Grim Reaper, with a variety of considerations.

We met a few experts—one in paranormal with engineering skills to make devices to catch spirit sounds. Another expert in near death experiences (NDE) spoke of the “wonderful experience,” of dying.

Yet another talked about the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel when he almost drowned—and seeing a busy Grand Central Station of spirits, by the cartload, wandering these long halls. It seems commuting never ends.

There are, we are told, 200,000 near death survivors from all cultures, and they tell the same story about their minutes on the steps of the Afterlife.

Quinto wanders the halls of the Omini Parker House hotel in Boston which is reportedly haunted. There he manages to hear some voices from beyond.

The most ghoulish and creepy stuff centered on Alcor, the business in Arizona that promises new life by cryogenically freezing either your head or entire body. To have your brain (still in its safety skull) frozen will cost you about $80,000.  Cheap if they have not destroyed your brain cells in the process of putting you 320 degrees below zero. Baseball legend Ted Williams is there.

Quinto also took in Harvard Medical School where a pill keeps mice young—and soon will alter your DNA enough to keep you alive for about 140 years.

All in all, one bioethics expert noted that postponing death will render the point killer of art useless. No more need for Mozart’s Requiem, if you never die. It will be meaningless.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Karate Kid: Reboot to the Nose

DATELINE:  YouTube Returns LaRusso to Cobra Kai Saga

Zabka

We were never a fan of the 1984 Rocky-style movie for karate kids, but did find its stars interesting. Ralph Maccio never recovered, and William Zabka (the blonde pretty boy bully) should have had a grand career.

Reboot and kick on high might be a good way to go. This is also more interesting than watching Leave it to Beaver cast as adults, a few years back. There is something both alarming and satisfying to see that the child is father to the adult.

We followed Zabka as the son of the Equalizer on the 1980s TV show and were sorry he never caught on.

Now we find the twosome reunited in a YouTube series about the characters LaRusso and Lawrence 35 years later. It is a hit, and it’s not hard to see why. These actors and their character are now fully developed with middle-age. They are interesting—and have an appeal to a generation that grew up and older too.

Not much has changed in terms of their mutual differences and dislike of the other.

It makes the rivalry more interesting. Of course, the obligatory teenagers are at the core of mentoring through karate teaching. Copious film clips to the original action highlights the tales, though Pat Morita can only appear in flashback.

The actors are wonderful: indeed the bad guy of yore, Zabka, is now refreshingly antihero—and Maccio continues to play the obtuse victim of his own life.

The series has been renewed for a second season, which is good news because this is funny, fast, and well-done, much of a surprise considering it comes from a new TV/internet network where expectations may not be high.

 

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.