Death on 8 Legs

 DATELINE: Ouch!

A documentary on scorpions is not for the faint of heart.

With 1500 different species, these venomous biters are among the most feared insects—and not just by humans. They are prolific in desert, jungle, dry and wet country. Scorpions: Death on Eight Legsis how disaster strikes in small ways.

Though they can kill a horse in five minutes with a bite, they only have enough venom to last one bite every two weeks or so. You could luck out.

Unwary mammals who are nocturnal can find themselves bitten. Little mice might run, but cardiac arrest will soon stop them in their tracks.

These creatures are, we learned, photophobic: the vampires of the insect world. They must hide, not from heat, but from radiation in sunlight. Shade, caves, old shoes, anything that can give them refuge will be sought—and makes your old boot something to be shaken before inserting foot.

Scorpions are cannibalistic; they will suck the life out of anything, including their family members. Their natural enemies are hedgehogs (who chew with care) and the ever-threatening praying mantis.

The documentary is narrated by a Brit named Stephen Martin with funeral irony and understatement. And, one of the highlights is a fight between a yellow scorpion and a black one in Africa. Their armor makes a fight to death not an easy kill, and they seem particularly incensed by their own kind.

One re-enactment is showing how Bedouin campers are potential victims. Cutting open the bite may help bleed out, but not often enough. Sweating profusely, foaming at the mouth, and great discomfort usually precede your nervous system shutting down and your heart going into arrest.

Sex for scorpions is a 400-million-year dance in which a truce is called for perhaps a few hours. Babies are protected and stay on mother’s back for several weeks before going off into the darkness.

We are glad we don’t usually see any scorpions.

 

 

 

 

Boys from Brazil: Where the Nuts Are

DATELINE: Hitler Clones 

 Peck as Mengele!

Back in the day, Ira Levin was one hot writer. He was knocking out Broadway and movie hits with aplomb, and writing novels too. He was entertainment and controversy, wit and delight. Apart from Death Trap, he gave us Boys from Brazil.

One of his least favorite set-pieces was the novel and movie about Josef Mengele. How short-sighted they were back in those days. The main criticism centered on Atticus Finch, the hero of all things American, being done up as a pasty and hideous looking Mengele. Yes, sir, that’s Gregory Peck in the lead role, horrifying.

He is magnificent, but back then he was stung by severe criticism. His performance may be one side of over-the-top , but when you ae playing one of the evilest fiends in history, it’s hard to pull back.

The cast is utterly astounding

Playing the old Jewish Nazi hunter whose efforts have gone past relevance is Laurence Olivier. Even Peck’s Mengele has no respect for the old-timer who warns young and hunky Steve Guttenberg to get out of Paraguay before there is one less nice Jewish boy. In an early role, Guttenberg is a sacrifice to plot, replaced by his clone John Rubinstein.

James Mason, who always accounted for Nazis of varying stripes, plays a Prussian aristocratic Nazi. Every nuance of his performance, especially with Peck, is a subtext of delight. And, you have to stand back in sheer horror at a gala soiree of Nazis in Paraguay in the 1980s.

Throw in a passel of well-known character actors—from Anne Meara and Uta Hagen to John Dehner and Denholm Elliot—and you have a hoot of acting. What other movie features two 70ish stars in a dirty, knock-down fight to death at the climax?

Yes, Ira Levin knew how to entertain and write a film that was 40 years ahead of its time.

What brought the fiercest criticism was the crypto-science of the age: genetic research! The public could not accept Mengele’s theories that he could clone humans—and create a new Master Race leader. How silly they were back then! It would only take 30 years to make the story less crypto.

The boys back in Brazil were hardly your run of the mill Nazi party members: Mengele was after the big fish. He had enough DNA from Hitler to make a bunch of them from now until kingdom come!

Today, that is cutting edge. It’s quite a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts of Cannibal Islands!

DATELINE: Papua Horror!

 Killer Ostrich

No, it’s not what you think!  Someone gave this sober documentary a title right out of the worst tabloid movie horror. This is an hour-long episode about the Bismarck Archipelago in New Guinea.

However, the sensational title is not far off the mark. The masks made by the descendants of families of former cannibals are practically copyrighted. They are singular and unique horrific expressions of spiritual power. Ghosts of Cannibal Islands is a rather surprising little documentary.

The islands were under German control until after World War I, and many of their missionaries were eaten by the natives. The German hosts of the show are quick to explain the blond haired natives as not the result of the German influence, but some unknown group from the continent. Yeah, right.

However, that good German engineering is evident when they must drive over 100 year old wood bridges, built by the colonials. These marvels will last for another hundred years.

The islands are volcanic and still spewing from a major eruption 30 years ago. Little streams are boiling, and the ground is warm. If you go into caves, you will roast from the underground vents of heat.

The natives have abandoned the major city that is now under ash, and the dust makes the place look apocalyptic. Yet, there are still animals in the jungle.

One of the most dangerous is a form of ostrich that is a man killer, standing nearly as tall as a man, and with claws that are like spikes if you are kicked.

There is an isolated group of men who lived apart and are considered “taboo.”  Women are not allowed to look upon them when they sail past the community, and their lives are highly secret. Men can join if they want.

What we have here is a jaw-dropping look at a place where extinction seems around the corner, and the flora, fauna, and surviving creatures are something out of science fiction.

This film is utterly intriguing and mind-blowing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATRIOTS RECEIVE THEIR COME-UPPANCE

DATELINE: Shot Down at the Not-Okay Corral  

Many Patriot haters have waited 20 years for the moment. The parallel in history may be the Fall of the Roman Empire: the barbarians are at the gate, and Belichick and Brady are fleeing the chaos.

The Mighty Patriots have struck out. Cue Jim Morrison to sing “This is the End.”

There is no joy in Mudville or Foxboro. The Pats have lost their bye week—and probably their souls.

If anyone is stunned by the Dolphins beating the Pats, you have not been paying attention. For weeks now Tom Brady has been playing like a man who will be at quarterback until he is 50—in the sandlot league.

Bill Belichick is like one of the magnificent Ambersons: he is receiving his come-uppance.His vaunted defense looked like Swiss cheese and most of his players will leave in free agency. Even Brady is expected to go out with a bang elsewhere.

History runs in cycles, and the Patriots have been top dog for a couple of decades, but now they are heading back to the rubbish pile years of the 1970s. They may spend the next two decades as outliers in the AFC.

We expect that Josh McDaniels and Julian Edelman will jump ship. Already the Florida authorities are emboldened to file new felony charges against owner Robert Kraft for human trafficking, however preposterous that seems.

Now they will feel Miami is on a roll.

On the eve of an ice storm in New England, the New England Pats may be entering a new Ice Age. The berg has hit their flank—and the unsinkable franchise has sprung a leak.

Don’t cry for the Patriots, Argentina. Tom will be playing there next season.

Master of Dark Shadows: Dan Stevens or Jonathan Frid?

DATELINE: Halos For All?

  Stars Jonathan Frid & Joan Bennett

 Perhaps it is more than amusing that the production company of Dan Stevens actually produced a documentary about Dan Stevens and his ground-breaking soap opera, the gothic Dark Shadows.

We expected that you’d have full participation of the original cast and crew—and the treat, or horror, is to see these young actors in their twilight years. Yet, it is fun too.

Many are gone of course: like Frid, Joan Bennett, and the marvelous Grayson Hall (barely mentioned).

Stevens himself was an ad-man who went to producing a golf show—and had a dream for a gothic serial. Never did he expect it to be a daytime hit for kids with sympathetic vampires, tormented governesses, and cross-time crossover storylines.

Who really made Dark Shadows a hit? Was it the producer with the classic hard edge or the gaunt actor who played the reluctant vampire? Well, you know who produced the show and produced the documentary. Frid did not join the cast until nearly a year had passed, but with him it zoomed to cult status.

There was recently a fiftieth anniversary shindig with survivors like David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, and so many other favorites. They all grew up as actors on that show as much as their audience grew up. The show had bad sets, primitive special effects, and sometimes awful plots badly acted. It was of no consequence to fans.

Frid and Stevens ultimately came to loggerheads, and Stevens was better able to move on to Winds of Warand other films. It is a trip down memory lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting on Fifth Ave?

DATELINE: Outrage Unleashed!

 Garrett Needs a Roy Cohn?

Forget your Easter bonnet for the big Thanksgiving parade. Donald Trump and Myles Garrett are leading the parade of felonious media freaks.

On a day when Donald J. Trump intimidated a witness at a Congressional hearing, we recall his comment that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and no one would give a fig.

Since then, the candy bar has come into Renaissance, and the New York mayor claimed that they would indeed arrest Mr. Trump. However, if you are a Republican in Congress, your job is to re-load the weapon, as if the POTUS were a shooter in your typical American high school. Trump likes to kick Sandy Hook in our collective faces.

Now, we have a case in parallel where Mason Rudolph, a QB of the NFL, has assumed that violence will be done unto him on the playing field. And now, Myles Garrett has taken that presumption and done a deed that is comparable to Trump’s boast. Lock and load that helmet, fans.

QB of the Steelers, Rudolph, did not die and was not seriously injured, though his vanity may be fatally overexposed. It is Myles Garrett who has achieved the ultimate notoriety: he is the Trump of football.

He can shoot a helmet to the head of an opponent and be guilty of felonious assault but get away with it. His action has been called “embarrassing” by some teammates and coaches. There will be no arrest and trial. This is not hockey, a sport of immigrants from Canada. Trump might threaten a wall to prevent those Canadians from bringing sticks to the game. 

Trump plans to continue to call for the ban of Colin Kaepernick but likely will call for amnesty and pardons for Myles Garrett.

Attempted murder on national television is more than embarrassing, and the Cleveland Browns are intimidating NFL fans with it’s “just a game,” mantra.

There is nothing just here. Justice died on Fifth Avenue, in Congress, and at pep rallies held by Trump.

Inhuman Heiroglyphs!

DATELINE: Worst Episode in Series History 

 

An empowered creature?

Reaching its most squeamish and unpleasant episode in a dozen years, Ancient Alienstackled the big issue of human self-mutilation: tattoos and body modifications practices. They are definitely scraping the crusty bottom of the alien pie plate.

If you are of an older generation that eschews such practice and are horrified by the endless human billboards walking around society, you may be turned off here. These people are called “Human Hieroglyphs,” as opposed to petroglyphs.

Of course, those Ancient Alien theorists think this is deep-rooted habit from the desire to show connections to space creatures who were those gods of yore.

Painful and ugly body transformation may be a right of expression, but it seems a stretch mark to call it inspired by outer space connections. Our typical Aliens hosts, all devoid of tattoos or other distinguishing marks, speak blandly about a habit (or obsession) to put ink stains on every part of the body.

You will be subjected to seeing people covering their skin with unsightly designs in order to appear more extra-terrestrial. Perhaps the most appalling is the praise for a young man who colored the whites of his eyes black to look like a gray alien.

Then, they claim the Internet has inspired this “creativity.”

It’s more like a fad of depravity.

We decided to shut down this episode and its rationalization of creative impulse to be other worldly. When one clown called this activity “empowering,” we knew we were on another planet. Perhaps these oddities will be the first to go to Mars, or the first to be sent there when it becomes the Devil’s Island of the 22ndcentury.

This may be the single-worst episode in the history of the long-running series.

Disaster on the Bay: 1906 Quake

DATELINE: California Nightmare

 All $ Burned UP!

Not another documentary on the San Fran earthquake that features “never before seen” footage? The San Francisco Earthquake and Firestays clear of re-enactors, and for that we are grateful in an age of stand-ins who are emoting history with guesses of human reaction.

If Trump had been president back then, he would have refused to send military assistance and accused the state of mismanagement. Actually, the worst mistakes were made by the US Army.

We suspect ancient footage you have never seen is never before seen by a few. Perhaps you are one of them. The still -pictures are spectacular and assembled with effectiveness.

As for this little documentary, it is distinctive and rather clever in its use of old photos. It seems to us that we have seen better, longer, film footage, but the still pictures here are stunningly collected.

We have a gripe, as usual, because many early film clips could easily be from 1920 or 1925, not 1906. There is no identification placed on where and when the pictures show old trains, old buildings, streets, etc. It could be the city on the bay, but it could be somewhere else.

The timeframe of four days is played out, starting first with marvelous pictures of the night before the quake, featuring Enrico Caruso and the opera company that was a social and artistic event of note. Caruso survived the quake, but the company’s set and costumes were totally destroyed.

Caruso vowed never to return to the stronghold of faults. He never did.

Since everything burned in a misguided and incompetent attempt to handle fire without water, the biggest info loss occurred with money, insurance papers, stocks, and other tangible assets lost in flames. You not only lost an identity of birth certificates, but your financial evidence of wealth.

Much time is spent on the horrible conditions for Chinatown and the Chinese who were victims of Nativists with their Exclusion Acts.

The quake montage of one full minute, with an overlay from a seismograph is nicely done, original, and gives a real-time experience as the pictures shake more and fly by at breakneck pace.

It is a director’s tour de force, but the rest of the documentary does not hold up to the bravura moments of the actual quake depiction.

Narration is almost purple in its prose and prosaic in its tenor, not exactly Hearst journalism. Yet, for novices to the historical tragedy, this film is a worthy entry in the pantheon.

Food of the Gods: Yum-Yum, Eatum Up!

DATELINE:  Blood to Let?

  Platter splatter?

Whether you consider the menu of godly appetizers to be forbidden fruit, Ancient Aliens offered us a repast of great delectable items.

Yes, our favorite show about those ancient space creatures who fiddled with our DNA has turned our stomachs upside down with the apple of knowledge.

Forget Jennie Craig, dieters. “The Food of the Gods” is what you need on your shopping list.

Forget salt. Aliens apparently have an aversion to salt, and when one contactee provided the CIA and Project Blue Book with a cracker a generous alien provided, it was salt-free.

Can you make manna on your Cuisinart? Or do the crackers of aliens fall from heaven? When the episode begins to suggest that blood-drained animal mutilation is tied into immortality, you begin to see ET as a new variation on Dracula. Swallow hard, Adam’s apple.

Yes, ambrosia is some kind of fluid or food that helps you travel for centuries on space craft. Eating it on earth helped Adam, Moses, and Noah, live to be about 1000 years old. So, Ancient Aliens is hot on the trail of the magic elixir.

Yes, aliens farm blood out of Homo sapiens. Yes, we have no bananas.

It isn’t long to jump to trans-substantiation or making the blood of Jesus out of wine. It would appear that ancient aliens need this stuff—and it is what will sustain humankind when they venture out into space

The problem with the series is that it often forgets its previous findings. Yes, there is a supply of blood to be let by abducted people, but the aliens originally came to Earth for its gold deposits.

There is your ambrosia, manna, wine of gods, soma, and all the rest on Gilligan’s Planet.

 

Sam Darnold Sees the Phantoms

DATELINE: Ghost Hunters

If you saw New York Jest Quarterback Sam Darnold, of mono fame, on Monday Night Football, you saw a man spooked.

Yes, the young and callow big QB was mic’d up as they say for the cameras. He did not disappoint. When all the cursing is done, and whitewashed out, you had the tall drink of water having the worst night of his life. If you dismiss the night he caught mono…

He ended up with a QB rating of 6.5, which sounds nearly as abysmal as anything this season by anyone.

That conjurer of ancient gridiron spirits, Merlin Bill Belichick, apparently sent Macbeth’s witches to bubble up some trouble for young Darnold. Too damn young for being darn old.

The Jets main man said on the bench after one appalling interception that he was seeing ghosts out there on the field.

We, of course, believe him, as we have seen the power of orbs flying by at breakneck speed. These little photons of light are really the spirits of past football for Darnold, and they are making mischief that would do poltergeists proud.

Marley’s Ghost might have offered him some sound advice on how to deal with the Patriots defense that was fired up to deny the existence of ghosts.

Perhaps Hamlet’s fatherly ghost might have warned him of a coach would pour poison in his ear. That Jets coach was heard to tell him that he knew what to do. Apparently the coach did not know or have the number of an exorcist on his speed dial.

You can scare children with ghost stories, or conversely you can scare QBs like Josh Allen and Sam Darnold who look like giant kids playing a game of chess with the Grim Reaper. Shades of Shades.

Gothic Lunacy: Lord Byron’s Party

DATELINE: A Dark & Stormy Movie

 

Polidori, Shelley, and Byron, aka Spall, Sands, and Byrne

 

If you want to learn about the dark and stormy night in 1816 that resulted in the creation of Frankenstein and Dracula by Lord Byron’s pals, you might look elsewhere.

Ken Russell’s hothouse and nuthouse movie about Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron is pure Gothicnonsense. As was the style of Russell back in 1987, you had a psychedelic version of biography and history. It is not satisfactory.

The cast is somewhat exemplary:  Gabriel Byrne as lame Byron, Julian Sands as pretty Shelley, Timothy Spall as off-putting Dr. Polidori, and Natasha Richardson as demure Mary! Wow, you almost expect the acting alone will carry the film.

However, the director hijacks every moment and even has cast members chewing on rats. We thought the film turned into that rat-festival moviel, Willard.And, inexplicable pythons wrap around suits of armor. Yep, it’s Ken Russell.

Instead of a dark and stormy night where these highly creative people choose to write great books, we have a literal ghost story. The demons are really around every corner. You almost feel sorry for the servants who basically take a powder during the latter part of the movie to avoid these koo-koo birds.

The summer without sun inspired the writing of Frankenstein and Dracula. Byron took credit for Polidori’s work, and Byron couldn’t write prose. The stepsister of Mary is around for crazy moments in which the sexual peccadilloes of the characters is tested.

We have more than your usual homoerotic connections between the men, including some fairly passionate kisses, but Julian Sands was never prettier. Gabriel Byrne seems to have bigger breasts than the women stars. Timothy Spall is actually slim.

The film becomes increasingly erratic and difficult to watch, as befits what did in the style of Ken Russell ultimately. We had hoped to see something truly fascinating, but not quite on the level of a train wreck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murnau & Max: Life & Death Struggle

 DATELINE: Noserferatu-too much?

Has it been twenty years since Willem Dafoe took on the role of Max Schreck as Nosferatu? And, John Malkovich played the great German director. Shadow of the Vampireis meant to be film history, horror in cinema, and ultimately docudrama to end all vampire tales.

It was like watching Burton and O’Toole in Becket in some kind of twisted duo version of clash of titans. They quibble like Fredric March and Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind.Yes, their screen confrontations are on this level.

Is it comedy, satire, or history? Perhaps it is all rolled into one silent screen classic, as the original depicted shadows over substance. You may laugh at the foibles of movie makers.

Unable to film Dracula, Murnau, the Herr Doktor of cinema, filmed on some remote location where an unknown actor, of Stanislavski Method, turned himself into a real vampire. Or did he?

The conceit of the movie is that Max was no actor, but a real creature of death whom Murnau located.

The film is looney in its hilarity. When Max misbehaves on the set, F.W. Murnau denies him makeup.  When Max Schreck begins to eat the cameraman, the two come to one of their marvelous argumentative scenes. Dafoe clicks his fingernails like a castanet and watches sunrise on film, moving us behind the hideous makeup. You can’t have a film like this without Udo Keir as well.

Two temperamental creatures want to make a movie to last for all time: and they do! Nosferatu’s spirit is captured in this behind-the-scenes account, however falsified or dramatized.

The ending is spoiled, purely preposterous, with Murnau directing the ultimate mass murders.

It’s koo-koo bird stuff, but dreams can be made of that too.

Chasing but not Chaste Michael Jackson!

DATELINE: Defensive Defense

 No More, Please!!!

A documentary to defend Michael Jackson against child molestation charges proves to be highly defensive in itself.

Chasing Michael Jackson is an odd bird, and not because the dead subject is a dodo bird who cannot defend himself, but because we can’t really figure out what the real motive is. Yes, there are some extremely close friends and relatives of Jackson who participate to discredit his accusers.

It is hard to know where the “journalist” behind this film comes from: he insists in his on-camera and extensive interviews that he is digging for the truth. He also takes great pains to discredit one “victim” for claiming he was molested in a part of the Jackson estate that was not built until three years after. Pictures prove that point, but never explain the other possible reasons for the discrepancy. We do hear charges that the victim is a perjurer who swore Jackson never touched him a decade earlier at trial.

One of the other key personalities is Mark Lester, the former child star (from Oliver!) and friend of Jackson as a contemporary. He too claims the victim and family were greedy and vindictive. Lester never mentions that he has since claimed to be the sperm donor for one, or more, of Jackson’s children.

The documentary takes aim at the “Me Too” movement, walking a tightrope about victim rights while trampling on selected victims.

One thing is right: this is all about money. Everyone is on the gravy train, cashing in on Jackson long after his premature death.

 

 

 

Blowing the Whistle on Trump

DATELINE: New Trump Godfather Movie?

 New Don Trump!

In a new Godfather sequel, Don Vito Trump makes an offer that a whistleblower cannot refuse.  Yes, if the anonymous whistleblower reveals his identity, Russian mobsters will not only break his legs, he will be able to meet the man he accuses of criminal deals as he is fitted with cement overshoes.

If you ever wondered why whistleblowers are afraid, you have only to ask Fox journalists who liken them to “rotten snitches.” Yes, so much for the fair and balanced approach to someone reporting on corruption found in the Washington swamp.

Like calling his lawyer Michael Cohen, his mouthpiece of yore, a rat, Trump envisions the world in movie mob terms.

We now know that if you drain the swamp, you will find a slime-ball with orange hair lurking in the mud. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is now POTUS.

Don Trump does have a right to meet his accuser—in a court of impeachment in the United States Senate. And by then, it will be too late to have him executed—unless the Senate decides that Trump is really a king, not a president.

As of today, we have received another request from Trump to pay for his impeachment defense: his billions are not enough. Now the Don Trump is baking canolis filled with creamy poison for the American electorate.

We are not sure if the Don knows that this is not the Vatican where you can have the Pope replaced (as in Godfather 3). In this sequel, the mob plans to supply the voters with Ukrainian voting booths.

We have seen a preview of the film in which Don Trump’s grandchildren are dressed up like the Storm Troopers in the Star Wars series. In case you forgot, the Nazi Storm Troopers in white plastic suits were the bad guys who went against the forces of good.

In Trump’s world, life is like a box of chocolate movie sequels: all covered in Rambo Blood.

Put Out APB Fashion Police on AB!

DATELINE: All Points Bulletin on Antonio Brown!

 AB & NDA in NFL

If you thought the New England Patriots were immoral and unscrupulous, you surely are not surprised that Antonio Brown is laying on a thick residue of scandal on the beleaguered franchise. Even worse, he wore a notorious short suit in hideous design to the game.

Brown’s goop is knee-deep—ranging from Kraft’s massage parlor problems to an artist who came to paint a mural in Brown’s home and found the star walking around in his short suit birthday suit.

Is anyone shocked nowadays? How quaint that must be.

Only a Victorian throwback would find the Bill Belichick approach a shock to the system: money & ratings move the team’s off-field antics.

Yes, the Patriots have found a way to rekindle interest in their boring team. They had grown into old-hat, like the Yankees in the 1950s, standing too pat, losing interest even from fans. They were your grandfather’s bowler hat and Fred Astaire’s top hat.

Now, they have enlivened up the entire NFL season, which is built on the sandy castle of money. It shifts, and it is a porous foundation for anything permanent, except a gaudy Super Bowl ring around the toilet.

Football games are violent, scandal-ridden and off-limits to normal human civilizing influence. You may break an arm, have you clavicle broken, develop water on the brain, but it’s all for the entertainment of men with testosterone deficiency that undevelop every Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots have found a sure-fire formula to bring in fans and more money than ever: Gronk may be gone, but long live the boorish mean-spirit of AB. From A to B, you will have more alphabet soup than any spelling bee deserves.

We begin to wonder how many non-disclosure agreements there are in the NFL among players: Start singing the ditty: “you’ll never know.”

You can pour your soup into a saucer in New England, as long as there is no chowdah involved. Sip slowly with adequate slurps: with other teams collapsing all around, New England is on the road to the Super Bowl.

Move over, dead spirit of Aaron Hernandez