Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.

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From Russia (With Kisses & Flowers)

DATELINE: Spy Extravaganza

Lotte Lenya Lets Bond Have It

Lotte Lenya & Sean Connery in Fight Royale!

No, From Russia with Love is not about a date between Trump and Putin. It’s the 1963 movie about James Bond, based on Ian Fleming’s hilarious novels, and starring Sean Connery.

With its iconic music, beautiful location photography, glorious Technicolor, and outrageous performances, it is a hoot and a half, even fifty years after its original release. Every set up will have your mouth agape and fighting back laughs.

If you want to know how a movie can stand up to time, take a look: even with its anachronistic and silly car phones, beepers, and lasers. These were cutting edge back then.

Not half the entertainment is in its two foremost early Bond villains: Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya.

Shaw’s tow-headed muscle guy was a forerunner of Dolph Lundgren’s Soviet superman from Rocky. It was the start of a decade of over-the-top villains, culminating with Quint from Jaws.

No overwhelming technology or special effects had yet to take hold in the well-produced low-budget Bond movies. However, a regrettable act or two occurs, with Connery slugging a woman. The producers also steal Hitchcock’s North by Northwest crop duster chase with a helicopter going after Bond.

Pipsqueak septuagenarian Lotte Lenya steals every scene, as she did as the procuress in Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Her final confrontation, a fight with James Bond, is a kick or two to the head. She gives him a run for his secret agent style. You can’t beat an old lady fighting James Bond in grand style.

American Pie and Racism

DATELINE: Stopping Black Candidates at Any Cost?

imbeciles at work Go Suck on a Georgia Peach!

Like many deluded Americans, we thought racism, like smallpox, had been eradicated. Well, smallpox is back—and so is racism, thanks to a president who encourages it.

Racism, a sign at Fenway Park said, last year is “as American as baseball.”  The sign was quickly removed, but its sentiment remains. No World Series victory deodorizes this stink.

Trump has encouraged white nationalists to arm themselves and travel to the border of Mexico to shoot unarmed women and children if they dare to cross the line in the dirt.

Your president (well, someone’s president Trump) has insulted every black woman he can find: latest is Michelle Obama whom he contends writes a book for money and must put in controversy. Those are his values all right. You only act for money. In most morality, that’s called bribery.

Trump has called every black female journalist he meets stupid, which goes with his view of black Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Gee, do we see a pattern here? Not if you live in Florida.

In Georgia, another Georgia Peach is running for governor and hates black women like his opponent Abrams. We note only that the original Georgia Peach was a virulent racist, so Kemp is in a grand old party tradition.

In the Citrus state where Anita Bryant used to spew hate, you now have resident Trump furious that his boy Rick Scott is having the election stolen. Trump’s other stooge, DeSantis, is forming a transition team to take over. It used to be called a coup d’etat, now it’s called a recount.

Racism is as American as the grandiose old party that kicked out Lincoln years ago.

It’s rather unusual for American history to have a robber baron and grand wizard rolled into one orange-hair orangutan in the “Whiter than White House.”

Winter Kills an Assassination Plot

DATELINE:  Not Citizen Kane

Taylor as Madam Hollywood Miss Taylor, We Presume?

Richard Condon’s novel called Winter Kills, a roman a clef of the Kennedy Assassination, makes for one of the earliest of conspiracy theory movies. Winter Kills is by the man who wrote the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.

Vincent Canby of the NY Times called it equal to Citizen Kane, but that seems a stretch. It is more akin to Oliver Stone’s JFK.

A stunning cast of cameos appear and disappear quickly. The opening credits are about as jaw-dropping as Murder on the Orient Express:  Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy Malone, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, and on and on.

How could it go wrong? Well, you can start by scratching your head over the notion that movie is billed as a tragic comedy.

The Kennedy murder in 1963 may be a comedy of errors in its commission and solution, but hardly a comedy.

The film takes the off-putting hints of conspiracy and gives them fake names:  Joe Diamond for Jack Ruby, etc.

Jeff Bridges is the young man (at his most attractive in 1979) who is the brother of an assassinated president who decides to solve the crime himself. In the meantime, conspirators are killing everyone around him. His attitude is bizarre, like someone has strung together unrelated scenes (blame goes to the director).

John Huston gives another irascible performance as the President’s father and Dorothy Malone is his mother.

The film predates the Internet but makes some intriguing theories that a master-programmed spy network of computers is following everyone as early as 1960. It is a stunning prediction on today’s world. That alone is gripping and clairvoyant.

All the usual suspects are present: Hollywood moguls, billionaires, crackpot businessmen, mobsters, Cubans, political hacks, the CIA, and on and on. We know the drill by now, but back in 1980, this was shocking. With more evidence now available, the theories here are standard conclusions today.

As for the movie, it is over-the-top and worth your attention. Not Citizen Kane, it is equal to Stone’s JFK.

 

 

 

 

 

Windy Conditions for Orson Welles

DATELINE: Citizen Kane’s Bookend

Orson's Last

It’s disorienting to see a new movie that is 35-years old with stars long dead: John Huston, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, Paul Stewart, and all the usual Orson Welles friends. He also included new discoveries in his films like Bob Random and Rich Little. Orson called it The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie is a mockumentary of a movie made on the last day of the life of a legendary film director named Jack Hannaford.

Huston is Hannaford, playing God again, or the devil to Welles as observed by Susan Strasberg (daughter of James Dean’s acting tutor Lee Strasberg) as she plays a carbon copy of film maven Pauline Kael.

As the insider look at Hollywood develops, those in the know will begin to recognize that Johnny Dale is Jimmy Dean, and that the director appears to be a combo of Nick Ray and George Stevens, the men behind the films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Indeed, two of Dean’s co-stars have roles in the film: Dennis Hopper and Mercedes McCambridge. Our money is on Nick Ray—whose ambiguous sexual relationship with stars seems to be at the heart of the Welles picture. He is giving us the ultimate insider look.

Welles never used nudity in his films until this final movie: he plays to the times, psychedelic sex, which now seems dated. The film made by Johnny Dale is sandwiched within and around the life of Hannaford who dies in Dale’s Porsche Spyder, a copy of Dean’s death car.

All the usual Orson touches and themes are present: betrayal of people, rather than principle. There are no principles in Hollywood. He also has a field day ridiculing all those New Wave European directors.

Movie magic is everywhere because Welles could do so much with so little—and scenes seem seamless, even if shot with body doubles three years later.

Critics claimed he never wanted to finish the picture because it was his raison d’etre. It was also his Swan Song and his testament to Hollywood. It’s brilliant and fascinating with every step of the much-sought divine accident that Welles believed essential to film inspiration. Highly recommended.

Valentino’s The Black Eagle

 DATELINE: Surprisingly Fun Silent

 Valentino Yes, Valentino!

You may well think that we’ve lost what’s left of our wits when we chose to watch a silent movie that is not The Artist of a few years back.

No, we picked one of the lesser well-known works of Rudolph Valentino: it’s called The Eagle, based on an old Russian novel by Pushkin. For those unfamiliar with Russian classics, it’s a Robin Hood tale about a wayward young officer who runs afoul of Czarina Catherine when he rebuffs her advances.

Taking to the hills, the young man becomes an outlaw bent on vengeance for loss of his family estate. It all becomes complicated when he falls for the beautiful daughter of his enemy. All this is done with aplomb and humor, sumptuous sets and delightful underplaying.

Valentino does not dance a tango here, but a minuet. And, the director is one of the greats of Hollywood, Clarence Brown who is best known for The Yearling, twenty years later. He was an actors’ director, especially good with child stars.

Brown could always coax great performances, and Valentino is a surprise with a comedic touch. The ridiculous legend does not do him justice. And, Vilma Banky is the swanky belle with the odd name. She too is perfection. Minor roles, like the Czarina and the chaperone of Vilma, are older women with deft touches in their acting.

A silent of this kind of movie might have failed had we heard Valentino’s accent and voice, but what a shame that we never had the chance.

If a silent film comes your way, this may be the one to sample.

 

 

 

 

Casey & AC at the Bat: Managers in World Series

DATELINE: Field of Dreams at Fenway Again

casey Casey, not AC?

If you were to ask, we doubt we’d have said we would return to watching the Red Sox again. Our last blog on them was several years ago, but it is the World Series in Boston, again.

If you were to ask if writing about the managers might be a possibility,we might shrug. However, we realized that two former Sox players were now in back in Boston as managers:  Yes, there was an aging star Dave Roberts, now with the Dodgers, and his counterpart Alex Cora.

Might we say there is Magic in the Moonlight at Fenway? Well, only because we saw Magic Johnson there in the stands, as an executive braintrust with the Los Angeles baseball team. Wasn’t he part of the Bird-Magic story in Boston?

No, wait, we were thinking of Moonlight Graham playing in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner was sitting in the stands with James Earl Jones who played Terence Mann, the writer who wanted to play with these same Dodgers.

No, we were shocked to see Alex Cora, or AC as his players call him in the modern familiarity with supervisors and managers. He was running a talent-laden team that had replaced the previous manager for not winning a World Series.

When AC pulled the hot rookie Devers and replaced him with a pitch hitter named Nunez, we were more in marvel at the assortment of beards on the players. Yet, suddenly, AC became a genius before a national audience.

The last time we saw that it was someone in another era by the name of Casey Stengel. He managed the New York Yankees, another talent-laden team that kept winning. Stengel would pick a pinch-hitter out of a hat who would win the game.

Suddenly there was AC channeling Casey. How appropriate, if not poetic. AC picked the man to win the game with a homer to the Monster Seats. It was a ghost movie for baseball once again.

 

 

 

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.

Next World is Your Next Stop

DATELINE: The Futurist Bible

Kaku Bird

 Kookoo Clocked?

Machio Kaku hosts a re-tooled Japanese series about the future, all done in English, called Next World from the CuriosityStream.

The five episodes are short and artificially sweetened, purporting to tell us what life will be like in 2045, just around the corner.

Machio Kaku is more like Mucho KooKoo as the futurist host with his introductions spliced into the show. He sits or stands in a white room with Internet screens to segue to a morose narrator who does the heavy lifting. He may be a virtual entity.

What we learn about the future is that computer chips will be implanted in our brains, eyes, and bloodstream. We will be hooked into a great Artificial Intelligence. Heaven help you if you receive wrong info or have some political dictator hack into your head.

They don’t discuss that possibility in this series, filmed mostly at Harvard and MIT in their labs.

There is a great deal of optimism that hospitals will become obsolete, owing to chemical/computer implants that will hunt out disease and keep us young.

You will face a lifespan of 100 years, adding five hours every day, until we reach the Singularity.

Yes, that ugly word crops up repeatedly, meaning a time of major cultural and human shift, like the introduction of agriculture or writing. AI will change everything, as we will make political allies of robots and androids, even marrying them.

The most intriguing possibility is that there will be recreated lives online of famous historical personages, or even less vaunted ancestors, to whom we may converse and seek counsel (sort of like crying “Fire” on the Internet).

To transcend death, you may be able to put your consciousness into an android and live forever.

All this is predicted by 2045 when you can live on Mars or in a tower of Babel, now an island in the rising oceans.

It almost makes you want to go back to the caves.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Ian McKellan’s Best Parts

DATELINE: Playing the Part

McKellan with Milo Parker Mr. Holmes, of course!

When the Great Thespian gathers together his early autobiographical photos and files, you know you are in for a treat. Ian McKellan sits down for a life achievement interview. It’s called McKellan: Playing the Part.

Now he has been great fodder for TV laugh talk shows for years, mostly owing to his dry wit and coming out at age 50 as a gay man during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

His great roles are in films like Gods and Monsters, Apt Pupil, and Richard III, though he is best loved for his superhero movies and Harry Potter junk. He is a good sport about the green screen stuff, but it’s not really acting to him.

We do see him in many rare behind-the-stage clips and playing Shakespeare on TV. He was quite a good-looker as a young man, though no one ever told him so, he admits.

He grew up at college with the likes of Derek Jacobi and Corin Redgrave. It was heady company. He admits his life has been one mostly of life in the company of strangers. Heavens, he must have relied on much kindness.

Like many middle-class Brits, he had to learn a posher accent and quickly discovered the best way to do it was hanging out at theaters. He started young, watching backstage, and appearing in any and every play as a teenager.

An interesting sidelight is that Milo Parker (costar of Mr. Holmes with McKellan) plays the actor as a boy. We presume Mr. McKellan had something to do with this casting. He thought he should have won something for Mr. Holmes—but forgot he already won a Screen Actors Guild award for something or other.

McKellan influenced many actors and stage people over the years. He has always taken some pride in that aspect of his life, which has been solitary without family or children, a conscious decision of a gay man. He has made the acting profession his family.

 

 

Michael Caine: My Generation is Not Yours

DATELINE: Swinging 60s?

Michael Caine Only Blowing Off the Doors?

Michael Caine, one of the great film stars, and under-rated actors since the 1960s, produces and presents a documentary that gives intriguing insight into the London influence of the 1960s.

That was the time of swinging London, Carnaby Street, and the Beatles. It was also when Caine first struck pay-dirt in his movie career.

Caine knows enough to start the documentary with his famous line from the Italian Job about blowing the bloody doors off the car, famously parodied in The Trip and The Trip to Spain by Coogan and Brydon.

You will see a few TV clips of his early performances, and he tells how he chose the name Caine for his career (based on an old Humphrey Bogart movie playing nearby when he was selecting). All this early detail is marvelous.

He even notes that he was a few years older than the group of Cockney stars that rose up in music, film, photography, and fashion. But he was there.

With ingenious clips of young Caine riding up in an elevator, and the old man stepping out, you have his memories coming out: he recalls going to a trendy dance club where every Beatle and every Rolling Stone was dancing; he figured this was the place to be.

Michael Caine converses with Roger Daltrey, Donovan, Joan Collins, Twiggy, Paul McCartney, and Marianne Faithfull, about the days when they were young. He is right there for most of this, but in the final segments, when drugs and LSD take hold, he is not really a participant.

As he points out, he kept his head. It is why he is still making movies fifty years later. He was far beyond London by the late 1960s and the drug scene there. It is alien to him.

The insights are fun and enlightening in his chats with those who transcended their Cockney roots. There is also a soundtrack of great 60s music from Kinks, Beatles, Stones, and Animals.

 

 

Mid-Trip Crisis

DATELINE: Coogan & Brydon in Italy

Italian job

The Trip to Italy is the middle piece of the trilogy of mockumentaries by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The Trip to Italy is directed by Michael Winterbottom again, and he condenses the film to the best bon mots uttered during the two-week business holiday.

These minor British TV stars are on the verge of making it big in American movies, and they are thrown together for another series of adventures by the media. They are temperamental actors who seem not to enjoy each other’s company.

However, they are amusing together. It’s said that Abbot and Costello were not friends but were a business association. So, it is here. This is the business of growing older with wit and aplomb.

The conceit of the journey is to visit great Italian restaurants and trace the expatriates Byron and Shelley along the way.

Coogan and Brydon compete over everything, especially to show which one has more talent and is more successful. They do imitations of Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, and Sean Connery, over dinners to die for in exotic coastal Italian tourist spots.

Not much is sacred here in their barbs, not even the dead at Pompeii.

You may not be used to intelligent conversation like this. You certainly wonder how they could not enjoy their mid-life crises while living La Dolce Vita.

Not everything is fun, as there is a downbeat inner core to the cavorting. They might die happy in one of these spots, but we doubt it. They sabotage their own trip, their friendship, and seem to have a grand time of indifference, their personal existential crises.

We are happy to have a chance to be a fly on the walls of their discontent.

 

More Spirit Activity on Mill Circle!

DATELINE: Titanic Ghost?

 scrabble in library

Photos:  September 13, 2018   and October 6, 2018

For those who have followed my odd paranormal adventures, let me post an update.

As you may know, I have written several books about my experiences in my home, once owned by two victims of the Titanic disaster in 1912. Based on several (now four visits) sessions with psychics, they agreed that the house is inhabited by at least one of those victims—and several others.

My latest book Chess-Mate from Titanic tells of the message of the psychics that explains weird activities in my library. Pieces on a magnetized chessboard have moved. They insisted that Richard, one of my ghosts, wants to play chess.

Well, he appears to have moved on to another board game. Perhaps he is bored by eternity! I set up the Scrabble board in hopes that spirits might find it more pleasant to spell out their messages than using a Ouija board. The psychics tell me that the library is a portal and a vortex.

My message was simple:  ‘HELLO’  facing the tiles that could be arranged in response.

I set it up on the anniversary of the Titanic disaster on April 15 of this year. When I visit the library, I always check for a response.

Today I found one.

As the enclosed photos show, someone or some thing has decided to move the tiles I set up in greeting.

The photos side by side show the board in September, and now in October. I presume the spirit is taking the “hell” out of “hello.”

Your amusing responses are always appreciated. Thanks for reading my latest. For more details you can always go to the ebooks on Amazon:  Tales of a Titanic Family, Ghosts of Mill Circle, and Chess-Mate from Titanic.