Brooklyn Bridge to Serve as Mexican Border Wall

DATELINE:  Trump’s New Solution!

untitled

In the great tradition of American business, President Donald Trump will follow in the footsteps of Mae West and Bugs Bunny and will sell shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. He believes that, if enough Republicans buy shares, they can charge Democrats a large fee to use it.

At the least, he believes the Bridge can be shut down to keep undesirables out of Manhattan. He believes most of those who use the Brooklyn Bridge are illegal immigrants.

The idea was said to be floated by Sean Hannity and Lindsay Graham at a dinner with the President who noted during dessert of Baked Alaska about furloughed government workers: “Let them eat cake.”

Trump tweeted that “Number A, this is a great idea with a chance to make a huge profit for the American people.”  Trump went out to cite the purchase of the London Bridge by American investors some years ago. They moved it to Arizona.

Trump believes this is a template for the latest effort to take the Brooklyn Bridge, stone by stone, and move it to the Mexican border. Trump believes this will kill two birds with one stone.

Sean Hannity reportedly told the President that the Brooklyn Bridge was a boondoggle, built by corrupt Democrats and that his legacy will be affirmed when he tears down the bridge and makes it bigger than the Berlin Wall.

 

 

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Ancient Aliens Bring Captain Kirk Aboard

DATELINE: Von Daniken Beamed UP 13.14

shat Shat Upon Sagan!

It was inevitable. As 2019 starts a new special, Ancient Aliens Season 13, episode 14, brings in the most ancient astronaut of TV fame: there is William Shatner giving advice to Giorgio and the crew.

You have to love it. This is a special edition for sure. Cross-pollination is one of History Channel’s favorite Venerable Bede compliments. There is no one from outer space more ancient than Shatner. Where has he been for a 100 other episodes?

The reason for his appearance is to honor Erich Von Daniken. In 1976 Shatner made a movie called Mysteries of the Gods, which adapted more or less from one of Daniken’s books. Hence, the honor from History Channel. Clips of young Shatner appear, but no mention comes of Leonard Nimoy’s series In Search of…, which History is also remaking with the new Spock, Zachary Quinto.

The two-hour special is meant to be homage to Von Daniken’s amazing career since the 1960s when he burst onto the scene with his outlandish theories. We read Chariots of the Gods in 1968, before most the guests on this special were born.

We recall being surprised and more than a little confused as to why no one else had seen what the author revealed. It was mind-boggling, but then again so was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, he has more credibility than Carl Sagan. Indeed, the special has a clip of Sagan looking pathetic, attacking the notion of Ancient Aliens. Today, if the astronomer were still alive, he’d be ripe to serve as Trump’s Acting Ambassador to Mars.

The show manages to catalogue all the movies, TV shows, and other documentaries that had direct influence from Von Daniken: they also admit that Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick slightly preceded him.

Von Daniken reveals his Jesuit education that influenced him, and he also discusses how his background in hotel management ruined him with academics and their Ph.D.-union card prejudice.

As one with a doctorate, we feel as do some NASA people and Dr. Travis Taylor, that lack of degree means nothing when it comes to creative minds.

This latest entry seems a premature obit for Erich Von Daniken, or eulogy in anticipation. It does not detract from his remarkable veracity.

Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.

Watership Upside Down in Bugsy Demeanor?

DATELINE: Hare-brained cartoons?

Watership Down Bugs & Daffy, or B’rer Rabbits?

Two movies about rabbits we have seen recently are cartoons. Of course, by today’s high-falutin’ standards, they are now called ‘animation’. Watership Down, based on a children’s book, is a think-piece, now remade with a couple of big-name Brit stars.

The other film we saw was a compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons from the Golden Age of 1942-43. The gulf between these two film works transcends streaming DVD and enters the realm of unreal hare-brains.

Stars Nick Hoult and James MacAvoy have definite chemistry as actors together, as B’rer Rabbits, in Watership Down. They play the voices of Hazel and Fiver. You may not see it, but you can surely hear their rapport.

The new version of the animated story has shown up as a Netflix movie series. Unlike Disney animation, in which characters can be distinguished, this film has a bunch of hares and bunny rabbits that are clones. After a while, we are trying to determine accents and vocalizations to tell if we are listening to Nick Hoult or James McAvoy.

We love both actors, and that’s the long and short of it.

We also do not love four hours of animation to tell a story. Alas, even broken into 4 episodic chunks tested our mettle. On the other hand, the eight Warner Brothers cartoons are about six minutes each. They are also racist, filled with fat hatred, and feature Bugs in drag often, but can’t end soon enough.

Though Warner cartoons are claimed to be highly restored, they grow increasingly unwatchable as color fades and clarity blurs. On the other hand, you can see every fur-laced lash of the hares of the new animation in Watership, if you really care enough.

The Biblical tones and literary pretensions of one are undercut in the other’s attempt to play down to Brooklyn rabbit accents and fat Elmer Fudd. Yes, Fudd has not yet gone on a diet in these early films—and even wears a corset in two cartoons.

If there is a big difference in the films, one has personality unleashed, and the other is less brash.

We may find that in each lesson it may be that teachable moments are less successful in cartoon form. It undercuts and underscores at the same time. However, in the age of superheroes and Marvel Comics, we suspect this is the new Dickensian epic-style.

We’d just like to see Hoult and McAvoy in human form. Give us a real movie please.

Dangerous Edge: Greene for Danger

DATELINE:  Literary Marvel

Greene  The Other Shade of Greene

Before Graham Greene was known as a Native American actor and movie star, he was one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  Oh, they were different people with the same name.

British writer Greene joined Hemingway as a character as vivid as his heroes of fiction. Like them, he was a converted Roman Catholic with severe doubts and moral lapses. He was, like them, often a writer and journalist, and he shared a background as a spy with many of his literary heroes. He was not a nice man.

And he loved to write movie reviews. Well, he wasn’t all bad.

As a cinematic novelist, his works often reached the screen with great influence: from This Gun for Hire, The Third Man,  Power and Glory, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt, and on and on.

He seemed always to visit a far-off location right before it blew up into an international crisis spot: from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam.

As a boy, his father was the headmaster of their school—and all his classmates regarded him as a spy for the old man. The notion stuck.

He was notoriously promiscuous and a womanizer, as well as an inveterate traveler. He was virulently anti-American for the most part—and loathed the movies that messed up his message (Quiet American Audie Murphy comes to mind, which can be seen in the book Audie Murphy in Vietnam by William Russo).

He defended notorious Communist Kim Philby, the Brit spy, and one of his closest friends. He accepted honors from the Soviet Union, but not from the Nobel Prize committee. No wonder the FBI and CIA kept him under surveillance.

Greene was also a suicidal manic-depressive most of the time, though he lived until his 80s and finally came to realize his mission was to write. He believed his work ultimately was his life and his identity. He was not far wrong.

The documentary about his life, Dangerous Edge, even features people like John LeCarre, his likely successor in literature, and the film uses many clips from the famous movies. He used to call his less serious work “entertainments,” but it all ended up as serious and entertaining.

Looking for Noah’s Ark Again!

DATELINE: Spiritual Journey

Ararat excavation

If you didn’t hear on the Internet that Noah’s Ark has been discovered, then you have a fairly good idea of the results of another documentary about the trip to Mt. Ararat by another expedition of intrepid optimists.

Here is another documentary on the age-old quest.

Finding Noah is well-funded, beautifully photographed, and has many montages of historical searches to locate the Ark that survived the Great Flood of Biblical and geological fame.

First, let’s face it: there are few groups outside TV shows like Ancient Aliens or In Search of… that would fund such a mammoth and likely fruitless effort. If you make the movie, you live with the unsatisfying ending of reality.

So, if this attempt to dig up the Ark is a bunch of crazed Christians with ties to Liberty University, we cannot fault them. It takes a special breed of adventurer to have the obsession, time, and physical stamina to go into a war zone in Turkey.

Weather is just another adverse element here when a bunch of largely middle-aged explorers make the trek up a 17,000-foot mountain. Perhaps those are exactly the kinds of men who have always taken the risks. If you are not a fanatic, you aren’t going to attempt it.

Using ground-and-ice penetrating radar, they use chainsaws to dig 30 meters into the glacier in chunks. It is interesting how they conduct their search under a tent.

Of course, as they all admit toward the end, the real goal was a spiritual journey, not a discovery journey. It was God’s will that they try, but there was no promise of fame and fortune.

The praying moments are kept to a minimum and creationists do consult real academic scientists for information. So, this is not a religious crusade to prove the Bible’s literal truth. At least, not too obviously.

Only you can decide if you have wasted your time.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Frankenstein & the Vampyre

DATELINE: Horrors’ Start

Lord Byron  Byronic Vampire?

As one expert notes, these personages in the title are the twin pillars of modern horror—more than a century of monstrous concepts: life coming out of the dead.

A Dark and Stormy Night  is the subtitle of this intriguing documentary that uses the words of five people thrown together at Villa Diodati in 1816. This illustrious group of young bohemians of the era included two immortal poets, Shelly and Byron, their paramours, and their young doctor.

For those without a proper literary historical perspective, Lord Byron challenged his housemates one stormy night to write a ghost story. They had the summer without light, as it was called, to do it.  In the United States, it was called “the year without summer.”

Switzerland and the world suffered in 1816 from a year without proper summer: crops failed, storms cascaded around the Earth because of a super-volcanic explosion in the Pacific. So with a constant barrage of thunderstorms and lighting candles in mid-afternoon, the crew of Mary Shelley, Percy Shelly, Dr. J.M. Polidori (Byron’s travel companion) and Claire (Byron’s latest stalker/groupie) took up the task.

They allegedly urged, critiqued, and drove each other on to come up with a horrifying tale. Mrs. Shelley wrote about the modern Prometheus, Frankenstein, and Dr. Polidori came up with the first elegant, aristocratic vampire that set the mold for Dracula in fifty years.

Some wags believed that Byron wrote the original outline, and Polidori, pretender to the poet, stole it and finished it.

The scandalous summer featured rumors of drugs, sex, and bizarre carrying on, which suited the weirdness of the weather in 1816.

Of course, burning the candle as it were all day and all night, led to an early demise of Polidori in 1821, Shelley in 1822, and Byron in 1824.  Mary Shelley lived to see her story take on a life in literature—and years later realized she had survived the ghosts of Diodati.

Fascinating documentary with earnest re-enactors, trying to avoid their sexual peccadilloes. It seems almost preposterous that those so young could produce such masterpieces of literature.

It’s a story worth watching.

Tinker, Tailor, Puzzle-maker

DATELINE: Cold Warriors

Hardy boy

 Hunky Hardy Boy!

If you want to be challenged by John LeCarre’s masterpiece of espionage during the Cold War, you might well take in the movie version of George Smiley’s hard work in finding a mole that caused the death of Control in the British secret service.

One kingfish at the agency seems to have a direct connection to the Kremlin. Though Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been forced out into retirement with his mentor, Control (John Hurt), he must work covertly to restore the integrity of the Circus.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those who enjoy armchair psychology and thought-provoking shades of gray.

Through complex flashbacks, and even more complex human relationships, you will find these are not pleasant men. The cast is stellar beyond compare: Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, are stand-outs.

The sexual peccadilloes are unspoken, but there is a strong scent of blackmail and unspoken ties among the men. It is nearly as much a guessing game about their bedtime bedmates as it is about their political bedmates.

The complexity and subtlety of the film probably makes it beyond the tolerance level of your standard James Bond satire fans. This is the low-key, grubby, office worker mentality of the Cold War. Oldman is particularly wooden to hide his tormented feelings.

Every spy ought to be brought in from this Cold War before their tedious work drives them to distraction.

Oldman plays much older, and the young men (Hardy and Cumberbatch) had better days ahead as superstars. They could not be more stunningly attractive in 2011 and quickly made a mark with this film.

 

Edgar A. Poe/ American Masters’ Whitewash

 DATELINE: All This, and Nothing More?

poe Actor Denis O’Hare

When PBS tackles the life of Edgar Allan Poe in a re-enacted biographical documentary, you may have something special—or not.

In this case, the superior production values and participation of actor Denis O’Hare as Poe is high-end, though the actor is a bit long-in-the-tooth for the role. The film is Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive.

What’s buried alive, akin to one of his plots, is his sordid lifestyle and the likely truth.

The problem with Poe, and with the hypothesis of the film, is that he was the victim of bad press: not mad, not a drug addict, etc.  Alas, that is not-quite honest. You could accurately say he lived up to his press clippings or musty grave stories.

Poe was an American master in terms of knowing that he had to become his own character, much like Hemingway and other writers, to play himself as flesh and blood page turner to be a social media darling.

Poe’s mother was an actress—and he certainly inherited her stage presence. He loved to present his poetry in narrative drama on stage. His “Raven” was to die for, one hot ticket. O’Hare recites a few lines, making us wish the entire show was comprised of his reading Poe poetry.

Eddie, as his experts call him with all too much familiarity, was combative, especially when drunk—and he did drink, like many talented authors. The so-called experts cited in interviews are mostly novelists who admire his style, and act as apologists for his bad behaviour.

And bad it is by modern standards. There is no way to sugar-coat his marriage to a 13-year old cousin (faked ID marriage license said 21), and the experts here in the #MeToo age are winking and nodding, even the women fans of Poe.

Having middle-age O’Hare (age 55) play Poe at 27 with his interest in the pre-pubsescent girl makes it even more lascivious. You can’t sweep the stench of pedophilia under the grave or under the floorboards.

Poe’s mad, unreliable narrators and tales of murderers may nevermore be disparaged, but Poe himself is the epitome of one of his horrors. His mysterious death at age 40 stands as his greatest unfinished tale.

This is nevertheless a brilliant tell-tale heart-felt documentary. Well, let’s at least quoth the Raven.

Between Two Worlds: Fantasy Ship to Heaven & Hell

DATELINE: Netherworld for Ossurworld?

betwixt & between

Betwixt & Between!

When Warner Brothers decided to make a World War II movie about the afterlife, they went back to the 1920s and took a Sutton Vane play as their vehicle, updating it.

Gathering together a back-lot cast of marvelous character actors and a couple of bigger stars of the studio, they fairly much put ten people on a mysterious, foggy super-liner going to both heaven and hell, which are the same place.

Ten people end up being the only ones aboard, including two suicides.

John Garfield and Paul Henreid were the drawing cards, with Faye Emerson and Eleanor Parker as the ladies. The film was entitled Between Two Worlds.

However, it was the supporting cast that seemed heavenly:  Edmund Gwenn as an obsequious ship steward (the only crew member on board) and the notorious Examiner at the end of the journey, in his standard white linen suit, Sydney Greenstreet. He is a hard judge for sure at the end of one’s life.

The story quickly sets up a death that no one remembers, and then a one-class byplay of rich and poor in the same main salon, eating and drinking together and coming to realize they are not bound for the United States after all.

Henreid is a suicide who recognizes his mortality before the others. They are meant to learn the fate slowly,  in their  own time and way. However, hot head  John Garfield makes short work of that notion.

The final judgment and reckoning are apt and harsh. You cannot buy your way out, and it’s too late for anything but a just reward, or punishment. This is one of those Warner Brothers movies to savor from the mid-1940s. It is a timeless tale of eternal damnation that would surprise Faust.

 

 

 

 

Sherlock v. Conan Doyle: Battle Royale

DATELINE: Who Hates Sherlock Holmes? The Author

doyle

If ever there was a legendary love/hate relationship, it was between Sherlock Holmes and the man who was his spiritual father and creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

In a French documentary called Sherlock Holmes Against Conan Doyle, we have a battle on the order of a duel with the Napoleon of Crime and the Actors Who Took Him On.

Meant to be a money-making enterprise and a throwaway for a couple of stories, Holmes turned into Doyle’s Frankenstein Monster.

A marvelous and entertaining documentary gives us a blow-by-blow description of Doyle’s losing war with his temperamental genius/consulting detective.

You know who will win this fight. Holmes has survived with hundreds of movies and TV shows, depicted by a variety of actors with waspy disdain—from Rathbone to Jeremy Brett, to the modern versions like Cumberbatch. Thankfully, we never see Robert Downey in the role.

The little hour is chock full of clips of these Sherlocks making annotations on Conan Doyle, a man of some adventure and style himself. Often thought as a Watson type, Doyle was actually more of a Professor Challenger sort.

Killing Holmes was frowned upon even by Doyle’s mother, and money is the great resurrection device. After ten years, Doyle was forced to bring him back from the dead.

Based on an old professor who used to wow the med students with his erudition, Holmes was a clever creation who was enhanced by his narrative fellow, long-suffering and frequent punching bag named Dr. John H. Watson.

If you want to see fleeting glimpses of many classic Holmes portrayals, and rare clips of Doyle, you may enjoy the time, though it covers familiar territory.

 

In Search of …Atlantis & Quinto

DATELINE: First Season Success

atlantis 

The grande finale of the Zachary Quinto series that has impressed us each step of the season is billed as a two-parter but is really merely an extended two-hour episode.

Sending Quinto off on the quest puts him squarely in the Mediterranean Sea. The stopovers include Greece, Crete, North Africa, Sardinia, and all spots that might be an island—or not.

We start, as per usual, with doomsday sayers and crack-pot experts, but Zak finds some level-headed researchers to set the course.

Once again the actor has a great adventure or two, diving into open sea when he really is not a fan of it. He climbs into old, dank tombs too. He is a gamer in the search, and we believe him that he really has an interest in these notions.

Atlantis is not an island, but an empire. There are 51 points of discovery that Plato offered researchers—and matching up spots to the clues is the name of the game.

Quinto learns along the way that the Atlantans may be the progenitors of Rh negative blood types. These folks have a bunch of characteristics, but he is most intrigued by the pointy ear theory (his only reference to Spock in the new series).

He is clearly fascinated.  And he is willing to learn he too has Rh negative blood, possibly an Atlantan. It is a good way to make the host and producer of the show truly a meaningful part of the formula.

Ancient ruins, recently excavated, indicate that meteors, floods, tsunamis, or other natural disasters could have buried Atlantis. It need not be under the sea, but under tons of earth.

For that reason, Atlantis might be a landlocked place, with rivers circling it, as in Morocco.

If you want to end the first season on a high note, the History show is the perfect coda—and likely will cause fans to demand another season with Zak.