Top of the World, Ma!

Madame Blavatsky

DATELINE: Mahatmas & Other Spirits

For the 16thseason of Ancient Aliens we are going sky-high in Tibet, the ceiling of the planet where you are closer to the unknown fly-bys that have christened the population.

The location of a Shangri-La city high up on the roof of the world brings together many legends: physical and non-physical beings who lived for hundreds of years and live with little oxygen.

Of course, this series always goes for the jugular of most outrage: such as the Yeti Snowmen are magical extra-terrestrials. And those who live in that spot where Mount Everest reaches over five miles high are somehow more enlightened than the rest of us. This place is an airport of UFOs from all parts of the universe.

The series offered an insight into Madame Blavatsky, the theosophist who had befriended Mahatma Gandhi. She believed she was in contact with a spiritual creature that she called a Mahatma, or ancient alien being from another dimension.

Her circle included young artist Nicholas Roerich who worked with the Diaghilev ballet around 1910 in Paris. He worked on designs for Nijinsky ballets. He later moved to New York and conducted research in India and Tibet.

The Nazi research connection to Tibet in the 1930s included finding an old iron statue with a swastika on the figure depicted, a Mahatma. In the 21st century, tests on the figure indicated he was sculpted out of a meteorite that likely landed in Tibet.

Experts on the episode revealed a new word, Ultra-terrestrial to describe these travelers of the universe who use Yeti as the guardians to protect their secret base beneath the Himalayan Mountains

 Nicholas Roerich

Fairies Outlandish

Another Grand Performance

 

DATELINE: Unusual Paranormal Movie

In 1997 two films appeared about the same topic: Dr. Doyle’s belief in fairies through the medium of photography.

Two notable actors took on the role of Conan Doyle. In a small, but pivotal role in the first of the films came Edward Hardwicke, the ersatz latest Dr. Watson of the popular TV series with Jeremy Brett, and this time he played the same way as he did in his role as Watson.

The second film was on the tail end of one of the biggest movie stars, Peter O’Toole, a man who had played some greats in history (Henry II (in 2 movies Becket and Lion in Winter), as well as Lawrence of Arabia.

The era in which Photographing Fairies and Fairyland: A True Story is a world in which Houdini, Peter Pan, and Sherlock Holmes all exist simultaneously as the Zeitgeists of their age.

O’Toole met a match in performance when Harvey Keitel took on the role of Doyle’s friendly nemesis, Houdini. One of the interesting ironies is that this version of Conan Doyle looks more like Sherlock Holmes.

The producers of the film dropped the golden chance to play Arthur and Harry against each other with top-drawer actors.

To see O’Toole do this movie, it makes us wonder what kind of Holmes he could have given us were that role offered to him earlier in his career.

Both films actively produce fairies in flight about the countryside without any fear that they are mythic or exist only in the minds of children. A theory emerges from this film that creative people, like Conan Doyle, are receptive to the spirit and paranormal world unlike most pragmatic people.

Both films use Dr. Doyle in a small role as a believer in fairies and the occult, putting much focus on the children or younger character demographics aimed at the audience.  According to the Doyle Encyclopedia,O’Toole lost out on two chances to star as Holmes (one in Billy Wilder’s comic version, the other playing off Laurence Olivier as Watson). O’Toole’s prickly personality may have done in these chances.

As for the plot of the movie at hand set in 1917, Fairyland: A True Story concerns two little girls who take pictures of fairies out in their wooded backyard. The photos may look fake to us, but there are believers—even among the rich, powerful, and famous.

Our personal concern was for the girls treated by early 20thcentury men—and by late 20thcentury filmmakers. Charles Sturridge directs, and he has deft ability that is most known to audiences who favor PBS and Masterpiece Theatre.

Already in contact with his dead son through a medium, and having a madman father who saw fairies, Conan Doyle is on the bandwagon when the pictures come to his attention.

Fairytale is an intriguing, fascinating fantasy movie that gives Peter O’Toole a chance to provide us with one last grand late career performance.

Booksellers and Book Buyers

DATELINE: Dying Art of Dying Breed

Readers Anonymous?

The vast opinion nowadays is that book collecting is a form of dust collecting. And, this little doc tells us something about the sellers and the buyers. Author Fran Leibowitz provides some cogent and hilarious commentary in The Booksellers.

Taking a look behind the scenes of New York’s lively bookseller market may be less than pleasant, however interesting. This little documentary gives us some monitoring of a business that was stable for 150 years—until the PC and Internet changed everything.

The Booksellerstakes a pulse of intellectual America. It needs more oxygen than Trump.

As someone who has a library with a couple of thousand books, I know that I am a dinosaur. Most friends have no books in their homes, and don’t VHS tapes either because they don’t own a player.

Book owners are often academic types who have piles of books from years of teaching college. In fact, many booksellers were former academics who left teaching because they’d rather read than deal with people.

So the vast number of bookdealers in this film own cats, live in dusty apartments with books from floor to ceiling. They complain that the Internet has taken joy from collecting: they used to look for a book for 20 years that no one will buy, and they put on a shelf for the rest of their lives.

Personal book collecting is a dying art, or dying obsession. Most books that are collectible (like Ian Fleming 1steditions go for $100,000).  So, collectors are now looking at autographs and manuscripts, movie scripts and other paper documents. 

The film dabbles in a dozen New York sellers, like the Argosy Bookstore and the three sisters who run it.

Sellers still hold fairs, and interesting people show up. However there are now only 20% of the number of bookstores in New York than years ago (now about 75). Big chain stores are also dying because of Internet sales. And, a small group of obsessed types are opening tiny specialty bookstores here and there.

The film focuses finally on women (the true readers of the era) as taking over whatever is left of the business and collecting.

The art is not dead: but most of the collectors will be soon.

Essential Movie Critic: Pauline Kael

DATELINE: Role Over Model

A documentary on the life of movie critic Pauline Kael would seem to be counter-productive. The late genius of insight into movies was hardly the stuff of action melodrama, but this film takes on her life—unwed motherhood, marriages of convenience, a history of working in low-level jobs trying to find herself.

What She Said is about the art of Kael. It is more about words than images. For that reason it is a topic doomed to be wordy and not visual, yet there are plenty of home movies and photos of Kael. That notion might not please her. Her ideas were the key.

When she first sells a movie review in the early 1950s to the New Yorker, it was a scathing attack on Charlie Chaplin’s bloated egotistic movie, Limelight. It won her an audience and a career.

Her insights into movies, which she loved as a medium, contain brilliant insights that some movie makers in this film tell us were influential to their productions. We don’t believe it. They may have read Kael, but it was to see how she shot down their rivals.

We would have preferred a film in which someone simply read some of her most scathing comments about well-known films over her life. She collected about 14 books of her critiques. And, they are delightful to read.

Sometimes she is utterly wrong about a film and its importance, but she always gives an interesting perspective on what the cultural or artistic value really may be. Her views are meant for the wider, lasting meaning of life in the film world.

We admire Kael and used to read her work when it came out. It frequently put good movies into a framework, and bad movies into a trash can.

She might have been the first to tell you this documentary is unnecessary and superfluous. Just read her books.

Twice Told Tales from 1963

 Cabot & Price

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mid-nineteenth century short stories were collected by him into a book, with more than a dozen philosophical mysteries. It was titled Twice Told Tales. He was not into the psychological terror as his fellow writer, Edgar Allen Poe.

There is an almost pre-science fiction quality to his literary themes, and yet when they were adapted for the big screen in 1963, the star and narrator of the film would be Vincent Price, already a big name in bad literary adaptations.

Price found steady work doing high-end schlock for more than a few decades. He brought dignity and style to what might normally pass for low-budget pot-boilers. Twice Told Tales zeroes in on three stories (two are famous in their own rights:  “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” and “Rappuccini’s Daughter”). The third story in the trilogy-anthology is House of SevenGables, which was a novel, his usualmetier.

Two center on scientists who play God, trying to control human nature and life over death. In the first, Dr. Heidegger’s tale is altered seriously. It becomes a small cast melodrama, now set in a dark and stormy night. Sebastian Cabot and Price are aging in pursuit of the Fountain of Youth.

 In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” he is a reclusive scientist who has filled his daughter with poison from a plant to make her separate from the normal business of social life. These are changed enough to be slick color TV specials of the era: about forty minutes each.

House of Seven Gablesis another known title, but hardly within the themes of the first two. Here, a house holds a mysterious presence of evil, rather than the people which include an heir played by Price again.  Richard Denning and Beverly Garland join him in this ghostly tale of hidden treasure.

They are not horrific much, slow-moving, and quite literary, hardly up to contemporary standards of horror and special effects. That may be their charm. If you want something that is neither the original Hawthorne story, nor a modern flashy horror, this is your movie.

Oldie Noir: Killers

DATELINE: Hemingway Classic

Burt Lancaster Awaits the Grim Reapers.

 

A late 1940s film noir version of “The Killers” made author Ernest Hemingway wince. He was hypercritical of the Hollywood versions of his novels and stories.

Yet, the star vehicle for Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster used the first twenty-minutes to tell the short story. The rest is Hollywood explanations that have nothing to do with Hemingway except to build off his message.

The original dark opening seems to tell an inexplicable tale of a gas station attendant who is hunted down by two hired gunmen. Instead of running when he is warned, he simply waits for the inevitable killing.

When asked why he won’t flee, he gives the ultimate Hemingway man’s answer. There comes a time when you stop running because it doesn’t matter in the end.

The moody and eerie tale is brilliantly directed by Robert Siodmak and were it a short subject could have been a masterpiece after the killers climb the boarding house stairs and let their bullets fly.

Young Burt Lancaster is suitably tough and handsome, as you’d want you hero, but he is antiheroic in not fighting. The rest of the movie is a pathetic attempt to flashback to his roots and how he upset the mobsters.

Quiet nighttime moments in an old-fashioned diner and the ominous sense the Swede’s friends have about the mystery visitors is all part of the philosophical insight of the author.

Many questions about the Swede are raised and there are no answers. It was always the style of Hemingway to omit key information: you fill in the blanks. Sometimes if you have enough questions, they provide an answer. The central mystery of the Swede is explained in banal terms during the remainder of the movie.

Heminway gives you suspense in the anticipation of answers, but you will be thwarted and left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story.

 

 

White Stone, Gold Finch, Good Fortune

DATELINE: Sweet Augurs

You may come to wonder how serendipity causes a trio of augurs to show up on your doorstep in one week.

Here, at my haunted home, there is never a doubt that serendipity is the direct action of some spirits from another dimension.

In the grand scheme of good portents of the future, we have been quite lucky to find these arriving:  the colors are as spectacular as the items. Gold and white: symbols of positive energy.

After a tropical deluge, we discovered a flat white piece of quartz sat alongside the driveway where it was not a day before. We might think it washed across a lawn and deposited itself in a visible spot.

We might think, like frogs dropping in a rainstorm, the small white stone dropped like manna from heaven, however un-gravitational the theory is.

We do know that 100 years ago a previous resident of my neighborhood was an inveterate rock collector at age 10.  He went seeking geological anomalies around the pathways. When he moved to Waikiki Beach in 1900, he went climbing Diamond Head searching for volcanic stones.

Percy was his name, and it almost feels as if Percy may have left his calling card in the flat white stone. It came to us like something from his collection.

If white quartz has any special meaning, experts of the occult will tell you it opens your mind to receiving and learning new ideas. It also has the power of patience in its feel and look; you will not be less than tactful in dealing with the world.

Above all else, you can thank white quartz, discovered by accident, to create situations not limited by stressful responsibilities.

These are the points of wisdom from centuries of soothsayers and fortune tellers. For an oldster, the white quartz likely will improve memory and concentration, not small feats.

Not long after came the next augur of something special.

We’ve never been one to believe in totem animals as our patron. Yet, having lived in urban areas for decades, to find Nature outside the window in summer has been illuminating.

We have never seen a gold finch in person and up close until now. And, twice in a week, the itsy bird with the black-tipped wings has flown up to the window as I sip coffee and gaze out.

The first visit he stayed longer and peered at me, and the next he seemed to check on my well-being later in the day.

Again, those purveyors of prophecy will tell you that the gold finch holds special symbolism.

The gold finch is known to bring with his visit the promise of brighter days and the insurance of achieving your dreams.

It seems the gold finch chooses you and presents you with his gift to appreciate beauty and art. If you are on your journey to spiritual well-being, you will find the talent to be what you need to become, no matter how old you are.

How can the appearance of these three augurs be an accident of fate? They seem part of a larger haunting spirit that stays in this enchanted home where I now live.

If ever I wondered why I found this place and why I am here, it no longer matters. A force has engulfed me in my new and final phase of life.

One moment seldom defines a lifetime unless you happen to be on the Titanic, at Gettysburg, or in the Alamo. Some spirits are enhanced by these fateful occurrences. If you are lucky, you may find a guide to take you along their mystical journey across time and space.

On the Offence with Sean Connery

 DATELINE: Endeavour Predecessor!

Back in 1972, Sean Connery did not want to play James Bond: to arrange for him to do another film on 007 romp, Connery insisted he be allowed to play a disturbed police detective based on a dark and depressing play called The Offence.

The movie showed off Connery as a powerful actor, but was a box-office fizzle. Audiences were not ready to see James Bond in a dubious psychologically damaged role. The film remains topical and fascinating: it deals with a police sergeant detective in London who cracks up while investigating another hideous child molester case (shades of Jeffrey Epstein).

With its disturbing lead character finally at wit’s end, his response is police brutality and murder that is ripped out of the headlines of 2020 without the racial angle. It’s directed by Sydney Lumet, no less.

The film mirrors Endeavour, the PBS series, set at the same time of early 1970s, now dealing with police like Fred Thursday at the end of their rope, having to face brutality and violence day-after-day. Endeavouris accurate for the feeling and style of police work in those days.

One may have sympathy for these benighted knights of crime, but they have lost the ability to make good decisions.

Trevor Howard shows up to match Connery in an interrogation scene as the chief constable of Scotland Yard. Their acting in tandem is remarkable, but the film is depressing and unpleasant as it details the reasons why the police sergeant kills a child molester while he is in police custody.

If this is to be recommended for its relevance, it is to be watched with a barf bag handy. You will likely be unhappy to see Connery’s license to kill, in this role, is not for espionage fun. This is a dark, stark, cruel movie.

 

 

Norman Mailer: American Something or Other

DATELINE: Great Writers?

Norman, is that you?

We confess that we never had much regard for Norman Mailer during his lifetime. He was an Ernest Hemingway wannabe without style or class. He was the Nixon of writers.  He reveled in the cult of personality over writing talent. However, there was no denying he was a writer: he never wavered in writing novels, journalism, history, biography, and social commentary.

Unlike many writers, he was prolific and constant in his commitment. He loved writing from his days at Harvard and like Gore Vidal, he might have gone off track now and then as an actor, film director, or even candidate for political office. He always returned to writing.

He used his fame and fortune as a writer to open every door he could: he had six wives and a passel of children. He had the buzz off money that most people envy. He could tell anyone, big or small, famous or infamous, to go to hell. He did it his way. His success with The Naked and The Dead made him rich and famous, but he was a critical target after that. He became an insulting drunkard.

In a world where you might admire talent or special ability, he never thought much of any of it. He said and did what he wanted. He was independent and might stick a fork in a snarling lion if it behooved him. He stabbed his second wife, nearly killing her, and faked insanity and begged her not to press charges. What a tool.

Gore Vidal could berate him to face and he shrugged it off. He would bait a Dick Cavett audience and sneer back at their hostility. He was larger than life.

Should we admire him now that he was been gone 20 years or so? He wrote marvelous books on Marilyn and Oswald that stand up to researchers still.

He won a couple of Pulitzers for taking on capital punishment and the Vietnam War. He was fearless and cocky. We never liked him, but in his dotage we have come to recognize our own dotage. It does not change that he was reprehensible.

Endeavour Takes Turn for Worse

 DATELINE: Unpleasant Developments

 Morse, We Hardly Knew Ye! 

In this abbreviated seventh season, the second or middle part of the trilogy of related chapters will continue to indicate to us something bad has happened to the psyche of Endeavour Morse, our stalwart and brilliant young detective.

Perhaps the constant and unrelenting crimes of violence are having a terrible effect on all the characters. Well, in a thoughtful series like Endeavour, this means your characters are developing into something you may not like.

The three major characters (including James Bradshaw as the amusing coroner) watch a woman view her teenage son on the morgue slab and go mad with denial that he is dead. Not pleasant stuff for our hardened police.

In this case, we saw veteran Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) finally fed up with murders and cruel treatment people inflict on each other. When the old cynical pro goes obsessive, you know that he will have a more divisive relationship with his sergeant Morse (Shaun Evans) likely to destroy their relationship.

The overlap of the first episode is that Thursday still believes another man killed young waitress Molly. He is now obsessed, trailing the suspect off hours when another is going on trial for the crime.

We see more of Morse’s personal beliefs than ever before: He opines the “dead deserve justice,” as to why he does a job he dislikes. He also admits he is not the forgiving type (which we think may include forgiving himself). He loses his moral scruples at last and in disappointing fashion, going after the married woman after all.  Well, actually she goes after him with wanton disregard for her millionaire husband.

Morse’s quondam friend, the woman’s husband, we suspect, knows all about this and has been observing. We will find out in the final episode of the season whether our detective skills are up to Morse’s level. He seems not to see it.

The show is overlaid with racism against Pakistani immigrants in 1970, and cruel violence even among themselves in their diaspora. We were reminded of the old chestnut movie, My Beautiful Lauderette, from the 1980s that also covered the Pakistani prejudice in England.

If this is how the show will ultimately evolve, we may at long last lose our taste for the characters and the series, whether it returns for an eighth season or not. Morse’s moral scruples have been compromised and that is never a good sign for heroic TV detectives.

Author, Author: Go Away!

DATELINE: Unwanted Gifts

 Latest Affront to Gifting.

A friend kindly scoffed at me for a bad habit.

He claimed how I had a tendency to give away gifts to people who did not necessarily want them. He was referring to my bad habit to bestow a copy of one of my books to people who have been nice to me.

I usually inscribe them with thanks for some generic kindness. It is, I am told, not appreciated because I have given people something that they cannot repay or reciprocate.

Well, okay. I realize that not everyone can write a book and return a copy to me in standoff fashion. However, I thought that providing a free, gratis copy of a personal creation would qualify as an act of generosity, not as a slap with my velvet glove.

However, my friend argues that it is not that at all: it is a brazen show of ego.

Well, you can knock me over with a dust-jacket. I would never have thought that giving a personal gift would be construed as an act of selfishness. In fact, I always thought the creative process was something to be shared.

Alas, if you share it with those who have no appreciation, no interest, or no good manners, the writer of a book may well deserve to have the gift accepted without thanks or acknowledgement.

I often note that I give away my book as a token of my gratitude and not as homework assignment. I will not quiz the recipient on the book’s message or contents. If I did, we know the result would be a failing grade. We’ve seen enough of that in the nation’s body politic.

As a resolution, I have now promised my old friend that I will be more circumspect in sharing my books. Never give a page away that is not requested, or at least has some kind of interest expressed by another. It means I will save money on copies and postage.

It is an age when reading is a chore, not a pleasure, and the disrespected writer is a prophet without honor in any country.

 

Dr. William Russo is too prolific for his own good, and he has written many movie history books and biographies.

 

 

Endeavour’s Seventh: Crime Goes On!

DATELINE: Night at the Opera

 Shaun Evans, not Groucho.

To kick off the seventh season of egghead murder mystery, Endeavour once again turns to star hotshot, Shaun Evans, to direct the first episode of Endeavour.

He is even better the second time around: with aplomb when it comes to set-ups, color, and the new modern police office settings. He seems to have wasted time filming in Venice for a few scenes that could have been faked without much notice in a studio. Producers even created an opera for the clueless.

The series has grown darker, starting with Endeavour’s heavy narrative opening about the comedy and tragedy he is about to face. Even his boss, Thursday, is now fed up with grisly killings and his humor is turning sour while Morse goes on vacation to Venice.

The episode is over-wroughtly titled “Oracle” when “Psychic” would have done well.

It’s 1970 now, and a waitress at the New Year’s bash is killed walking home from work. It is the heavy-handed start of women’s equal rights—and it is played historically nasty. Most men of the era saw it as a fad and did not take it seriously. If you use this show as history, you see something far more sinister.

Crime goes on, even at Oxford’s new fangled psychic research center where remote viewing experiments are in their infancy.

The red herrings, as usual, pile up in this show, which now have caught Roger Allam’s Thursday short-tempered.

Endeavour (Evans) remains the kiss of death, or so we suspect, as he succumbs to an operatic affair in Venice that is over before vacation ends.

There are a few intrigues that may trip you up: an old former classmate, a millionaire bon vivant seems gay and has an interest in Endeavour, and who could blame him? However, it is the petty jealousy of fellow detective Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) that is most amusing.

Psychic research is given a once-over effectively here and respectfully. If you don’t have it, you can’t fake it—and the ending is going to be a surprise for most.

The series is now in serial form, not self-contained mystery. The three-parts will meld into one.

 

 

 

 

 

Maugham: Rain in the Face

DATELINE: Somerset

Willie Maugham was one of the most successful of writers in the 20thcentury. He wrote one short story, “Rain,” that made him over one million dollars in the 1920s. You could say he was the rich man’s Truman Capote.

A short documentary gathers together some rare photos and film clips of his high-living. It’s called Revealing Mr. Maugham. But it is mostly apologetic for his transgressions and motive to write for money.

Maugham suffered from a stammer that made him less media attractive—but like Capote, he wrote about the gossip he heard, transforming the mud in novels. He was no great writer, like many contemporaries (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf or even Noel Coward) but he made big bucks and commanded movie versions (The Razor’s Edge).

Being secretly gay, he never played out or up his personality like Capote. Yet, he was notorious in his world travels to seek gay pleasure spots around the world. His “secretary” was actually his lover and procurer.

Maugham learned about human nature at medical school where he studied with Dr. Bell, the model for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. And, his understanding of sexuality was scientific and ahead of its time.

He was scarred by his brother Harry’s suicide over a homosexual scandal—and it may have sent Maugham into the closet for the rest of his life.

His companion Gerald Haxton helped him create Cap Ferrat, the idyllic “Fairyland,” that Edna St. Vincent Millay declared one visit. Her insight is not in the film. Nor does the film tell us of the monkey gland injections to maintain his masculine vigor in old age to host boys, boys, boys.

The documentary tries hard to give Maugham literary chops, but he was interested only in fame and money, whether as a playwright or as a story writer. Yes, he wrote spy stories before LeCarre and Greene, and he was an actual spy for the British government.

Yet, he became in senility a rather unpleasant, vindictive and manipulated old fool of his new “secretary,” who managed to steal everything through poisoning Maugham’s old mind.

The documentary shows how one can outlive his own standards.

Claire Denis: High Life Tumbles

DATELINE: Pattinson Finds His Spacesuit! 

 Rocket Man, Not !

The latest film by auteur and brilliant director Claire Denis is not her best, but it is original, bizarre, and will find admirers among the critical set. High Life sets a tone and standard for sci-fi that seems sci-unfit.

However, High Life is more original than your sci-fi audience may want. This is not on the level of Kubrick tackling the topic. It is anti-science fiction: philosophical and idiosyncratic. Forward is going backward from Earth.

 

If Robert Pattinson has selected it, you know you are in for something different. He knows how to pick unusual movies.

The narrative storyline is something about a father raising his infant daughter alone on a spaceship hurtling toward a black hole.

You know you are in arthouse territory when the title of the film flashes 18minutes into the story. We slowly discern the rest of the crew is dead—and therein is the tale of sexual tension with malcontents on a ship going nowhere at nine-tenths the speed of light.

Somewhere around half-way into the movie, we find the kink foundation and disturbing fact that these are actually delinquent prisoners unethically sent out as guinea pigs with no hope of return.

Their fate is not exactly happy, and their problematic lives merely make the inevitable tragedy. In the meantime, Pattinson is a curio, ageless and aging as his daughter grows up. Their goal of a black hole is referred to as an alligator eye, but it is the bullseye of bull. This dark, dour film has convinced some it is a masterpiece.

For others, it is simply so far out there that it defies comprehension. Critical reaction is all over the landscape and under the sun.

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.