Ghost with the Most: His Sad Story

DATELINE:  Haunted and Haunting

ghost story

One of the most original and singular movies we have seen in recent years is A Ghost Story.

Using the trite metaphor of a ghost in a white sheet, the main character gives his perspective as a ghost over time in the cosmos. He’s a ghost because he is tethered to the spot where he must haunt.

Along for the ride are Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a married couple who live in the haunted ranch until tragedy splits them.

If you ever wondered whether a great performance could come from a white sheet with a couple of slits for black eye holes, you will have your answer in this film. The main ghost haunts you in ways you never expected: which means you can forget about the usual scare tactics. This is a serious commentary on death and the lingering presence of the departed among us.

The film is short and compelling as the ghost suffers mostly from being unable to affect human affairs of the living—and how time passes without any discernable force.

There is some heartbreak in what the ghost must endure for eternity—as well as the people who invade his space, driving him to try to scare them away.

Eerie, lyrical, melancholy, the film by David Lowery likely will “bore” your typical boorish audience who will want the usual chills and clichés associated with haunted house movies. You will not find those here.

Instead, you have a masterful, touching look at the agony of Death, faceless and ignored by most people around him.

If we could put this movie on a scale, it rises to one of the most powerful and affecting works of film art we have seen in a few years. We do not make such statements rashly. Such movie events are rare and deserve your full attention.

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Sam Elliott’s Hero within a Hero

 DATELINE:  Movies for the Older Audience

 Elliot & Ross The Hero    Katherine Ross & Sam Elliot

Film director Brett Haley seems to have cornered the senior citizen/golden-ager demographic with his latest film, The Hero.

It stars aged in wood cowboy actor Sam Elliot as an aged in wood cowboy star.

You couldn’t ask for a better representative of the old-fashioned saddletrap. Elliot relives part of his career with clips from a movie-within-a-movie called The Hero.

Whether he turns out to be the hero of his own life, the pages of Edna St. Vincent Millay may show. We are a sap when it comes to movies that use metaphors from Edna, as one of her bittersweet poems dominates the movie’s climax.

The film is partially based on Elliott and his career. Indeed, his wife Katharine Ross makes a rare film appearance as his ex-wife. She looks marvelous, but director Haley seems to give old stars a rebirth (see his earlier I’ll See You in My Dreams, with Barbara Bain, Mariette Hartley, and Elliott).

And, the plot revolves around his friendship with an old costar from a benighted TV series and his alienated daughter who is a bitter by-product of his past life.

Director Haley scores again with the geriatric performers. Max Gail shows up as the head of a Western fan movie group that honors the lead character with a ‘lifetime achievement’ award that no one has ever heard of. An aging fanbase hangs on for words of wisdom.

Silver-haired and silver-throated Sam Elliott’s Hero cowboy must face the grim diagnosis of his doctor and still maintain his star quality and prideful heroism. This is a masterful job of movie-making—but likely will be wasted on young viewers. It will resonate with generations of long ago.

 

Broken John Garfield in The Breaking Point

DATELINE:  Lost & Forgotten Movies

Garfield

Of the legendary Blacklist victims of old Hollywood, one of the most tragic is actor John Garfield, a star not much thought of nowadays. He died too young, but he would have been even bigger before another decade passed if only he had lived.

He had a career often playing tough guys with a conscience, often in socially redeeming movies. Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy for him, but he never played it. Elia Kazan was a buddy, but never directed him. Garfield’s last role, before he was forced off the screen in 1951, was The Breaking Point, based on an Ernest Hemingway tale.

As you might expect, Garfield played an independent owner of a small fishing boat that rented out to corrupt businessmen on holiday.

Needing money, Garfield’s character succumbs to dealing in human contraband, bringing illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico. The story almost seems ripped from present-day headlines.

Featuring Juano Hernandez as his partner, a daring cross-color friendship in the middle of the McCarthy era, Garfield’s hero must deal with temptations of corruption. Patricia Neal, in her blonde vamp role, is hard-hearted nemesis, tempting the hero from his wife.

Garfield suffered from a rheumatic heart in the days before medications and procedures—and yet he often played the action hero. Throw in the stresses he suffered personally from the House on Un-American Activities, and you have a shortened life.

The film treads on noir ground, and it plays as cultural realism too. It seems a contradiction coming from the macho-Hemingway mode, but this is a tale of honor with filmmakers who wanted to be relevant as well as entertaining.

Today The Breaking Point stands as a movie way ahead of its time.

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie: Never the Twain

DATELINE:  Giants in Separate Corners

   agatha       hitch

Recently the question came to us: Why did the two great forces of mystery and suspense never collaborate?

The answer may be surprising. They were both highly successful, popular and beloved: one in film and one in literature. They were both British, lived and died around the same time, and trod the same grounds of creativity.

A few claim Hitchcock was a misogynist: but his greatest collaborators were women (apart from his wife Alma). He enjoyed the works of Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca, The Birds) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train).

Apart from that fact, both Hitch and Agatha loved to use the setting of trains for their greatest works! Hitchcock could have directed Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, his peak, and most think he did direct it:  but it went to Billy Wilder who used Hitch’s techniques to great effect. Hitchcock could have directed Ten Little Indians in 1945, but chose to avoid the Christie works altogether.

Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he disliked the genre of the ‘who done it.’  He found it antithetical to his idea of what made for cinematic story-telling. He likened the genre to a crossword puzzle, with revealing clues as the main point of the story. It was bread and butter for Christie, but Hitchcock hated the notion and revealing the killer at the end of the story.

You may think two of Hitch’s intriguing films, at the least, were of the who done it school:  Psycho actually revealed who the killer was, but not in the way you expected it to be in the final reel. Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s least favorite films and he filmed it because he was told it was a Christie story, but turned out to be one of his weakest entries.

In Shadow of a Doubt in 1943, Hitchcock had two minor characters discuss how to murder each other—and referred to Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective of Christie, in less than flattering terms.

It’s almost tragic that Hitchcock did not direct Witness for the Prosecution or Murder on the Orient Express to see how he might have handled the material. Both films are brilliant stories and wonderful films, but the echoes of Hitch are omnipresent.

So, we were left without any collaboration between the two greats of 20th century murder mystery. It’s not much of a mystery, but it is a tale of audience misfortune.

Holmesian Logic Applied to the Las Vegas Shooter

DATELINE: The Third Man or Stephen Paddock?

Welles as Third Man Welles as Harry Lime

A few friends have asked us to apply Sherlockian logic to the Las Vegas shooter case that has baffled so many people—and confounded police.

Authorities find Stephen Paddock a conundrum that defies profiles created by criminologists.

We deduce, first of all, that investigators have been probing deeply beyond obvious facts. The obvious often is deceptive and will mislead investigators.

After all, it was Sherlock Holmes who famously said that you need to eliminate all the impossible factors—and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

We must ask ourselves, what is served by misery, violence, and fear?

Paddock’s actions justify a private revenge, making his secrets all the more imponderable.

So, what can we deduce about the man who had millions of dollars from life as a high roller? He was confident in the risks and his odds of beating them.

Paddock was a fugitive from the law of averages.

This was an angry man who felt disrespected by society, despite his success as a gambler. He felt his status as an older, white male gave him no advantage in terms of respectability. As the sands of life passed by, he was dissatisfied with his lot. He hated time. It was cheating him.

Over the years, he found the ease of beating the system put him above law and society. He won millions of dollars by playing games against those he felt were dolts of society.

Paddock mistrusted other people—and had no need for their assistance. He worked alone in his problem-solving. People were manipulated to serve his own goals.

Paddock was a coward. He could not face the people he loathed—those who found happiness in simple living. He preferred the edginess of risk-taking. Thus, like infamous fictional killer Harry Lime, he took up a high position to commit his crime.

If you recall, Lime looked down on people from the perspective of a Ferris-wheel where his victims looked like “dots.” The film is The Third Man. It was easy to dehumanize those who would die if they are merely squirming dots in a dark night.

The armaments at his crime scene suggest he knew this could be a “glorious” Waterloo for him, but the use of cameras indicate he planned for the possibility to beat the law of averages to kill again.

Melania Trump Suffers from Bookworms

DATELINE:  Beauty Meets the Beast

Melania

Immigrant-come-lately Melania Trump will find no sanctuary in one of the biggest sanctuary cities in the United States. They have put her on ICE.

Our beautiful and exotic First Lady has run headlong into a beastly book monster.

A librarian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has rejected any overture of kindness from the First Lady—and has not shown her American hospitality in the least.

In an age when most young people are not encouraged to read and won’t do much reading, except on Twitter where sentences are limited to 140 characters, a self-righteous librarian has decided to burn the books gifted to her library in Cambridgeport.

Mrs. Trump sent to the library about a dozen books written by Dr. Seuss as part of a gift she dispersed around the nation.

Melania would read them to her young son, Barron, several years ago and thought they would be a wonderful gift to any well-stocked library.

She didn’t consider they already had some editions, and she didn’t consider maybe she should’ve sent them to an underprivileged library of some wayward public school without much resource.

Nor did Mrs. Trump suspect that among liberal activists, Dr. Seuss is now considered even more suspect of being a secret racist–and hiding it in plain sight of the Grinch.

This gave a liberal librarian the opportunity to say nay– and throw kerosene on the books and bric-a-brac at the First Lady.

Not since Joseph Goebbels took over the libraries of Nazi Germany have we seen such anti-intellectual attitude. And this, from a librarian who prefers to read children books about same sex pecadillos and union organizers.

Mrs. Obama often read the Dr. Seuss books to young students during her visits to school children when she was First Lady. Somehow between Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Trump, the books in question became racist. At least in the mind of one liberal librarian.

So, banning books now has moved directly into the most liberal bastion in America:  Cambridge, Mass., where we once lived as a child—and hated Dr. Seuss as a sidelight.

Little did we know that indoctrination was part of our education.

Mrs. Trump now has been infected by bookworms.

 

 

Frantz: Elegiac Film Experience

DATELINE:  Rare Gem

frantz

Sensitive, intelligent, cultured films like Frantz manage to be amazing discoveries for those who find such an artistic gem. It’s beautiful, with hints of classical sounds from Rimsky-Korsakoff to Mahler. It is in both German and French, with English subtitles.

It’s black and white, with occasional bursts of faint pastel.

That said, the audience is down to a handful of discriminating aficionados of movie-making.

This film manages to be fascinating in its plot and full of surprises. In 1919 after the war, a lovely German woman discovers a Frenchman leaving flowers on the grave of her dead fiancé. It is a mystery that never fully unravels until the turn of events is a reversal of fortunes.

The story is one of serene melancholy, elegiac in its mourning and works for anyone who loses a soldier to war.

A Frenchman in Germany after World War I encounters cultural hostility—and when the German girl goes to Paris, the reverse holds true. In the beginning, slowly the dead soldier’s parents appreciate the Frenchman who claims to be a friend to their son, meeting him in Paris before the war where they both shared an interest in the violin.

You may rightfully be suspicious of what is behind the obvious facts. You might also be quite wrong when you jump to conclusions. The dead soldier story can be traced back to a 1932 film made by Ernst Lubitsch called Broken Lullaby.

Pierre Niney is so peculiar as Adrien, the French ami of Frantz, that you may find his performance is, in itself, a red herring—and Paula Beer is so enchanting as the dead man’s heartbroken fiancee that the audience must feel her tragedy.

Yet, it is director Francois Ozon who is the mastermind behind the pieces so beautifully woven together—music, images, emotions.

You might encounter such a film experience rarely nowadays. Frantz is a haunting masterpiece.

Lord of the Flies: Donald Trump

 DATELINE:  Free Speech & Concussed Politicians

lord

North Korea has it wrong. Trump is not the Commander-in-Grief. He is the Lord of the Flies, the William Golding horror reborn.

NFL fans of the game may be coming to a rather harsh realization. Freedom of speech cuts. Two ways. They were counter-free speechified by the players on Sunday.

You may boo your least favorite players in the stadium and to their face as they score winning points to help your team. Then, cheers. What manner is this hypocrisy?

On the other hand,  players have a right to express their feelings as well. We think they ought to just thumb noses, instead of a respectful knee to the ground. Save that for the bully-pulpit fans.

You may not like seeing players kneel during Our National Anthem.  It’s almost like praying for a better country.  Fat chance for that under the Lord of the Flies.

Mr. Trump is completely convinced that he would rather be right than president.  Trump is no Henry Clay when it comes to cold feet. He has performed no presidential feat greater than dividing the nation into red and blue. He leaves the white for separatist flags.

Perhaps his wish will be granted. We either will have the end of the world in a nuclear holocaust against another race of the Yellow Peril, or we will have a race war in America. In either case, you have to admit Trump has divided America in ways we haven’t seen since the Civil War.

Russian interference of the election is secondary to Trump hijacking of the Constitution.

Of course, we have come to expect the worst of NFL fans. They laugh and demean the idea of concussions. Ask Will Smith.

They watch gladiator athletes concussed weekly for entertainment. If memory serves, during the campaign President Trump scoffed at the idea of concussions for NFL players as a sign of weakness. Talk about brain bankruptcy.

All this goes to show that what goes around comes around, like Aaron Hernandez and Confederate resurrection.  It’s all in a day’s work for the Lord of the Flies.

Fences: Trite Metaphor Aside

DATELINE:  Denzel Directs

denzel & viola

Viola Davis & Denzel Washington: Superb Performances

Denzel Washington’s double duty in the movie version of August Wilson’s play Fences pays overtime.

Playing against heroic type, he comes across in the early scenes as an affable trash collector named Troy Maxson, living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. His demeanor seemingly hides a disappointed life, as his great talent as a baseball player was over before desegregation of the major baseball leagues.

As a result, he is deeply bitter that his life did not conjoin with the times. Though he seems to take the losses in life well, with easy banter with his wife, brilliant Viola Davis, we begin to see there is far more below the surface.

His family bristles under his demand for respect, compensating for what he feels is missing as his due from society.

He has spent time in prison and has sons by different women, though his younger son with Rose (Viola Davis) also wants to play football in college, which he irrationally refuses to allow.

His friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) witnesses the behavior helpless, until he too gives up on the missing humanity in his friend.

Under Washington’s direction, the film seems bigger, but he does it with a narrow play-like focus to reveal what a heel, misunderstood, Troy truly is.

When, ultimately. he betrays his long-suffering wife, Viola Davis is able to provide a powerhouse performance.

Perhaps he is a victim of harsh social conditions, especially racism in baseball, but what he demands of his family may be cause for true alienation, though they bear with him.

Thoughtful, well-acted films are usually from the 1950s when socially-conscious dramas were common. This film is set back then and matches the quality of old-fashioned movie-making.

Humor from Heaven: Brady’s New Book

DATELINE:  Up Close to Botox

botox forever

Just when you think there’s nothing funny to say about the New England Patriots with the new season beginning, like manna from heaven, Tom Brady gives us his new book.

Filled with bon mots but no bonbons, the book drops like the gentle rain from heaven. It’s nearly 300 Nietzchean pages long with lots of pictures. This is enough to sustain a good satirist for a year.

For those who thought Tom Brady was illiterate, how wrong you are. He admits to being a good solid B student in school. However, he had no interest in academics. His major in college was General Studies, who he thought was a Confederate Civil War hero.

How is this different from any other student?

Tom admits he never had time to read while he was in school because he had another passion: sports. Now that he’s a professional athlete he still has no time to read books, but he has time to hire somebody to write one. Hence, this book.

We do learn that there are athletes in the locker room who know how to read. Tom tells us that one of his teammates told him that ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ only in the dictionary. We looked it up. It’s true.

We also learn how Tom’s Godfather is the inimitable Willie McGinnest, no Al Pacino for sure. Tom doesn’t say Willie put any horse heads in anyone’s bed, but the Godfather did give Tom an introduction to his trainer. So, now we know where to place the blame.

This is only the beginning. As soon as the book is available on our Kindle reader we will be ordering a copy. It’s worth it’s weight in gold dust.

Classic Tale of Hockey Returns After a Long Hiatus

DATELINE:  Sordid Sports Fiction

kindlerinkrats

After twenty years and a long time out of print, the best novel on the sport of hockey has returned for readers, new and old. Rink Rats is a shocker still. It’s now an e-book and will be available in paperback soon.

Based on life during one college season during the 1990s, Mike Tortorella’s story continues to be controversial and revealing.  Mobie Monaco, the erstwhile captain of a rag-tag bunch that follows his lead into depths of depravity, narrates his life-story.

With hockey players enjoying a long-established reputation as the wild men of sports, you can certainly expect an adult tale of moral turpitude. Tortorella’s tale is a spiritual journey above all else, whether it is a quest for a championship, or a test of one’s moral character.

The story is built around the effort to commit every deadly sin they can encounter and break every Commandment that is set in stone. All the time there is an interesting parallel to Melville’s voyages. Far more metaphoric, the characters are like rats leaving a sinking ship, but are more familiar as the young players who hang around hockey rinks and become enamored of the lifestyle. This is NOT a young-adult novel.

The original story keeps its freshness and provides insights into the daily life, practice, and play on and off ice that can only come from someone who was there.

You may think the novel will only appeal to a certain fan of a political stripe, but self-knowledge is indeed a dangerous avenue to pursue. We aren’t sure how much of the tale is completely true—and how much of it is so unbelievable as to be utterly true.

These rough-and-tumble players are not figure skaters guilty of icing, but you will experience their notorious escapades. In the final analysis, as Tortorella’s book states, “The great shroud of the ice age rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”  The human condition is indeed timeless as seen in one breathtaking season at a New England college.

 

Boy Culture in Homestretch

 DATELINE:  Production Deadline Looms

 Darryl    Actor & Author Darryl Stephens
The sequel to the phenomenal hit 2006’s Boy Culture, an extraordinary high-quality movie about gay life, may be about to hit the wall.

With days to go, the project desperately needs backers to reach its Kickstarter goal of $50,000. Nearly 300 diehard fans of the original movie have pledged to help produce a TV series to follow up on the characters and the culture.

Darryl Stephens is signed to reprise his role from the original show. You can pick up his autobiography on Amazon.

Time, in fact, maybe the worst enemy of gay movie culture. With only a few days left, will the gay community–and others– come through to help save the project?

Boy Culture should not be the purview of a few gay men. It should be the interest of anyone who believes the world of LGBT deserves positive presentation.

We saw a similar project come to fruition through this means, which ended with a brilliant little slice-of-gay-life movie called Chasing Pavement with Remy Mars.
Those who appreciate the need of artists to have backing need to step up again–this time for director Allan Brocka to weave his movie magic again.

Perhaps some glorious Angel will fly down to the set and pre-production group like a Deus ex machina and lay on $10,000 (buckeroos, not bitcoin) to the producers, director, and writer.

Perhaps one of those show busy angels does it in the movies, or even in a TV series. However, in real life, perhaps you need to be involved.

We anxiously await word on the fate of Boy Culture: The Series.

Dreams of Younger Days Won’t Cut It

DATELINE:  Aged in Wood

 sam & blythe

I’ll See You in My Dreams is an old song, but is not the one you expect to hear in the story.

Director Brett Haley presents us with a picture of growing old in Los Angeles, if you are rich and healthy. But, don’t be fooled. It’s no bed of roses for those with privilege and pleasant lives in the waiting room for the Grim Reaper. It’s still a dead end.

Blythe Danner plays an old lady named Carol, but she is way too beautiful, even in her 70s. She also seems to be playing Diane Keaton in terms of wardrobe. After the death of her husband, she took to a retirement community, high-end living to say the least, and for twenty years filled her life with bridge club, a dog, her daughter, and a pool boy, not necessarily in that order.

Still, much is missing in life. There is a motif of a rat running around her beautiful home that drives her outside periodically.

The 35-year-old pool boy may be half her age and in one of those millennial crisis, but he sees her powerful, past talent as a chanteuse. Indeed, Danner gives a wonderful rendition of “Cry Me a River” to prove the point.

Dropping by the film are old faces, once familiar TV staples, like Max Gail, Mary Kay Place, and Rhea Pearlman, which seems to increase audience depression.

The low-budget film will not win over the young set, but who needs to? This is a bittersweet story of whether geriatric romance is worth the tumble. It is done all too tastefully, as these are not desperate, grubby people

When distinguished and wry Sam Elliott shows up with plenty of money, we realize that old age is meant to be lived with wealth and health. Heaven forefend you lose those.

There is something of resignation in the message that Haley seems to present in this highly polished movie that was filmed in three weeks. When you have old professionals, you can fly through a script.

Well-done on all levels and sobering tale of love and loss.

 

 

Free e-books

DATELINE:  Is there really a free lunch?

Starting Wednesday on most titles.

Apparently in the world of Ossurworld.  On Amazon.com, this week for the first time you can find a few of Ossurworld’s favorite movie review books available for free. The offer lasts for a few days. Grab’em while they’re hot.

The Menu:

Is It Real? or Just Another Movie

realkindlecover

Movies to See or Not to See

kindlecovermovies.

Movies in the Stream

kindlecoverMoviesStream

Mal Tempo

Malkindlecover

When Jack the Ripper Met Ben Hur

jackcover

 

 

Lost City & Lost Spirit, Zed Renamed Z

DATELINE:  No Bomba Here

 Zed

An old-fashioned epic journey was once the purview of great films and studios. Think David Lean or John Huston. To tackle a grand mystery, the disappearance of an explorer and his son in the 1920s seems to be the stuff of legendary movies.

Lost cities and their discovery also play in the ballpark of great historical drama.

Yet, something may have become lost in translation when it comes to The Lost City of Z.

Without a doubt, many facets of the Percival Fawcett saga are well-produced, well-acted, and directed with an old-style elan by James Gray.

So, where did the audience become lost? Nowadays, your viewership is weaned on cartoonish plot-holes with noisy special effects, but this film resists the urge for going that way. It paid the price with quality unappreciated. This is not your father’s Indiana Jones.

The film is an adventure in the classic Royal Geographic Society tradition, perhaps better suited to a miniseries from BBC.

Fawcett’s most significant discovery was that the RGS was filled with racial prejudice against ancient tribal societies in 1910. Imagine that! Prejudice that South American natives might not produce a classic civilization thousands of years ago!

Brad Pitt originally planned to play the obsessed British explorer, but wiser heads moved on to Charlie Hunnam, who certainly has come a long way since the days of the British Queer as Folk cast. He is quite perfect in the role, even aging with subtlety from 1906 to the 1926 when Fawcett ostensibly disappeared in the jungle.

Perhaps the understated, stiff upper-lip manner is truly anachronistic and misunderstood, leaving audiences cold.

The best part of the film for us was the role of Robert Pattinson, lately taking secondary co-star parts, sidekick to the hero. He is a delight.

Here he may come across as the next Gabby Hayes, or Ralph Bellamy, but Pattinson’s transition from cute vampire to character actor may have just given his career a new, untold longevity.

By the wayside, snippets of familiar classical music are tossed around like rose petals, which may be the truly greatest criticism we can muster.