Kubrick Monolith Inspires Monkeys Everywhere!

DATELINE:  Ape Uses Bonehead?

With the news that the late Stanley Kubrick has sent a monolith to Utah, we have had flashbacks about the meaning for humankind.

In Kubrick’s movie, this led to rediscoveries on the Moon and on an orb going around Jupiter.

The heavy footed plodding of officials have muffed all chance of finding footprints or other characteristics of a forensic nature. We have some reports that the metal object is made with screws: no word on whether they are Phillips head.

It is interesting that the item is in a remote and difficult to reach place, presumably dropped there by chopper or UFO. We would have been much more impressed if the item had been found at the White House Rose Garden, or even in Joe Biden’s basement.

There is no word if this indicates we will have a cure for coronavirus soon, or whether it means the Dow will hit 30,000 for the first time.

We feel that it supersedes having Xmas decorations needed during a national crisis. The government should send everyone in the United States, who is eligible, a postcard photo of the monolith. It will replace stimulus checks.

The strange object is illegal, of course, but the meter maids have yet to stick a parking ticket on the shiny silver object.

We think someone has usurped the season’s findings at Oak Island. This monolith was supposed to be found by Gary Drayton’s metal detector next to Captain Kidd’s treasure.

The real impact of the monolith has been dulled because we do not hear the Gregorian chants emanating from its radio dial.

 

Borat’s Subsequent Moviejob

 No Monkey on Back?

 DATELINE: Borat’s Bell Ringing

Sacha Baron Cohen has been called “a creep” by the POTUS because of his merciless political satire on the entire McDonald Trump administration. Oi Vey, to say the least.

In a turn of the screw, Cohen’s Borat refers to the fast-food President as McDonalds Trump. There is one zinger after another in this horrifying movie. Borat requires a sense of humor of the 21stcentury: Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward fans need not apply.

Borat comes, as his followers know, from a backward nation under Putin’s thumb. There is an Arab streak in him inexplicably. Since his first movie fifteen years ago, he has been a political prisoner in his homeland, released only with another dangerous US mission. He is to deliver a pornographic monkey to Mikhael Pence, as a peace/piece offering.

When this fails, Borat plans to give Pence, Trump, or any of the Epstein followers his young teenage daughter. Yikes.

No one is spared the spot-on nasty barbs. If you like your political cruelty nothing short of Chaplin’s Great Dictator, you may have some kind of reincarnation in Barron Cohen (who shares a name with Trump’s son, about all they have in common).

The world will long note the zingers that never miss.

If you suffer from a syndrome known as “bad taste,” this is your movie. Borat lampoons all American life ruthlessly, and goes through a list of men to offer his daughter (all McDonald Trump aides are in jail or under arrest). This leaves him with Rudi Giuliani—and that leaves us with the biggest political shocker of many years of political humor.

We cannot think of a more worthy political target.

What exactly is faked in this movie?  You likely have to watch it for yourself to make a hard decision on the corrupt nature of Trump’s associates.

This is a whack job movie, and defies good taste, political boundaries, and critical assessment.

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.

Jack the Tailor of Beverly Hills

 DATELINE: You Are What You Call Yourself!

 Clothes Make the Man!

Upon first coming across a one-hour documentary on a fashion store in Beverly Hills, we thought it was one of those vanity documentaries, produced by its subject. Jack Taylor was a 90-year old high fashion artist from old Hollywood days.

The film is a tad old, with Taylor gone in 2016 and his main supporter, Mike Douglas, a decade before that. Yet, we are always eager to catch up on our past misgivings.

Jack Taylor hardly needs publicity, and business is dying out as his A-list celebrity patrons pass away. He would soon follow and take an era with him. He was the man who tailored all those magnificent suits worn by Cary Grant from the 1930s till his death. Grant would order a dozen suits at time.

We wondered if there were any celebs who’d go on camera for a commercial appearance—and there were plenty of men: Mike Douglas, Hal Linden, swore by Jack Taylor. Monty Hall wore a different outfit every show on Let’s Make a Deal, all created by Taylor.

He made clothes for Elvis, Sinatra, Charles Bronson, and so many men. He was not easy either. He would tell them not to eat or put on weight. His suits were meant to show them off at their best shape. His most obstreperous client was Jackie Gleason who needed 3 sizes, because of his weight changes over weeks and months.

Taylor would tell them to eat only half the plate at the restaurant. He did not do alterations, or sew the suits. He has a 60-year tailor for that: he has worked for Taylor for sixty years. He’s in his 80s. But both lament there are no tailors any longer.

We are looking at the extinction of men’s fashion. There was no endangered species list: men’s suits and ties were dinosaurs when the political landscape changed its pants.

Clothes for men nowadays are off the rack at best, and China imports at worst. Jack Taylor knows his world of well-dressed men is fading away. He thinks the 1940s were the last gasp, but the war killed it at that point. And, the 1970s turned into a fashion death knell for men’s clothing with jeans and t-shirts as the extent of wardrobe.

We never expected to be fascinated at expensive clothes, being a recluse who never makes public appearances. However, celebrities still know a good suit is essential, but they are going to have a hard time finding anyone to replace jack Taylor.

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.

 

 

Franchise Detectives: Blanc and Poirot

 

DATELINE: TV or Not TV

As if one fiasco performance was not enough in Murder on the Orient Express,Kenneth Branagh has pasted on his giant fake mustache for a second Poirot adventure based on Agatha Christie.

Yes, he is sailing down and down: Death on the Nile. will render another horrible remake of the murder mystery. Put aside the diminutive expert work of David Suchet a few years ago, Branagh is a behemoth in the role (too big for his tiny mincing steps).

Why would Branagh chose to do a franchise murder mystery series on the bigger screen after doing every Shakespearean play that fit his mood on film?

Likely it is the same reason that Daniel Craig has given up James Bond’s franchise to play a cornpone detective named Benoit Blanc from New Orleans. As one character noted, it was CSI by ways of KFC. Knives Out  will be followed by Knives In and Out.

Craig’s character is not even clever, except as the writer lets him solve the crime. Bombast seems to highlight these new detectives who’d never cut it on TV weekly in the old heyday of McCloud and  Rockford.

All-star supporting casts seem to be a draw for these films now: you find faces (some old TV stars) that yearn to be back in the public favor, and you have a cast of suspects that is often highly amusing. Their biggest crime is wanting a comeback role.

So, we will have more of these franchise detectives. The roles are not exactly Prince Hamlet, but great roles often have been reprised by different actors. For almost a century Basil Rathbone was considered the be-all, end-all Sherlock until Jeremy Brett gave him a run.

Now we have new actors (well, very old actors) in new versions of old wine. We toast their hubris.

Capone’s Last Year

DATELINE: Just Call Al ‘Fonzie’ 

 The Ultimate Al Capone.

Forget those performances by Robert Di Niro, Rod Steiger, Paul Muni, or a half dozen other actors who played the version of Scarface. This version of Capone  is filled with hungry alligators and chilling dreams of slaughter under his rubric.

Add Hardy’s blithering performance as a seminal Al Capone to the canon. Traditional crime movie fans will hate this unpleasant bio-drama.

Tom Hardy plays the addled, diseased, paranoid, syphilitic Capone living in Florida under FBI surveillance in 1948.

It’s hard to believe he was only 48 when he died after being released from Alcatraz in physical and mental decline. This film features Hardy with bloodshot eyes, barely verbal, hallucinating, deluded, and incontinent. No wonder fans of crime movies and Capone as kingpin hate this movie.

This is your anti-Capone mobster: a fallen slob who hears re-enactments of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre every time he turns on a radio. He can barely shuffle around his Florida estate and the feds believe he is faking it at the end.

The story of Capone’s vault being empty comes out of this storyline:  that Al, called Fonzo, hid ten million bucks and forgot where he put it. Agents of Hoover were eavesdropping to hear if he revealed where it was, as they never believed he was mad as a hatter from syphilis.

Kyle MacLachlan is around as a FBI-hired doctor to try to wheedle info out of him between his final strokes. Matt Dillon is not holding up well as a fantasy figure from Al’s past. Dillon is looking his age and is nearly unrecognizable nowadays from his youthful self.

How much of this is true? We can never know what delusions and nightmares Capone suffered at the end of his life, or if the stories of his family around him were accurate.

This is quite a performance by Tom Hardy, but you are looking at a fantasy world Chicago mob figure in utter decline. It is fascinating to behold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubious Tribute to Olivia De Havilland

DATELINE: Worst Movie of Her Career

Caged Lady!

Leave it to Amazon Prime to honor the memory and career of Olivia De Havilland with the worst movie she ever made.  Long forgotten, Lady in a Cage,  is one of those 1960s hag horror movies made after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

This features Miss De Havilland who recently passed as age 104 in her attractive, dignified middle-age as a poet trapped in her million-dollar mansion in a private elevator. She is beset upon by a gaggle of horror creatures called in the trailer: the psycho, the wino, the hustler, the weirdo and the wildo.  No kidding. These low-lifes do not rescue Miss DeHavilland, but torment, torture, and drive her to the edge of insanity.

This passed for entertainment.

The following year De Havilland replaced Joan Crawford in the Bette Davis murder horror called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,a truly dignified and marvelous murder horror. This warm-up is a cold turkey.

In Ryan Murphy’s miniseries, Feud,about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, there is a scene where Miss De Havilland tosses the script for Lady in a Cage into her trash. Apparently, she changed her mind and agreed to contractual terms. Did she need the money? Was the limelight as star so great that she tossed away all semblance of taste?

All we know is that she chose to make this horror, which horrified us.

The supporting cast is equally shocking: there is Ann Sothern, who had just come off ten years as a TV comedy sit-com star. She apparently had no scruples and appears as a fat, middle-aged prostitute. Another wasted actor was Rafael Campos whose career was playing Puerto Rican slimeballs in movie after movie. His talent was never treated properly, and in his movie debut, there is James Caan as the head monster, looking and acting like Marlon Brando. He is a young lookalike here, and ten years later ended up playing Brando’s son in The Godfather.

We do not recommend this travesty of movie shocks. If you are curious, watch the preview in which demure, attractive De Havilland as herself, talks about the message of the movie: apparently under the surface we are all animals.

Yikes.

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.

Being Natural and Lost in History: Alice Guy

DATELINE: Pioneer Filmmaker

 Alice Thru the Lens Glass! 

How is it possible for someone to be erased from history in movies? Alice went through the camera lens and made the first wonderland of studio narrative movies! The film is called Be Natural: the Story of Alice Guy-Blache.

With Jodie Foster producing and narrating this insight into forgotten history, Pamela B. Greene is a researcher, director, and force to right a wrong done to a creative and mistreated woman. Alice Guy was contemporary in France to the Lumiere Brothers, and she ran the Gaumont Studios.

Yet, she was omitted time and again by critics for her massive contributions. She made about 1000 short movies from 1896 to the start of World War I.

Both Alfred Hitchcock and Sergei Eisenstein called her a tremendous influence on their directing, but she is still today relatively unknown. Director Greene does a whirlwind of research to uncover the story.

In that way, this is a thrilling and fascinating detective work. Alice Guy-Blache was the victim of critics, bad history, misinformation, and a husband who took credit for her work.

She was a driving force for Solax Pictures, one of the big movie companies in Fort Lee, New Jersey. All the others went to Hollywood, and she went out of business.

Returning to France, she was further isolated and ignored. IN her later years she tried to find her films, but most were lost. During the 1950s her glowing, brilliant works were slowly found.

Her mantra was “Be Natural,” to actors. It was heresy in the silent era, but her films feature performances that are amazing by today’s standards.

Family told her in old age to give up: she would never be recognized. Fortunately, that is not true, thanks to pioneer women in movies today uncovering the injustice done to Alice. This turns out to be an extraordinary documentary.

Trump as Movie Critic &/or Norma Desmond

 DATELINE: Old Time Movies!

At a campaign rally this week, Donald Trump showed another facet of his koo-koo bird presidency. He started attacking Hollywood’s Oscar choice of The Parasitefor best picture. It seems he does not care for South Korea’s movie industry.

 

If it had been made in North Korea, he might have been more tolerant. Perhaps he just has an intolerance for parasites, or movies that attack and ridicule rich people.

We firmly believe that Trump never watched The Parasitebecause of its subtitles. We all know that he is a dyslexic reader and has trouble with big words and fast scrolling of verbiage. His own notes are large block letter words that are monosyllabic.

However, he did cite 1950’s Sunset Boulevard as his idea of a great movie. We presume his followers have never seen it, and young people would never watch a black & white movie.

You may not recall the Billy Wilder-Charlie Brackett movie from 1950. It was a dark satire extravaganza about the dissolution of a silent screen siren.

Gloria Swanson took the role that Garbo refused and said the immortal words of Norma Desmond who is accused of once being big in movies: “I am still big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Trump may well paraphrase the famous line: “I am big. It’s the White House that got small.”

You know that Trump is always ready for his close-up—and in fact, demands it every day. He is about ready to have the police and men in white coats come and take him away, just like poor old Norma Desmond.

 

Ossurworld’s William Russo just published a book on producer Charles Brackett who made Sunset Boulevard. It’s title is TITANIC’S FORGOTTEN MOVIE, available in softcover or ebook for smart readers.

  Man off the Eiffel Tower

DATELINE: Flawed Movie 

 Laughton in detective hero mode.

Making a motion picture on location in Europe in the late 1940s was done masterfully by Carol Reed and The Third Man. Trying to emulate that came a Paris-based production called Man on the Eiffel Tower.

Filmed entirely in Paris and in color, it was meant to be a travelogue to whet the appetite of arm-chair tourists and fans of Hercule Poirot, with a bad stand-in, Inspector Maigret.

It should have been interesting and one of the post-war gems. Alas, despite car rides through the streets of Paris, lunch on the Eiffel Tower, and a climax in which the supervillain plans to jump off with breathtaking views, the movie is a mess.

It is a Maigret mystery with Laughton as a slightly irascible, overweight, curmudgeon. He is perfect and does his usual schtick in routine fashion, playing opposite a foppish and dissipated looking Franchot Tone. Laughton is not Hercule (who is Belgian, we know), but might have had trouble with the fastidious role.

Taking over directing duties when Laughton threatened to quit the movie (and you can see why he may have considered it), is Burgess Meredith. We see him here a decade before he played a similar role on Twilight Zone in a classic episode about a man wearing thick eyeglasses.

Also aboard is empty-suit leading man Robert Hutton, also looking less boyish than usual.

Perhaps the source material of the famous detective failed them, but the movie leaps and bounds to try to capture the flavor of Paris from rooftop chases to taxi rides around the ambiance of the Left Bank. It is mostly American actors or Brits pretending to be as French as the actual settings.

It just didn’t work, and throw in a music score that is intrusive and overbearing, and you have undercut drama, suspense, performances, and plot.

What a disappointment. This film is a classic of bad movie-making. The producer tried to bury it by hiding all the prints, but failed.

 

 

 

Thomas Crown: An Affair Not to Remember?

DATELINE: What Should Have Been?

 Stand-in graveyard?

In 1968, one of the ultra-cool movies that was meant to be an antidote to the growing counter-culture of long-hair and hippies, was Norman Jewison’s stylish caper film. Sexy cool, with dune buggy rides on Crane’s beach in Ipswich and rooftop brunch on a patio in the South End of Boston, this was your ultimate sophistication.

The Thomas Crown Affairwas meant to be a vehicle showing off a Brahmin Bostonian outsmarting a beautiful insurance agent at his hobby of “crime.”

It has all the looks of a film back in the late 1960s when Alfred Hitchcock wanted to drag Grace Kelly out of retirement with the promise of another Cary Grant co-star vehicle. It’sTo Catch a Thief in reverse. However, nothing panned out. The film settles for second-best.

Hitchcock also had Tippi Hedren under contract—and so they could not even bring her on as the beautiful insurance agent. Yet, Faye Dunaway is clearly wearing the designer outfits and living the life of a millionaire investigator meant for Grace or Tippi. She tangles with a guy in a Brooks Brothers suit who pretends to be a millionaire executive, but looks like a motorcyclist in posh dress.

No doubt that Steve McQueen looks dashing, but we never believed for a second that he could play polo or chess. Not only that, the film looks like it was supposed to play out in London, but they had to settle for Boston. McQueen reportedly could not master a Boston accent and gave up half-way through the film.

It’s the ultimate double-cross thriller that Hitch loved to do, but Jewison throws in modern elements like split-screen moments (all pointless) and Noel Harrison (not Rex) sings “Windmills of Your Mind.” It seems even Dusty Springfield turned them down.

The climax of the movie takes place at Cambridge City Cemetery, a stand-in for ritzy and prestigious Mount Auburn Cemetery across the street, no doubt. We were a tad shocked to see filming near my mother’s recent burial site back then, not far from her grandmother.

Some films you may remember for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Madman & Rebel: Dennis Hopper

DATELINE: Don’t Forget Drunkard!

 He’s Not in this Doc!

Dennis, Our Favorite Menace!

A semi-interesting documentary on James Dean contemporary, Dennis Hopper, whose career went through many incarnations, is allegedly told by his “co-conspirators”! The film on his life is called Along for the Ride. With friends like the intense Hopper selected, he was in for a long run toward Doom.

Hopper underwent many transformations in his life—and it mirrored his career, or vice versa. He started out as an All-American wholesome-looking boy, became a slimy and bushy-bearded druggie and drunkard, and ultimately became a haggard and highly respected character actor. He survived, which is the truly amazing fact.

Like most under-educated people in Hollywood, Hopper was sensitive to his intelligence and self-education. The film ignores his youth and early years—and picks up with his personal assistant in 1970 who owns most of his correspondence and memorabilia. He is the power behind this portrait, which really puts emphasis on his directorial ability in The Last Movie, a big flop. Having made a fortune with Easy Rider,his counter-culture friends and attitudes were given free-reign in the 1970s Hollywood-in-transition.

Hopper was never helped when friends like Satya keep telling him he’s a genius. Inevitably, his Last Moviebecame Waterloo in Peru. Hopper was a colorful show-biz personality, but he was notOrson Welles. The low-lifes and sycophants around him convinced him otherwise.

You won’t have to see The Last Movie to know from this picture that it is an unmitigated disaster. When working on Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando refused to do any scenes with him. He had told the most powerful Hollywood moguls to go “f” themselves. He was on Ruination Row in a self-constructed prison.

There is a passing nod to his mentor and progenitor, James Dean, but really he was on his own trip far from his rebel youth movies.

Blue Velvet resurrected him. He always felt he was personally difficult, but not professionally so. In the end he made so many movies that any idea that he was blackballed cannot be believed.

Hopper’s right-hand man and behind-the-scenes acolyte does his job to the bitter end.

 

Kremlin Letter: Postage Due

DATELINE: IMF Gone Wrong

  George Sanders Goes Out in Flames! 

In 1970 if you wanted a thinking man’s spy thriller, you went to a film based on John LeCarre, and if you wanted a thriller with twists, you went to Mission: Impossible. If you wanted laughs, you turned to James Bond.

If Huston wanted to do Mission: Impossible,he needed the music. This movie version is rife with sex talk and use of sexual blackmail as part of the work habits of spies.

All these spies are retired and go by weird nicknames or coded identities. No matter.

So, it figures that John Huston would manage to straddle the fence and give us a spy thriller that has all these elements—and the imprimatur of one of the great directors: John Huston.

The Kremlin Letteris sheer, unadulterated  nonsense with twist of logic that defies explanation. Yet, it is glorious in its location settings—and startling cast of giants.

You will see in no particular order: Orson Welles, Max Von Sydow, Raf Vallone, Richard Boone, Dean Jagger, and Patrick O’Neal, and in a career killing performance—George Sanders in drag.

We don’t know if this movie led to Mr. Sanders’ untimely exit in Spain shortly after making this movie. He claimed he was bored. Well, we never saw him offer so much energy than as a piano-playing crossdresser in a gay club.

There is talk about two gay characters hooking up: Welles and Sanders. That would have been worth the price of admission, but the film really devolves into one of those sex-talk double-cross twisters.

What has any of this to do with retrieving a letter that seems worthless (but everyone will kill for it). That’s the old McGuffin of Hitchcock.

And Huston had turned to appearing on camera by then—and again gives himself a role in the picture. No spies come in from the cold, and everyone has a license to kill.

We knew this was going to be a treat from the opening credits. Huston still had the juice in those days—and could deliver a real movie in a world of nouveau auteurs.