Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

Play the Devil, Billy Budd in Trinidad

DATELINE: Another Budd Movie

tormented petrice Petrice Jones, a Face to Watch!

Director Maria Govan’s intriguing character study will not be acceptable to those viewers who want someone else (director, actor) to telegraph who’s the bad guy. The film is Play the Devil. Govan is playing Devil’s Advocate.

You have to think when you watch this movie, and you may not be happy with your decisions. What seems on the surface to be one of those May-December gay romance stories, set in the poverty-stricken island of Trinidad, turns into Billy Budd.

Beautiful and naïve, young Gregory (Petrice Jones) is the promise of his family. Approached by an older (but not old) businessman (Gareth Jenkins) with plenty of money, he finds himself flattered by the attention—at first.

Here is a chance to escape poverty, receive an education, and live in indolent luxury. It is tempting, but the young man has second thoughts—and needs space. Perhaps he is not gay after all. However, his obsessed older fan won’t take no for an answer and begins insinuating himself into all aspects of Greg’s life.

Feeling more and more trapped and cornered, Greg sees how such a relationship will ease the burdens of his family and open up a new world for him. Yet, his stalker knows better—and insists that the young man is merely fighting his nature when he should give in to it. It’s enhanced by two remarkable performances by the leads.

You know this is heading in a negative direction, but perhaps you will not see how it must conclude.

Set against the Carnival of Trinidad where young men paint themselves in blue and act the role of devils, chaotically racing through the streets, you have a clear case of possession. You may not have just another gay movie here.

Director Govan is not making this easier with her parallels to Billy Budd, and her film becomes an un-gay parable.

Re-fighting the Battle of the Sexes

DATELINE: Gay Lib, Not Gay Lob

Bobby & Billie Truly a Doubles Match!

Many viewers may not know the story of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs and their ridiculously hyped tennis match of the early 1970s.

The earlier TV movie was called When Billie Beat Bobby. This new version is the Battle of the Sexes, but it’s more of a coming-out story.

Many may not know that an earlier cable movie effectively told the story with all the limitations of small screen propriety. If you wonder about the differences, there was no hint of gayness in Billie or her marriage. She had no bedroom scenes with a female hairdresser.

She did not have a gay best friend (marvelous Alan Cumming as Ted). She did not have a cantankerous relationship with Margaret Court in the first movie who is always holding a baby in the remake.

You did not see Bobby Riggs’ nude layout. You did not see his marital problems, or his hilarious attendance at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

You had a greater sense that Bobby and Billie were, above all else, “good sports” and actually remained lifelong friends.

The big screen smash has magnificent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell, looking more like their real counterparts. Carell is making an industry out of playing peripheral sports characters (Dupont in Foxcatcher). There are some marvelous effects too, bringing Howard Cosell back to life to play himself.

This is a big budget film with a great music score, pictures of celebs of the times, and the Houston Astrodome itself.

We recall the match was a grand joke, only taken seriously by those who’d be willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Bobby Riggs. How could anyone think that old man could beat a young athletic woman?

Well, as we recall, yes, there were men crushed by the defeat. This movie brings it all back to us.

Boston Hits a Low Spot: Trolley Cars Underground

DATELINE: Boston’s First Big Dig

dig down No-park Street Station

American Experience presents some interesting little films that collect amazing movie clips and photos. They then intersperse them into literate narratives.

This one is narrated by Michael Murphy and tells the fascinating history of how Boston became the first major subway system in the United States. The documentary is oddly titled The Race Underground, which is misleading and has unfortunate connotations outside the point.

Explaining how people associated the underground with dead bodies six feet under, there was a general belief that travel beneath the Earth was unnatural, if not demonic. The electric trolley ended man’s inhumanity to horse.

When big dig excavations down Commonwealth Avenue uncovered Revolutionary War graves, you might find the point being made as a warning.

Tracing the electrification of motors to Frank Sprague, an independent inventor who tried to shy away from that behemoth of American technology, Thomas Edison, he sold his electrified trolley systems. It didn’t matter much because Edison inevitably bought him out and took his name off the product.

Without Sprague, the underground subway would be a dark and dirty trip, filled with soot and fright.

We enjoyed seeing the old trolleys in turn of the century film with destinations to North Cambridge and Roxbury Crossing. And, the information was new to us: how Boston was in the 1890s one of the most congested cities in America, worse even than New York—a rivalry Bean Towne would prefer to lose.

You don’t have to be a local Bostonian to enjoy this little film, but having traveled on the rapid transit when Scollay Square was a stop, we found it a delightful trip back in time.

The Gut: Our Second Brain

DATELINE: Pass the Probiotic

 the Gut- Our Second Brain Twins!

You might think an hour-long documentary on the bowels, guts, and inners of humans would give us more laughs per line than you’d find in a stewed prune.

The Gut: Our Second Brain shows that there are twin controls on our lives.

After watching this French documentary, we weren’t laughing, or even busting a gut. We fell headlong into a pot-bellied bowl of microbes.

Scientists have discovered that the stomach area contains more neurons and sensitivity than the brain of a dog or cat. Yikes, no wonder our stomachs growl.

The brain developed after the intestines in our progenitors who climbed out of the primordial soup. Indeed, scientists will now tell you that your stomach contains thousands of billions of bacteria that are not exactly without their own willpower or way of life.

Yes, the gut can control your feelings, emotions, and provide more pain than your brain wants. We belong not only to three blood groups, but to three bowel groups. Bacteria are not only inside, but outside—and we are reacting to their preferences.

Experimenters have fed mice microbiotic diets that gave them bacteria to make their behavior fearless: in fact, they fell in love with cats who promptly ate them. It seems the bacteria grow even more efficiently inside cats–and know which way the diet falls.

You are what you eat or won’t eat. Probiotics like antibiotics can have a big influence on the ecosystem of our bodies. Yes, there are more bacteria inside us than stars in the galaxy, dear Cassius.

If you feel a little queasy, your bacteria may be acting up for a reason.

A little knowledge is always appreciated. But cognitive overload in the gut drives us mad. What an extraordinary documentary.

 

 

Kinky Puss’n Boots

DATELINE:  A Really Big Shoe

 kinky boots Kinky-Dinky!

Kinky Boots may kindly be called an old-fashioned character drama. The difference is that it’s about drama queens in men’s shoes. It was later turned into a smash stage show, but the 2006 version is one of those working class British angry young man movies (except the young man dresses like a woman).

The two characters in juxtaposition are, first, the son of a shoe factory heir facing bankruptcy for making traditional footwear for men when disposable sneakers are the rage.

The second young man likes to wear high-heels and becomes a cabaret star in drag shows.

Under normal circumstance, you almost would expect the two men to slip into each other’s loafers at some point. Thank heavens, Kinky Boots keeps us in our own lanes and avoids any moments with glass slippers.

Joel Edgerton is the scion of shoemakers who learns that market niche for men’s boots with stilettos is high end. He meets Chiwetel Ejiofor in a career-busting role as Lola, the giant man in glitter. They kick up the story. Chiwetel also sings us a torrid version of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Unfortunately, to walk a mile in one man’s shoes, or high-heels, may be a stretch too far. The movie makes its points early and often but keeps on giving us more. The climax on the runways of Milan for shoe biz is too much glitz for our own good. Hero and audience fall flat.

Lessons in what defines masculinity and manhood are made a few times too many. It’s always hard to figure out British men anyhow since, to American eyes, they all look ready to put on a feathery boa and dancing shoes.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Westworld 2.3: Lost in a Tortured Storyline

DATELINE:  Where Have All the Plots Gone?What's My Line?

Playing What’s My Line, on Westworld 2.3.

If you tuned in a little late to the latest episode of Westworld, you might have to double-check your channel listings. It seemed as if you had stumbled into one of those old BBC TV series about India and the Raj.

Such is the nature of the tortured storyline presented by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. You may not recognize the characters, surroundings, or goings-on. We supposed that was meant to be part of the show’s confusing allure.

New, old, past, present, familiar, unfamiliar, are all fair game for the Worlds Beyond Westworld. We go from the Raj to the world of Kurosawa over the course of the hour. Welcome to the ever-new, ever-dangerous Samuraiworld.

We are reunited with cast members thought lost, dead, or reprogrammed along the way of the latest series entry. There is some relief to discover the actors still have jobs a few weeks into the second season.

Indeed, the Brit writer in the series, not of the series, played by Simon Quartermain, can even mimic the words the android hosts will utter before they utter them. Well, that’s the power of the writer, which is not saying much or saying too much.

In the case of Nolan and Joy, creative forces behind the tortured storylines, they had a lot of ‘splaining to do on this night and threw the Bengal tiger storyline out of the jungle and into the Raj for a viewer hunting for an irrational story.

We also learned the fate of the woman with the Snake Tattoo, now back with Thandie Newton’s tech workers as her prisoners.

At this rate the new season of episodes will end before we have established where last season’s minor characters have gone.

Perhaps, unwittingly, we and HBO have just signed on for the long haul of five or six seasons. Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood) finds her old robot father and that his memories are not really erased after all, but have gone into some wild Westworld cloud, to be recovered by a tech wizard (android Bernard, Arnold, or whoever, Jeffrey Wright).

Yes, we are still here, but are finding the high altitude of Internet clouds are too convenient for lost souls of Westworld 2.3.

Strangers Derailed on a Train

DATELINE:  Riding the Rails?

Neeson Sees Rushes of Commuter Old-Timer Hero

Yes, we imagine this is Neeson’s face (above) after looking at the daily rushes for The Commuter.

Though The Commuter sounds like a pedestrian film, it is actually one of those improbable Liam Neeson action/adventure movies.

Our credulity might be given a hard task to accept a complex conspiracy is afoot on a train out of Manhattan. Or, our credulity may be more strained by the notion that the self-identified 60-year-old hero is able to fight strenuous younger opponents and show only a few huffs and puffs for his efforts.

Most 60-year old commuters would be suffering cardiac arrest after a bumpy ride on this commuter train.

A fiendish woman approaches Neeson after he is fired from his insurance salesman job—with an offer he cannot refuse. We learn he is a former police detective, which may explain a few plot holes.

The train out of Grand Central has your usual suspects from central casting—and Liam must earn his $100,000 bounty and save his wife and children from clever kidnappers who may be equals of terrorists, FBI agents, or even the transit police force.

The film defies you to withhold logic and apply an explanation until the final moments. It will take enormous willpower. Forget the notion that anyone that powerful and rich enough to be executed by a mysterious black ops group would not be on a commuter train (as one Goldman Sachs broker on the train tells us).

Wonderful Elizabeth McGovern is around in a small role as Neeson’s wife, and all the actors are suitably well-cast in support of the wild goose chase along the rails. Next, time you may want to call Uber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Toastie, Post Haste, Post Dated

 DATELINE: Movie Review

 post toastie  The Post

Back in the days of the Nixon Administration, journalism became elevated to the career and mission of national guardian, and you had movies like All the President’s Men about Woodward and Bernstein, starring Hoffman and Redford.

Today, with fake news all the buzz, you have an attempt to recreate the nostalgia of journalism in The Post-Watergate movie in the era of Stormy Daniels and James Comey.

Hence, you have The Post with two actors of note, exceptions as targets in the crosshairs of President Trump: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.

The Post is the name of the newspaper that is most maligned nowadays by Sarah Huckaboo Slanders in her daily briefings at the White House. It is also the name of a movie that tries to redeem journalism.

You’d have better luck collecting a nickel for your empty beer bottle.

This is a movie preaching to the people not sitting in the church pew. You will need to chain someone to a pillar to watch The Post.

Muckrakers no longer read newspapers or books and prefer ten seconds to hook their media audience with an image. By the same token, movies are not watched for messages nowadays, and not watched without a good car chase and explosion. You might as well hook your worm and go fishing.

But, we do have a movie here, not a video game. And we have to say something to that cult of movie watchers and the cult of message movie fans.

When documentaries are accused of being faked news, a docudrama is the ultimate fiction to the new breed of Trumpist news monks.

Oh, by the way, The Post is a prestige movie. That means no one is watching, which is a shame.

Wind River of No Return

 DATELINE:  The Usual Targets?

Graham Greene   Greene for Danger!

What can you say about a movie that shows the FBI as inept and callow, insensitive to Native American needs, and represented by a woman? It almost seems like it was directed by Donald Trump, but the culprit is Taylor Sheridan (a better director than writer).

Wind River is literally a chilling murder mystery set in frigid American Indian lands.

If there are women agents in the FBI, this film is not meant to give them any respect. On top of it all, the murder victim in this Wyoming Bureau of Indian Affairs story is a young girl, adding to the layer of “me tooism” topicality.

The FBI investigator could have been represented by a rookie male agent, but that might have sent shivers down the spine of the macho men in the movie.

Jeremy Renner plays a Fish & Wildlife government agent who must step outside his usual job to solve the crime and assist the FBI.  He does have added impetus as his own daughter appears to have met an untimely end too.

We give Renner credit for convincing us he is an outdoorsman and knowledgeable hunter of predators. We also want to commend Graham Greene as the sheriff of the Indian reservation who plays world-weary perfectly. He is always the best part in any film.

Elizabeth Olsen is so wide-eyed stupid that she shows up in a blizzard without gloves, boots and winter hat. Don’t blame her. Blame the ridiculously disrespectful script.

The cast of American natives are played by Native Americans, which is most refreshing. Every minority actor seems perfect in his role.

They present a world still misunderstood, patronized, and resigned to maltreatment by the United States government.

Movies about discrimination and physical abuse of women and Native Americans should not compound the problem. For all its good intentions and strong production values, there is something missing in the basic value of the script in an otherwise well-done movie.

Westworld 2.2, Better Off Dead?

DATELINE:  Reunion, or Bring Yourself Back Online

Barnes & Simpson

Ben Barnes and Jimmi Simpson

The second episode should have been first. Westworld 2 was better the second time around.

If jumping across timeframes becomes easier with practice, we should have seen this coming first. Flashbacks highlight the episode to before the start of “Westworld” as a land of fantasy for rich players in which the prototype robots party in Contemporary World, our time.

We even see Ben Barnes again, killed by evil William at the end of the first season.

Everyone dead from last season is alive again through the miracle of backstory. We even see the young Anthony Hopkins flash by and hear his voice, warning the real Bernard/Arnold about his creations.

Ed Harris and his young self, Jimmi Simpson, seem far more explanatory this season and especially in this episode. We are even given the multiple level chess game of seeing flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s as if Joe Mankiewicz at his greatest Hollywood style had been reincarnated in android version Jonathan Nolan.

Yes, Westworld returned to the thrilling days of tantalizing its core viewers, as the ultimate tease mystery.

To see Dolores in modern times, given insights by her creators, lends understanding to the revolution of robots in Westworld.

A few stories even briefly cross before future episodes will give fans more insights: Thandie Newton and her beau automaton Rodrigo Sandoro meet the strong-willed Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden.

Will they meet again? Don’t know where, don’t know when.

Jeffrey Wright’s real person (not his later robotic self) figures only in the opening. His future scenes of the previous episode remain inexplicable at this point.

Story arc of the first episode, less interesting, was completely missing this week—and the meat of the sadistic monster hosts dominated the proceedings. We may not fully understand where this is heading, or who will return again, but Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy have produced an intriguing series, season two

Remember: Unforgettable Movie!

DATELINE: Kosher Death Wish

Remember Two Old Pros!

Atom Egoyan’s film Remember is a geriatric thriller. That’s no put-down. We like films with a twist, and this one is so twisted that it is frightful. This is not your grandfather’s Boys from Brazil.

Christopher Plummer plays Zev, a man suffering from dementia in a nursing home with another man named Max who is played by Martin Landau.

As if the ironies were not enough, Landau (once Rollie Hand on the old Mission Impossible) gives Plummer an impossible mission.  He is to hunt down and assassinate an escaped Nazi war criminal.  What can a 90-year old with memory problems do in his spare time? Two survivors of Auschwitz find their fates in a nursing home.

You might say this is balderdash, but the old man is hell-bent on his mission of vengeance, with his memories programmed by a retired Simon Weisenthal Nazi hunter.

There is no stopping Plummer’s man on a mission. He must bring justice to a Nazi guard who killed thousands, and there are a handful of suspects.

We are in awe that Landau and Plummer have their great roles in advanced old age.

Plummer’s character must have constant reminders of who he is and what his goal is: through written instructions from Max and coaching phone calls. Otherwise, he will simply forget who he is and what he must accomplish.

Some unkind critics dismissed the shocking ending as Death Wish put into concentration camp form. It is compelling and suspenseful, a walk into the abyss of Alzheimer’s Disease and decrepitude.

Clues abound as to what is truly happening to the old man named Zev. We found ours when he sat down at the piano and played a Hollywood favorite in dozens of movies, the Death Theme from Wagner’s grand Tristan & Iseulte.

The final minutes of the film will stun you.

Bombshell Shocker: Hedy Lamarr

 DATELINE: Inventor & Movie Star

 Hedy Beauty & Brains

You might as well start with Mel Brooks making a joke of Headley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. It gave actress Hedy Lamarr notorious fame forever.

She didn’t need it. She needed recognition for being one of the foremost immigrant inventors in American history: giving us frequency hopping, used in wi-fi, Bluetooth, rocket science, and myriad other technology. Move over, Einstein.

Yes, the most beautiful Austrian actress in Hollywood history was a genius. Hedy Lamar found tabloid scandal easier to condemn her life than history to exonerate her achievement.

She paid a dear price in those decades for overstepping the bounds of glamour and wanting intellectual equality. Hedy Lamar had a half-dozen husbands, and probably lovers galore, but one of those men—Howard Hughes—was more intrigued with her brain. He put his raft of scientists at her disposal.

What actress movie star came home from playing Tondelayo in White Cargo and sat down at her chemists’ table to do inventing? She wanted to create a weapon to help in World War II torpedo technology. The US Navy just laughed at her creation. She never made a dime off it.

Hedy was Delilah for Cecil B. DeMille. She was Bob Hope’s foil in My Favorite Spy. How could she be something more? She was fired, replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in her last attempt at movie stardom in the 1960s.

The brilliant documentary, Bombshell, may stun you with revelations. It will sadden you about ignored genius and the sensitivity of a mistreated soul.

Hedy Lamarr deserved much, much more, but she was a fighter and would not let the world break her on its yoke of beauty and shallow talents.

This film Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story is heady stuff, one of the most stunning documentaries on Hollywood’s inner secret life of stars.

Shakespeare Undone: Cymbeline

 DATELINE: Clashing Cymbeline

cymbeline

King Cymbeline and Step-son!

Michael Almereyda is known for putting the modern spin on the old stuff. To call Shakespeare’s secondary play, Cymbeline, a lost masterpiece in the trailer is a tad misleading.

We must ask, ‘what have we got here?’

Updates of Shakespeare are always a fad, and Michael Amereyda provides us with a Sons of Anarchy version of Shakespeare’s lesser Brits versus Romans story.

Alas, Shakespeare was already making a parody of his earlier work, Romeo and Juliet, in this late career tale of young love.

Putting a secondary Shakespeare play into an American biker setting is guaranteed to drive biker fans crazy in five minutes, and Shakespearean purists to the remote control in 10 minutes. No one will stick around for the standard blood bath we know is at the end of Shakespeare’s dramas and histories.

Watching this one is like viewing those delinquents in West Side Story as they do ballet down the mean streets of East Harlem in a different Shakespeare update. It is slightly ridiculous.

We are always sympathetic to American actors who try Shakespeare. This film avoids showing you the actual Shakespearean dialogue in the trailer. It may be a rude shock to the unwary fans who tune in.

We commend every American actor in the movie for managing to use their skateboards and smart phones and still spit out the Shakespearean language. The cast is marvelous: Ed Harris plays King Cymbeline, John Leguizamo as an unfortunate aide, Ethan Hawke as a notable enemy, the lead Anton Yelchin is Harris’s step-son.

We suspect there are English majors who have read a dozen Shakespearean plays but never this one. So, we are pleased that Almereyda has made it available and semi-watchable. The plot is incomprehensible, because we can hardly root for drug abusing violent Hell’s Angel bikers versus corrupt and ruthless police.

If done with British actors, the whole thing would look like something out of a gay leather movie, which American boys Anton Yelchin and Penn Badgley have their parts.

We might never see another version of Cymbeline other than this movie. For that we are grateful, even as many other fans head for the exits. We stayed till the end.