Endeavour Morse Returns & “The Game” is On!

 DATELINE: Oxford Sleuth

 Endeavour 1

PBS has brought back another highly intelligent detective show for a fourth season, Endeavour. Of course, strawberry-blond Inspector Morse patrols the territory around Oxford University where culture and mayhem seem to go hand-in-glove.

Complicating matters is the fact the series setting is the 1960s. The new fangled technology is not yet upon Scotland Yard, and brainpower still reigns supreme. His nemesis at the station is a world-weary Roger Allam, always in rare form.

The first episode is called “Game” about early computers taking on Soviet chess champs.

Young Morse (Shaun Evans) is slight and, like all attractive Brit men, looks decidedly gay. Women do seem to like him, often to the detriment of his work, but Morse remains stalwart and impervious to their attentions, considering them impediments to crime resolution.

The latest case puts everyone in crisis mode: Morse’s superior has personal problems with his grown daughter moving away—and Morse’s attempts to try to achieve promotion seem thwarted by unknown forces.

He remains the most brilliant detective in Oxford, holding his own against Russian chess-masters, ruthless members of the media, and assorted weird supercriminals. The suspects in this go-round are professors, media snoops, and a smug best-selling novelist.

With a spate of peculiar drownings among an assortment of victims with not much obviously in common, Morse finds himself at odds with superiors and those who would undermine his talents.

You will find these short movies (90 minutes usually) a challenge to solve and admire the acting and the writing, lost arts in most films nowadays. There will be three additional episodes to consider.

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Invaders from Mars: Revisiting 1953

DATELINE:  William Cameron Menzies Masterpiece

 

Hunt v. octopus  Jimmy Takes on Octopus

William Cameron Menzies turned in one of his best efforts as director and set designer on this classic science fiction thriller, entitled Invaders from Mars.

Menzies employed stylized sets, especially barren trees along a perimenter of sand dunes, imposing and overwhelming police offices, and garish color. It created a nightmare scenario for a ten-year old boy thrown into a paranoid delusion.

Actor Jimmy Hunt was the perfect little all-American boy who sees a saucer land in the yard up the hill from his cottage home. There, his parents turn malevolent after being sucked under ground by strange forces that turn dunes into quicksand. It does not help that his parents are well-known  standard villainous actors Leif Erikson and Hillary Brooke. You are also treated to an unusual display of child abuse when Erikson slugs his son.

The music is choral voices mimicking the noise that foreshadows horror when adults are sucked into the alien den and replaced with a probe inserted into the base of their skulls, turning them into automatons. This played on the greatest childhood fear—that parents can become hideous zombies.

Ancient aliens turn out to be robotic slaves to a reptilian octopus in a fish bowl. Yikes, what could be more hallucinogenic? Special effects don’t need CGI to be breathtaking.

At the peak of the Cold War when communists were hiding under every bed, you had an equal paranoid takeover by creatures from another world. The film stands out as one of a handful of remarkable science fiction to emerge from the era.

This holds up to the test of time and remains as creepy as what you might find today in Twin Peaks.

 

 

In a Glass Cage: Re-Viewing Darkly

DATELINE: Reluctant Blog Entry

glass cage

Sometimes we choose NOT to review a movie, and you won’t see it on our blog.

For two days we mulled over whether to write about In a Glass Cage, a Spanish movie from 1986. It is horrific in a true sense, and unpleasant, and brilliantly done cinema.

However, its subject does not strike us as one that entertains anyone, unless you happen to be a quite sick puppy.

The plot centers on an escaped Nazi doctor from a concentration camp hiding out in Spain in the years after the war. This Josef Mengele-based character had a specialty of sexually abusing and viciously murdering pre-teenage boys.

In an iron lung (the glass cage of the title) for reasons not really important, his new nurse is a beautiful young man who has come for revenge. Named Angelo, he is Death personified. David Sust is the actor and gives an extraordinary performance, downright frightening in fact.

Has this young man who survived the death camp been driven into psychosis by his experience? So, he now turns the tables on the incapacitated Nazi by re-enacting child murders before the remorseful doctor. What on earth is this?

We shut this off several times, but streaming video that audiences would never find are now available—and this one compels in its call.

We wondered about the parents of child actors who allowed the child to perform sexual torture scenes in the film. What kind of trauma was placed on their psyche? What kind of trauma is placed on the audience?

Several of the murder scenes are suspenseful, done as well as anything in a more fantastic tale, but why did we watch this train wreck topic of controversy?

It’s out there on Amazon Prime for those who want to see it, but we aren’t sure we’d care to chat about the film with friends or ever want to see it again.

The Internet has given us a window into the world, but so does the evening news where despicable people perform hideous acts every day—in Spain, in Finland, in the United States. And that’s just this week.

Should we expect our movies to reflect this? Should we give publicity to films that are disturbing and disgusting in the basest moral terms?

We will delete this review upon request.

 

Mandela & De Klerk Teaches US Hard Lesson

DATELINE:  A Timely Movie from 20 Years Ago

mandela

With racial tension once again dominating the United States and with a president defending white supremacists as “many fine people,” we felt it was time to take a look at a 20-year old movie called Mandela & De Klerk.

Somehow, in our blithe ignorance, we missed this small film in 1997 when Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine took on the roles of the title. We doubt today’s self-righteous and self-leftists are even able to sit down and watch a thoughtful movie.

After 27 years in jail in a society based on racial divisions, Nelson Mandela’s movement to end apartheid flourished with millions of African people pitted against a minority of white people.

With the emergence of a reasonable and man of moral scruples in F.W. De Klerk came the détente and building of a relationship built on racial equality, if not a stronger tolerance.

To have two superstars come to play the roles gives the newsreel based footage something more intimate and human. The film was made on location in South Africa, and the actors are clearly well-chosen for their parts in delineating how race riots can be quelled by good men in temperate mode.

We usually eschew preachy movies, or overtly political allegories—but this film now seems more apt than ever for another country that has too long taken on a holier-than-thou attitude in the world.

Neo-Nazis, crypto-Nazis, and their ilk, have come to hate the loss of “white” culture in a world where inevitably the American nation will be dominated by minorities when people of color become the American majority within 50 years, or less.

It may be time to wake up and smell the coffee, whether you are alt-right, or alt-left, or just alt-of-this-world.

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.

 

 

Dr. Strangelove and Nuclear Bombs Away

DATELINE:  Kim Versus Trump

riding the a-bomb

Slim Pickens Rides the A-Bomb into Oblivion

With all the hubbub about North Korea turning its nuclear weapons upon US and using several dozen miniature bombs to hit the major cities, we thought it was time to reconsider Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Mr. Trump is hardly a dead-ringer for Peter Sellers who played the bald Adlai Stevenson-style president of the country, discussing nuclear destruction with his generals in the War Room.

There we find General George C. Scott fighting with the Russian ambassador, issuing the famous order: “Gentlemen, there will be no fighting in the War Room.”

With nuclear annihilation on the doorstep, back in those days, people knew how to deal with the thought of instant evaporation and annihilation in a mushroom cloud. Today friends from California are saying goodbye to loved ones on the East Coast.

We know that Donald Trump will never tell his generals not to fight in the War Room, and we can hear the placid, slightly sad tones of Vera Lynn as she sang the World War II favorite for fatalists:

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again
Some sunny day.
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.

So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go,
I was singing this song

We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again,
Some sunny day.

Writer(s): Parker Ross, Hughie Charles, Hugh Charles
Lyrics powered by http://www.musixmatch.com

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.

 

Unwell in a Kafka World: A Cure for Wellness

DATELINE:  Not exactly Obamacare

Dane DeHaan

You have to admit that actor Dane DeHaan usually chooses the most peculiar films and roles available to young stars.

In this movie, A Cure for Wellness, he manages to look rather unwell, doughy, and pooped out. That surely goes against the grain of buff, health-addicted, superheroes among his generation of leading men.

Director Gore Verbinski’s Kafkaesque tale is creepy enough for horror, surreality, and German expressionism, rolled into one hyper-barbaric chamber for eels.

A young executive of a billion-dollar corporation is sent to retrieve its CEO from this strange Swiss clinic where clients go to take “the waters,” a cure for what ails you. It’s either that or go to jail for white-collar crime.

Like clockwork, DeHaan’s Lockhart arrives at a Swiss mountaintop roach motel where people check in, but never apparently check out.  Instead, they are put through a health regimen worthy of Tom Brady’s personal trainer.

Jason Isaacs as Volmer runs the place like the reincarnation of a mad Teutonic baron two centuries ago. He will kill you with kindness.

The cure is worse than the illness—but DeHaan seems more than willing to stick around. We’d be suspicious the moment they kept insisting you drink the water. And, alas, your cell phone won’t work in this altitude.

The hydrotherapy seems a bit on the extreme side, but sado-masochism never had it so healthy.

The atmosphere is suitably Germanic, if not germ-free. We are told that Adolph Hitler was at the spa location, Castle Hohenzollern, for a cure during World War I. How fitting, indeed. It makes Last Year at Marienbad a pleasant stroll.

The film is not for dummies, and one of the attendants is reading a Thomas Mann novel about a health spa where people are convinced they need treatment, whether true or not.

If there is a drawback to this movie, it can be found in the length of the film. We have grown unaccustomed to movies pushing two & a half hours, which is a sure sign they are considered “important” by the makers. There is apparently no cure for this.

Last Days of Warner Oland: On Anniversary of Death

DATELINE: Charlie Chan & Curry College

WO Oland in character

Ten years ago a little documentary biography was put together on actor Warner Oland. It can be found online.

We have long been a fan of his gentle, Method-acting style, immersing himself into playing (and living life) as the legendary Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Biggers’s famous detective.

Oland, with his exotic name, was the first and best of all the Chans—so much so that many thought he was Asian. His heavy eyelids made him look the part. However, he was born in Sweden, next to Garbo, one of their earliest American immigrants to acting.

Oland loved playing Chan, and even gave interviews in character—but his drinking problem seemed to have exacerbated with a doomed marriage in 1938.  On the set of his last film Charlie Chan Ringside, he simply walked off the studio lot and disappeared.

The movie was shelved, and Oland went back to his native Sweden in the pre-war turmoil of Nazi troubles. There, welcomed home by Swedes, he caught pneumonia and died. His last Chan film was Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo, a delightful performance. His close friend Keye Luke loved him as a Number One son might! Oland was cultured and cerebral.

Oland caught our attention years earlier, of course, on old-TV film festivals—but our real fascination came when we discovered he graduated from Curry College, then located in Boston as an elocution/speech school for actors.

We cut our own teeth at Curry for 30 years as a professor, of film studies, no less.

When we watched a Chan film this week, we went to the ubiquitous Youtube to find all our favorites. To our shock, we learned Warner Oland died 79 years ago the day we found a slight biographical movie called Charlie Chan is Missing: the Last Days of Warner Oland.

Charming and mysterious, Oland preferred his home in central Massachusetts, not far from our preferred home, and his wife had his body brought back to Southboro where his gravestone was the step to his beloved home in that town.

The film is short and chock full of info, but the clues to Warner Oland’s strange character disappeared with him.

Our Town Too Close for Comfort

DATELINE:  Thorton Wilder Classic

the deadDoro Mirande, Fay Bainter, and Martha Scott, stand out among the dead.

With music by Aaron Copland and set design by William Cameron Menzies, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town of 1940 is an emotional wallop, despite Hollywood’s interfering new-fangled ending. It’s the sort of thing that gave Hollywood a black eye for years.

Once the staple of high school reading lists, Our Town has fallen out of favor being the work of a dead white guy. Of course, that was the point of the play: but we now agree that Our Town is wasted on anyone young. And wisdom is never an easy lesson.

If you are beyond middle-age, seeing this again will be chilling. Instead of a homespun tale of Americana, this is a cynical and downbeat tale of birth, life, and death.

Though it starts out with amusing details of a 17-year old boy (William Holden, looking adolescent) and his next door girlfriend Martha Scott, as George and Emily. Set in 1901 until 1913, it seems like a quaint Mayberry in New England story.

Grover’s Corners was fictional, of course, set on the border of New Hampshire. Well, that’s where we live now—which certainly gave us pause. We are in the midst of the world of Our Town (exteriors filmed nearby). Wilder wrote the play while staying in Peterborough at the writers’ colony.

The setting feels more like Rindge or Jaffrey, NH, than artsy Peterborough.

The final third of the film takes place in the graveyard, brilliantly depicted with the dead (most of the cast) standing in solitary, morose fashion. It is a frightful depiction of what death means, and what life becomes.

According to this story, you have one day to re-live, as a ghost in time travel. These are trendy concepts today, let alone in pre-World War II America.

The ghosts debate that you should choose the most unfortunate day to re-live because happy times will be unbearable.

Performances are powerful—realistic and distressing. This is not a story for young people, but in 30 years they may be drawn to the play’s extraordinary insights, even those scornful diverse young critics of today.

Death is a great equalizer. The film is not tragic, only whimsical.

 

Nikola Tesla: More than Meets the Eye

DATELINE:  Under Appreciated Genius

Tesla & sparks

PBS produced a documentary on the mysterious genius born in 1856 whose inventions seem to include Star Wars Defense Initiative and particle beam death rays.

Its title is Tesla: Master of Lightning, and he used electrical currents to win a war with Edison, light up a World’s Fair, and made himself glow in the dark.

We may never know the whole story as Tesla’s notebooks disappeared when he died in 1943. Were they stolen by Nazi spies? Russians? The FBI?

A recent little book by Ralph T. O’Neal III came to our attention in which Tesla’s stolen secrets are the McGuffin of an extra-governmental conspiracy in something called Shadow War: MJ-12 Versus the Vatican.

MJ12kindlecover

The final segment of the PBS film seems to hint at futuristic, Jules Verne technology created by Nikola Tesla.

The man came out of nowhere, Croatia in 1884, and immediately became enemies with Thomas Edison, J. Pierpoint Morgan, and Guillermo Marconi. That’s quite a climb to infamy when a poor immigrant hobnobs with the greats of the 19th century a few years after arriving in New York.

Trump would not have let Tesla into the country if he tried to enter today.

The documentary and the life of Tesla almost seems like science fiction—but it is tragedy and enigma wrapped in a bit of showmanship by the great inventor.

Most today know the name Tesla as a progressive car. He was much more than that, and you may owe it to yourself to learn about a man who eschewed fortune and lost his fame.

Blackway Retitled

DATELINE:  Lost Masterpiece

blackway

When you change the title after release, you lose a movie sometimes.

In this case, the loss for viewers is palpable. Now using its original novel name, Blackway, this low budget, big-star cast is an allegory about evil set in British Columbia, Canada.

Blackway is the bad guy, and he is the epitome of bad. What better name for this pervasive force in the wilderness.

The cast alone will make you curious:  Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, and Hal Holbrook, makes for an aging, but brilliant tale of a quest against the ravages of ruthless evil.

You may wonder how such a trio as Stiles, Hopkins, and wonderful Alexander Ludwig, mismatched to fight bad guys, can stand up to Liotta’s ubiquitous town boss. He seems to be everywhere, having done dirt to many in the remote region.

He has power and ultimately engenders total fear among the residents.

No one will help the beleaguered Miss Stiles, except for Hopkins and his muscleman with slow wits. Each has a reason to go against Liotta’s reign of terror.

In one illuminating scene, Hopkins tells us that life forces us to face implacable enemies sometimes: whether it’s cancer, a car crash, or financial ruin. You must deal with it with bravery.

Director Daniel Alfredson has chosen his frightful woods in the world of nowhere quite well, and the adaptation of Castle Freeman’s book goes against the grain of the usual clichés.

So many viewers missed this film, when it deserves your full attention with performances, story, direction, and compelling message. How fortunate we were to stumble upon it by accident.

 

Bunuel Takes On Death in the Garden

DATELINE: Signoret & Marchal in the Garden

death in the garden

Director Luis Bunuel’s reputation after he made Robinson Crusoe in the 1950s was an art-house director in the United States, but a film genius elsewhere. He was all the rage at Harvard’s Brattle Theatre crowd.

So, he was sent back to the jungle in 1956 to make a Mexican-French survivors facing the elements, a subject quite popular back in the ‘50s when a spate of these plane crash movies and South American headhunters took center stage.

Death in the Garden differed a bit. It started out as a political rebellion in a small mining town in the Sierra Madre—and threw together a prostitute who is a bit hard-edged, an adventurer, a priest, an old man and his deaf daughter, into the steamy jungles.

They are chased by military police for reasons both right and wrong, depending on the guilty party.

Bunuel had a couple of curve balls in his arsenal. He had a young (mid-30s) Simone Signoret, fresh off Diabolique and not yet the international star, and a French lookalike of Sterling Hayden, the tough guy Georges Marchal.

Bunuel avoided headhunters, but went for the jugular in the jungle. His characters were literally animals:  Shark, Birdie, Father Lizardi, and no one is truly innocent or nice. So, you can expect characters to be picked off, but may have a harder time predicting who will be done in.

Just when it looks like the jungle will do them in, they discover a crashed airplane (from one of those other jungle movies) filled with provisions to give them another chance.

The film is subtler than most American versions of the story circulating in drive-ins of the day—and its cynicism and politics likely keeps it in the sphere of film aficionados, not movie fans. It remains minor Bunuel, but intriguing nonetheless.

 

So-So-Soviet Solaris

DATELINE:  Solaris (1972, Russian version)

solaris  Breughel painting

The original Andrei Tarkovsky film called Solaris has been hailed by many sci-fi fans as the greatest fiction ever made. This is the Soviet version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, according to many.  It was remade with George Clooney in recent years to great jeers.

This Soviet three-hour epic drama of dreams and memories takes place mostly in a space ship orbiting a mysterious planet called Solaris. There an ocean of living mass can take human minds and create ghosts or hallucinations of flesh and blood to haunt the three cosmonauts.

We must be losing our touch because, though the film deals with quantum physics and string theory decades before they were discovered, the Soviet film is largely a snooze-fest.

Parts of the film are intriguing, and much of it is highly cerebral. However, there is a 90-minute movie lurking among the ponderous and pointless scenes of traffic jams and nature walks.

Made before computers changed the landscape, the film manages to ignore the Kubrick innovations with computers, a film made several years earlier. Both films share an existential crisis or two, and puzzling moments of metaphysics, if that’s your thing.

One might laugh at the notion of shooting thousands of books into outer space nowadays. The payload must have been a killer. There is quite a library aboard the Russian spaceship.

Our favorite scene must be the three-minute sequence that lingers silently on one of our favorite paintings by Breughel, ‘Hunters in the Snow’, which hangs in the Soviet ship as some kind of commentary on the difficulty of survival. We have a copy in our library and ponder it now and then.

The payoff of the film is hardly Twilight Zone worthy and may not satisfy the previous exposition. Yet, maybe you are among those who will see this as a great movie. We, alas, are standing in the other line, waiting for Godot.