Call It a Name Oscar Wilde Dares Not Speak

DATELINE:  Calling Your Name

Chalamet Timothee Chalamet, aka Lolita!

If you’re wondering about the title of the movie Call Me by Your Name, it is a sign of gay regression.  In an age when women keep their own name upon marriage, gay men are prepared to give up theirs.


This is the movie that its young teenage star (Timothee Chalamet) earned an Oscar nomination. It’s not so much for performance, but for the fact that he plays the most intelligent teenager on film in almost a decade or perhaps longer.


Like Sue Lyon 50 years ago, Chalamet epitomizes a male Lolita, also earning an Oscar nomination as a supporting actor and symbol of loincake. The only things missing from his acting are heart-shaped sunglasses and a lollipop.


Elio is a bilingual, bisexual child prodigy at the piano. His father is an important professor who spends the summer in Italy and needs a long-in-the-tooth graduate student assistant to do nothing in particular. The characters seem to be on an endless vacation. Elio mostly cavorts around in his bathing suit.


The story is adapted from a novella by James Ivory which caught our eye. He wrote all those great Ivory-Merchant movie screenplays 30 years ago. As he approaches 90-years of age, he has come up with another one: stunning ennui on display.


Armie Hammer played Leonardo’s boyfriend in Hoover, and was Depp’s boyfriend in the Lone Ranger, and now has his sights on a teenager who is more winsome and more often unclothed than Frankie Avalon in his prime Beach Party get-up.


Pardon us, but teenagers are lacking experience and maturity—and Humbert Humberts of the world never seem to learn this.


Chalamet and Hammer insist they are not gay, but only play gay (for pay) on screen.


Boone Starts Building America

DATELINE: History Channel Series

boone 1820   Daniel Boone, age 84

Leave it to the ever-sensitive History Channel to honor women’s history month with two new series. First on the docket is the Men Who Built America’s sequel: the frontiersman. The other is Kingpin, a series about four criminal thugs.

Don’t let that stop you from watching. The frontiersman series starts with Daniel Boone. It’s produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, probably based on his experience from playing The Revenant. No, Jeremiah Johnson is not among those to be studied.

As documentary dramas go, this is superb. It is an old-fashioned American view of rugged individualism. John Wayne would be proud, not to mention the Fess Parker. In the weeks ahead, the series will also tackle Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Andrew Jackson, Lewis & Clark, and as a nod to political correctness, Tecumseh. That episode may be the most illuminating.

A few unusual commentators, like Gen. David Petraeus, offer their insights.

Boone was in parallel to the Shot Heard ‘Round the World in Lexington by defying King George and going out to settle territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

Boone was a superhero of the 18th century, running 150 miles in 4 days to warn settlers of an impending attack by Indians.

The show gives credit to the daughter of Boone, Jemima, who was heroic in facing kidnapping by Native Americans.

It appears the British put a bounty on American heads and gave the Native Americans rifles to take back their land. It was a losing proposition either way for them. The writing was on the fort’s walls when a rainstorm stopped the Native Americans from burning down the place.

Though it is basic American history, we suspect that most viewers will find it all new stuff. We are always grateful for intelligent TV viewing.


Our Anti-Oscars

DATELINE: Ten Who Dared


We saw a few movies this year, since the last Oscar ceremony, and we enjoyed them thoroughly. As you might expect, none of these movies won much of anything. In fact, they were reviled in some circles.

In no particular order, we recommend four documentaries, 2 docudramas, 6 movies about writers, and a partridge in a pear tree. They are politically incorrect for the most part.

78/52:  This little documentary gives us a full-length movie that looks at how Alfred Hitchcock put together a two-minute shower scene in Psycho.

A Ghost Story: A fascinating look at the personal, sad history of one ghost (in a classic white sheet). Eschews the normal clichés.

Chasing Pavement:  An interesting look at the life, off-screen, of a gay porn star whose life is someone else’s fantasy. Not a documentary.

Frantz:  A French-German language movie about a girl who discovers a stranger leaving flowers at her dead boyfriend’s grave after World War I.

Paterson:  Jim Jarmusch presents us with the pedestrian life of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who happens to be a poet.

The Man Who Invented Christmas:  The amusing story of how Charles Dickens invented Scrooge—and their intriguing discussions on how to tell his ghost story.

Rebel in the Rye:   J.D. Salinger’s life is told, through Nick Hoult’s performance, and his mentor (Kevin Spacey) who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the writer.

The Gallapagos Affair: Documentary about a strange murder and disappearance in the Enchanted Isles of Darwin and Melville.

I am Nobody’s Negro:  The life of James Baldwin who never compromised his writing or life, and refused to become the black Truman Capote.

The list falls short of a top-ten litany, and that’s how it should be. Nobody really raved about hard-working filmmakers who came up with these labors of love. Their artistic integrity and small budgets defy the art they created.

You could watch worse movies, mostly from this year’s Oscar list.

William Russo compiled a couple of volumes of movie reviews this season:  Red Carpet Tickets and Is It Real? …or Just Another Movie.


Life in 2049 Once Again Falls Short

 DATELINE: Disappointing

 sean Young 2049

Sean Young with Body Double and Advanced CGI

If Blade Runner 2049 is any indication, Los Angeles is not going to improve any from the first Blade Runner. We believe it seems to snow much of the time.

If we are going back to the future, give us Looper. It looked like a place we’d like to visit, not this horror.

Last time we caught Ryan Gosling, he was singing and dancing in Los Angeles. This time around, he appears to be a replicant, or some derivative thereof. It’s hard to tell a Tyrell replicant robot from the latest bioengineered creatures.

Gosling is an unhappy, soulless creature. No time to sing and dance here.

There are still ‘blade runners’ hired to exterminate these illegal older versions by newer versions. What we have here is the revolutionary notion that these machines can procreate semi-humans. That inspires the new Tyrell model mogul, in Jared Leto’s odd performance.

It’s complicated.

It’s also a mess of a movie, running nearly three hours of unremitting Dickensian darkly future predictions.

You have a remarkable cast, including Robin Wright as the head cop—and appearance by Edward James Olmos in the retirement home, and Sean Young appears as her ever-young self in a cameo that must take CGI to the limits. She doesn’t look a day older than the 1982 movie. She’s now 58. Pee Wee Herman should be jealous.

Harrison Ford is around mostly for decoration because you don’t have a movie without him as Deckard, older than dirt.

If the movie doesn’t leave you comatose, you may be a replicant. If someone believed that this film would stand up to the frequent re-views like the original film did, you’d be deluded. This is not the classic, brilliant first movie. It’s a shake-your-money-maker mind-numbing sequel.

Fans of the first film paid homage by giving this one an Oscar for special effects.







Did Leonardo Forge the Shroud of Turin?

DATELINE: Confounding Conspiracy

Leo purported self-portrait Pia's 1898 negative photo

Same Face? Leonardo & Jesus

A new documentary comes up with an interesting conspiracy theory from the de-bunkers of the famous shroud of controversy.

Though scientists have been unable to prove its authenticity, the de-bunkers have not been able to prove it’s fake.

This little hour documentary spends some time laying some dubious groundwork, blaming a rabid fascination on relics of dead saints on the Roman Catholic Church as a background. Filmed mostly in Italy with a few American, South African, and British “experts”, the film goes about attacking the shroud with logical fallacies.

Guilt by association is a nonstarter. Then, comes a series of attacks on the poltergeist personality of Leonardo Da Vinci. Noting he never mentions “God” in his journals and was a vegetarian and purported homosexual, he would be more than a willing participant to create a fake shroud to delude the public and give the Savoy family more political influence. Hunh? and double hunh?

There are some curios in the hour: but as explicable as any other fallacy, such as the size difference between the height of the man on the front and on the back of the shroud.

DaVinci’s associations with members of the Savoy family and Pope tend to be reason for making a fake shroud on old material through some amazing and undetectable method.

There is the rather fascinating parallel that Da Vinci put his own face on every major work of art, from Mona Lisa to the Last Supper. So, the comparison of the man on the shroud and Leonardo’s self-portrait is amusing.

Chalk this up to another time-passing lack of closure on a barroom betting topic.


Branagh’s Murderous Result: Disoriented Express

DATELINE: Strike Three!

Branagh Hit & Run?

Pit-stop for Orient Express!

When dainty detective Poirot is transformed into a Belgian Sam Spade, we know the troubles are just beginning. Director and star Kenneth Branagh has tackled Agatha Christie with hairy results on his upper lip and elsewhere in this latest version of Murder on the Orient Express.

Bombast and exaggeration are the hallmarks of every performance, as if the actors had to make a cartoon version of Christie’s classic. Oh, yes, the sets are gorgeous and breath-taking, but filled with dead red herrings.

Alas, Branagh has miscast himself in the lead role.

We found Branagh’s bold mustache leaving the detective ripe for plucking. When your first visual image of Poirot does not work, you leave little wiggle room for the rest of the clever story. Throwing in a few fights and action scenes for Poirot is too much like James Bond than Hercule. The film even gives Poirot a girlfriend!

Agatha’s Christie’s perps in this edition match the number who likely deserve to be killed on the Calais sleeper car. Once again, famous faces take on minor roles in an ensemble cast meant to delight us. There is a tad much emphasis on political correctness as the cast is far more diverse than Dame Agatha ever envisioned, which is not a criticism.

Like Hamlet, the story can be done with an all-black cast, or an all-nude cast, though we are not convinced it adds anything to the tale.

Everyone is working extremely hard to pull this off, and the pretend fun from the cast is exhausting.

Inevitably, it is Branagh who botches the climax revelations and the explanation of the murder on the Orient Express, wasting stars like Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and even Johnny Depp, in underwritten roles for the attention deficit audience.

Try one of the other two, preferably Suchet’s version.




Last Great Elizabeth Taylor Movie?

DATELINE:  Grand Taylor Horror!

 night watch Liz @ Her Best

By the time Elizabeth Taylor reached the end of her prime, she ditched Richard Burton. Her first theatrical movie without him, after 11 extraordinary teammate movies, including the notorious TV film Divorce His, Hers, was something called Night Watch from 1973.

Now streaming for the first time ever.

This is vintage Taylor:  extraordinary wardrobe, great hair, jewels to die for, and a svelte damsel Liz in distress.

Night Watch is a paranoid’s nightmare.

As the rich and disdainful Ellen with a swish of silver in her hair, she does jigsaw puzzles and entertains her girlhood friend (Billie Whitelaw) in indolent luxury. Her palacial home, unfortunately, is next to some abandoned, ramshackle mansion that seems haunted.

As she does a jigsaw of Bosch’s painting of Hell, she thinks she has seen a murder in a thunderstorm across the garden. Alas, police think she is bonkers, and her husband (Laurence Harvey) isn’t more helpful, trying to find an old psychiatrist to commit her.

Before you can say Gaslight, the old classic about a mad wife, you may have Hitchcock’s Suspicion on your hands. Perhaps too the director and writer saw Barbara Stanwyk’s chestnut called Night Walker.

It’s all in the horror/mystery family, though this one is definitely high-end in its hoots & laughs quotient.

All while she suffers, Taylor’s insanity is a joy to behold. The suspects line up from every direction: former dead husband, his lover, a smarmy neighbor, a hostile housekeeper, and even cavalier police.

Who wants to drive her crazy? Or is she actually seeing dead people?

As the drama grows more overwrought, the pay-off is way beyond anything Taylor fans could ever desire. We loved every cliché moment. The ending was considered a surprise shock by most fans. Marvelous.




God’s Own Country: Forsaken and for Rent

DATELINE: Intelligent Human Drama

 god's grubby country

If you want a movie that combines Brokeback Mountain with Far from the Madding Crowd, you have fallen into the sheep dip of God’s Own Country.

In case you’re wondering, God’s country is in the Northumberland section of Scotland where sheep are sheep, and men are men.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is an uptight, hard-drinking, unhappy young man living with his handicapped father and aging mother on a remote sheep farm in cold, desolate, and in a kind of run-down in the dumps setting.  He spends time at the local pub and local urban area and meets a fair share of attractive men, but he is miserable.

He falls down on his homestead duties—and his father brings in a Romanian gypsy-type (but don’t call him that). It’s hate at first sight, until one of those cold, desolate outings to the outback where outing becomes all the rage.

This is actually a fascinating little film, way beyond the ground-breaking of Brokeback and unlikely to be made in America where sheepskin is only for college diplomas.

Actor Josh O’Connor has a rough-hewn attractiveness, and Alec Secareanu is smoldering. They really carry the movie, as the cast is tiny and the lack of population doesn’t make for much company.

When the affair consummates, it enflames, but the drama is far more subdued and intelligent. At least we don’t have to listen to disco dolly music and fashionistas with witty repartee.

This movie is by director and writer Francis Lee and comes from a world of whence he knows. Though the characters seem to think they are in God’s beautiful country, they clearly need to take a trip to the tropics.

In terms of gay films for a gay audience, this slice of life with calves being yanked out of a mother cow, and lambs being yanked out of ewes may be too much for city slickers. It’s nature’s way, apparently, when out in the country.  It will be too much muck for some viewers.


Truman’s Coldest Blood: Infamous & Capote

DATELINE:  Capote’s Clutter Story

Oscar Capote (Hoffman)

With a dozen years passing since Bennett Miller’s brilliant movie called Capote, we chose to look at it again. There were two Truman movies that year: competing for attention.

We felt at the time that Infamous with Toby Jones as Capote writing his non-fictive novel was the better. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar.

We wished that the two films had mixed casts. It seems each had good points. We remain impressed with Hoffman’s work as Capote. A big man, he managed to convey a sense of the elfin Truman.  Jones was already the right size, being tiny.

Clifton Collins, Jr., remains so impressive in his work as Perry Smith, the sensitive killer with whom Capote seems to have fallen in love. Casting Daniel Craig in the other movie seems an odd choice. He was all wrong.

As in each movie, there is nothing more cold-blooded than a writer and his greatest work of literature. Don’t ever get between them.

Hoffman’s fey Capote has a ruthless, cold, hypocritical soul. He lies repeatedly to the killers of the Clutter family to gain their trust. Perhaps the two brutal murderers did not deserve much more than a lying hypocrite to befriend them.

Capote and his friend Harper Lee (also so well done by Catherine Keener) spend hours in Kansas doing research. Without her, Capote might not have a book—and he was less than supportive of her work, To Kill a Mockingbird, that she wrote even as she gave Truman her assistance.

We preferred Jeff Daniels as the detective on the case, though Chris Cooper is soberly affecting.

In the end, Capote did not want to discuss much with the killers until they gave him his ending and confessed how they did their murders. He also could not publish his book until they were executed. So, he simply stopped helping them find lawyers—and truly wanted them dead.

The flamboyant joke that Truman ultimately became likely came from his work on that book and his self-disgust. He never finished another book during the 20 years he lived after the execution of Perry Smith.

We still prefer the other Capote movie, Infamous, as a total movie experience, we must again give kudos to Capote as a film with impact and lasting emotional pain.


Tom of Finland: Not Everyone’s Cup

DATELINE: Movie with Message


To review a movie for a highly limited audience is risky business when you know the vast majority of readers will blanch at the subject.

So, we come to Tom of Finland, an extremely well-produced and well-acted movie in both English and Finnish (subtitles here) about the homoerotic artist who altered gay culture in the years after World War II.

He was a Finnish war hero suffering form post-traumatic stress from his experiences, but was attracted to muscle-bound men in provocative poses and uniforms. Pekka Strang plays Tom who is nothing physically like his fantasy models.

As hinted at in the movie, to blame Tom and Robert Mapplethorpe for the AIDS epidemic is almost as ridiculous as claiming they are in the league of Michelangelo.

However, all that aside, the movie is important as cultural history—and provides an interesting insight into repression and police brutality against gay men in the 1950s and 1960s.

Seumas Sargent is the American named Doug who brings Tom to the American scene where he finds his fantasies have come to life in California in the 1970s. Of course, the AIDS crisis victimizes most of these sexual pioneers. Gay clubs had long lines waiting to enter before 1980, and after 1985, the same clubs were shuttered.

Is this movie for you? Probably not even all gay men will find Tom’s work more than hyperbole of manliness. He seemed to have a big audience in the leather-clad gay lifestyle. Tom’s art is almost a satirical look at male sexuality, stylized and provocative, erotic and blatant.


Lawrence of Arabia: Hi-Def, Small Screen

DATELINE: Whatever Happened to Michel Ray & John Dimech

Michel ray & o'toole O’Toole with Michel Ray

Impossible, you might say, to watch the biggest, grandest, most spectacular epic film ever made on the small screen?

High Definition is the response, and TV screens are not exactly tiny nowadays. Not since its premiere in 1963 have we seen such a gorgeous print of David Lean’s masterpiece. Though we have seen the four-hour epic a dozen times or more since it first appeared, we were not prepared for the sharpness, clarity, and beauty, that stunned us in the restored version in HD.

It was like seeing it again for the first time.

The story of T.E. Lawrence, WWI hero who became a god to the Arab tribes he led against the Turks for the British, is more complex than you might expect. The film flows from spectacular set-up to another. You have the majesty of riding camels in the desert, to Lawrence’s moment to join the Arab cause with his two teenage boyfriends. There are the scenes of rescuing Gassim from the Nefud desert to the walk atop the derailed train he blew up while the crowds of soldiers cheer him on.

Peter O’Toole was not discovered for this role, nor just introduced. He had made several films, but the role of Lawrence catapulted him into legendary fame. He amazes in every scene. And the music swells in tandem.

Nearly every star (Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins) is gone now, leaving us their juicy performances. None is more delightful than to see the final film of Michel Ray. He quit movies after this to become a billionaire businessman. Not a bad decision. And, his partner John Dimech also disappeared from films after several more appearances.

The two played the Arab boys who adored Lawrence. Sal Mineo was bounced from one of the roles because Arab countries objected to his role in Exodus as a Jew.  Michel Ray went to Harvard and married well. Dimech went into art on Malta.

Stories behind David Lean’s spectacular film abound, yet the film itself stands then and now as the greatest ever made. Yes, we never say such things lightly. We had not seen it in 20 years—and it left us breathless once again.

Prepare to commit yourself to an experience unparalleled.


Tom Brady’s Five Finger Exercise

DATELINE:  New England Patriot Horror Movie


Let the hand-wringing begin.

No one can shake Tom Brady’s hand this week. If it ain’t broke, can he play with all fingers?

When the Patriots called for all hands on deck during practice on Wednesday, the hand of Tom Brady was among the missing. Usually he keeps his pitching mitt in his cozy hand warmer, but this week it has been a specimen under observation by the greatest medical minds the Kraft family can find.

The handicraft of Tom Brady may be in jeopardy.

Like the hands of a stranger, Brady’s hand is like an alien creature being tested for performance enhancing capabilities. We want to hold his hand like a Beatle, but his circulation could be at risk.

Glad-handers among the media have dismissed the notion that the Patriots needed a Handiwipe to keep the Pats from falling into Trump’s s**thole.

Reports circulate that Handsome Tom Brady has been unable to give hand signals when he drives his Astin-Martin, and his hand gestures have been limited to the usual Trump vocabulary.

After a freak accident, the freakish Brady’s hand no longer can grip a football. It may be time for a hand-me-down to the next quarterback on the roster. Yikes.

We can count the chances for Patriot victory on Sunday on one hand if Tom Brady is not handy.

If Tom can’t get a handle on the ball Sunday, TV ratings will be handed off like a fat woman pouring coffee on her  bosom as in the commercial for DirecTV.

The Patriots will lose hands down if Tom Brady must handoff to Brian Hoyer.

Don’t ask the Patriots for a show of hands.

The Jacksonville Jaguars may prove to be more than a handful.

We are unsure of the Patriots will be able to get a hand on another victory this season if the ball slips out of Brady’s hand.


Baer Finds His Goldlocks in Oswald

DATELINE:  Tracking Oswald

oswald Can there be more to him?

Former CIA investigator Bob Baer was back on History Channel with updates on his Kennedy Assassination theories. Updating his shows, Baer offers us JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald.

Last year History Channel unceremoniously dumped the series after two episodes and never offered a word of explanation. Now, with the release of the remainder of the secret files on the Kennedy Assassination, History has decided to update and re-release Baer’s now-affirmed mini-series in six episodes.

Baer prefers a cold case that is not too hot and not too cold, but somewhere in between. His Goldilocks is Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who slept in every political bed.

With the recent release of documents under seal for 50 years, Baer called in his anonymous and unseen friends who were former CIA and FBI agents to annotate the discrete files that seem unrelated with new evidence. They find more treasure than you might dig up at Oak Island.

He neatly tied together that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. Of course, the bottom line is that Oswald remains the prime suspect, now hints coming forth that he was trained in Louisiana in improved shooting techniques by his friends from Cuba.

Baer suggests that rogue elements of the CIA may have used pro-communists to advance their anti-communist agenda. Oswald neatly fits into both camps as some kind of bizarre double agent, or double patsy.

Though Baer comes across as a CIA apologist on the order of Gerald Posner, he has been lumping the agency into the mix of rogue enablers. His complete assessment is welcome, for that reason alone. The miniseries is worth more than a cursory reconsideration.


1974’s Murder on the Orient Express

 DATELINE:  Another Christie Version

1974 all-star murder

Before we tackle the newest Orient Express by Branagh, let’s look at the oldest version.

The star-studded Sidney Lumet version took Agatha Christie out of the hands of  1960s-style Margaret Rutherford and Miss Marple.  Murder on the Orient Express is bumpy in the night.

Indeed, the cast is spectacular, one of the last gasps of Old Hollywood gone mad. The suspects are so rococo and bizarre that they make Albert Finney’s weird Poirot look positively like Sam Spade crossed with Richard III.

As the names of stars pass in the opening credits, your jaw may drop. Bacall, Bergman (Bogart’s leading ladies), Perkins, Connery, Gielgud, Redgrave (later to play Christie herself), Widmark, and stellar second bananas too, like Balsam, Bisset, and let’s catch our breaths! Wow.

Lumet is not so much interested in atmosphere as glamour.

If Margaret Rutherford had not died the year before the film, she likely would have been cast in it too. Christie never liked the idea of Miss Marple joining forces with Hercule—but in this sort of movie, you almost expect it.

The new auteur Kenneth Branagh version cannot touch the sheer aristocracy of actors in this film. You have to savor each little gem from Lumet’s cast, as these great stars finally can play it to the hilt one last time and first time as an ensemble.

Agatha Christie was the Shakespeare of crime plots—and so we will have more remakes. After all, we have seen about seven great Hamlet movies. Christie cannot be far behind.

We do condemn the music score that lightly sounds over the credits at the end—which is completely wrong for the mood of the film.


Fincher’s Movie Zodiac in Contrast to History TV

DATELINE:  Docudrama Versus Reality TV

 Fincher style Gyllenhaal & Downey Play Detectives

The new series on History inspired us to go back to 2007 and see what David Fincher did in his big budget, all-star movie called Zodiac.

Suffice it to say, there is some overlap: and the series claims to have discovered an earlier killing by Zodiac at UCLA that was shown ten years earlier in the Fincher film version.

Of course, Fincher uses poetic license to personalize victims and their final conversations; we have no idea what was really said, but his version is fairly likely.

The movie uses big stars in rotating coverage: the newspaper cynical reporter is Robert Downey, Jr., who calls Zodiac a latent homosexual—and then fears for his life that he will be a target.

Mark Ruffalo is the San Francisco detective in full 1960s fashion mode, and quite amusing. Brian Cox steals every scene playing flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli.

The most important character is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Chronicle cartoonist who is an amateur sleuth and is equal to the trivia that Zodiac was fond of using. He notes that Richard Connell story, “Most Dangerous Game” that Zodiac admires—but the movie never did its homework. The story was a short story, not a book.

You may well wonder at the enormous stupidity of everyone at the newspaper, passing around evidence and ruining fingerprints, etc., with nary a thought. And you may wonder why a cartoonist is at the high-level meetings. Described as a “retard” and “Boy Scout,” throughout the film, Gyllenhaal looks like he is auditioning for his next role as a gay cowboy.

If you haven’t had your fill of demented serial killers (called mass murderer in the movie), then you might want to annotate the TV series with a first-rate movie.