Depp is Really a Dope

 DATELINE: Actors & Politics

Tonto Means Dopey Depp Johnny Dope

They don’t call him Johnny Dope for nothing.

The semi-intoxicated movie star named Johnny Depp called for the assassination of President Trump at a British music festival this week. He compared himself to another actor named John Wilkes Booth.

That comparison raises Depp a few steps above his talent range.

Wilkes Booth was a noted actor of stage, known for his good looks and his explosive talent. Depp has always fallen short on both levels.

Booth, of course, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln with a group of misfits he assembled. There’s no doubt the Depp probably can muster up a group of misfits from his devotees. That’s his likely fan club.

As far as actors killing presidents is concerned, we believe Booth was a better actor, but as Depp brags: he’s a better liar than Booth. Heavens, there is no end to his talent: until now.

Threatening to kill a president you disagree with is a new low even for Hollywood liberals.

John Wilkes Booth was a great Shakespearean actor even at a young age. However, Booth was dead at 27, after a manhunt by authorities. Depp is still alive and kicking and pushing 60.  After his recent comment, nobody will be chasing him, especially film producers.

We also believe the Depp has never really tried Shakespeare, which separates the actors from the drunken liars.

The Secret Service is said to be aware of Depp’s Kathy Griffin moment. If we are lucky, the man who has played Tonto will be sent into retirement, not a moment too soon. His performance was an insult to all Native Americans.

In case you’re wondering, Tonto is Spanish for stupid. That may be the highlight of Johnny Dope’s career. Put it on his tombstone.


Collateral Beauty: Time for Love & Death to Take a Holiday

 Mirren Kills'em.jpg Mirren Kills’em

DATELINE:  Bereavement Hallucinations

Every once in a while a movie comes along that invites insult and derision. This time it is  Will Smith’s dramedy called Collateral Beauty.

It has echoes of so many other, better stories, that we aren’t sure where to begin the diagnosis.

From the trailer you might believe this is a fantasy film on the lines of Love, Death, and Time, Meet in New York. You’d have been deceived, sort of.

A depressed man, dealing with the death of his child of six, has business associates that want to have evidence to commit him to a looney bin.

So, they arrange for actors to play Love, Death, and Time, to pay him a visit. It’s Gaslight—but as Helen Mirren, playing Death, discovers in the course of the movie, no one remembers that classic film, known for its good acting. No one will remember this one for that same reason.

When you start out with some of the most unlikable characters all woven into one plot, you are already behind the Oscar voting. Will Smith knows about being overlooked for a good performance—and lets his natural gray hairs show his love for acting this time as the movie lay dying.

We presume this is a cautionary tale—but we aren’t quite sure if we are being warned about sneaky business partners, cruel fate, or bloated self-pity. There is plenty of that stuff to go around in this movie. Just call it a sentimental journey.

Here’s the rub: you probably will watch it and hate yourself in the morning, which may be the opposite emotion the film wants you to have. It preaches at the audience enough to cause a backlash.

You may actually begin to think those “actors” playing at Death, Love, and Time, may be the real thing, like a coven of witches hanging out in the Big Apple for laughs.

At one point, Helen Mirren says, “This is not Noel Coward. It’s more like Chekhov.”  Yes, the movie never falls short on lofty pretensions. You could do worse.

Sherlock Meets Hornblower

DATELINE: Amazing Grace: The True Story

Sherlock meets Hornblower

Director Michael Apted put together a film called Amazing Grace in 2008 in which Sherlock Holmes would meet Horatio Hornblower. Well, not exactly, but Benedict Cumberbatch costarred with Ioan Gruffudd in the true story of young Wilberforce and young Pitt, British abolitionists.


The film was never embraced by the African American audience because it is plainly Masterpiece Theatre level Brit drama. It depicts the 20 year struggle of these English Members of Parliament to ban the slave trade in the British Empire around 1800.

Gloriously cast with actors with great faces, you can add Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, and Rufus Sewell, into the mix. You have a masterpiece of English actors.

Though not exactly action packed, it creates moments of powerful emotion as these intellectuals, Wilberforce and Pitt, boyhood chums, take on the powerful economic force that enslaved people.

It is well produced, has the flair of the era and aristocratic settings to tell the tale.

When the story of the timeless spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” is a secondary subplot, you have intriguing history alive. Albert Finney plays Gruffuld’s boyhood pastor, a former slave ship captain who wrote the song. Indeed, in one compelling scene, Cumberbatch presents Gruffud’s impressive rendition of the tune.

The film fell through the cracks initially because it did not go through television as its main channel. If one of the cable stations had picked it up, it would have become a biopic miniseries about ten hours long.

Instead, we have a throwback to the great historical movies that came out of England in the 1960s.

Franco & Quinto Canoodling

DATELINE:  Another Gay Role for Franco


James Franco has played more gay characters than any other star this side of Franklin Pangborn, the 1930s character pantywaist for all occasions.

Franco surely has never admitted to being gay, but he has done every conceivable role from Allen Ginsburg to Hart Crane to King Cobra. Now he is taking another shot at docudrama playing a gay magazine editor married to Zachary Quinto (who is openly gay in real life).

This time Franco becomes so irritated with living in the wilds of Canada with his lover that he decides to go straight.

What? Yes, on the heels of the Matthew Shepherd murder, Franco’s real life editor decides it’s time for a change.

This movie will irritate both gay people and Christian fundamentalists. Gay life is played as lascivious, libertine, and drug addled, with Franco and Quinto in hot kisses. But, the dull Christian is even worse when Franco washes the henna rinse out of his hair and goes au naturel.

Will this film finally cure Franco out of playing gay roles on screen? Or will it scare him straight into the arms of another man in real life? Or at least admit it.

The answers are likely not in this picture of gay life from 1998 to 2008, and Michael the former gay man is not a role model for anyone. His transformation from firebrand of queer politics to turning his cheeks for God, is truly bizarre.

We think gay life is not stereotypical of the world of dance, drugs, and endless sex, but the world is easily turned from black to white in this movie.

The audience for I Am Michael may be limited to critical viewers who are gluttons for punishment.



Little Boy Lost in Lion

DATELINE:  Real Life Spiritual Journey

 Kidman and Sunny

Kidman with adorable Sunny Pawar

This international production called Lion may tap into the wide audience of movie fans in Australia and India with a true story that is reminiscent of classics like The Search with Monty Clift.

This time the lost boy, separated from his desperate and loving mother, is five years old and lost in a mass of humanity from New Delhi to Calcutta. After some brutal travails that are reminiscent of 19th century Dickens, he is adopted by acouplefrom Tasmania.

However, happy ever after is not in the script.

This also marks an interesting first for Nicole Kidman who adopts the little boy (Sunny Pawar)—and before she knows it, he is 25 and she is playing her first matron.

It happened to Mary Astor and Bette Davis with grace, and just a few short years after playing some of her most sensual roles, Kidman is into motherhood. There may be no looking back. She is, above all else, an excellent actress.

The trauma of the young boy seems to come back to haunt him as an adult. You can thank Google Earth for allowing him to conduct an armchair search of his geographical roots.

Because the story is all true, Saroo is a compelling figure both as a child and as Dev Patel in adulthood when his torment about his lost family becomes something that allows him to take charge of destiny.

The actual footage of in the post-script of the movie shows that Kidman’s role is not far afield of the adopting mother in the story. It will surely tug at your feelings as the young Indian’s spiritual journey is truly difficult emotionally.

When it comes to true stories, you can’t go wrong here. Since there are no lions in the story, you have to stick around for the closing to learn the reasoning behind the film title.

Everywhere a Movie Set in La-La Land

DATELINE: Movie Myths in Song & Dance

lalla land


You may remember La La Land as the film that won the Oscar for five minutes. It was a mistake, for sure. We aren’t sure if the film is supposed to be a take off, or a throwback, or just to feel good old-fashioned musical. It may be much more.

La la Land is some mystic, mythic American place where gridlock results in a mile-long sing-along.  If this is your cup of tea, stay out of Starbucks. If you love movies, this has more movie references than a Mel Brooks comedy. Yet, this one is a romantic gem.

Director Damien Chazelle manages to squeeze everything from Fellini’s 8 & a Half to Rebel without a Cause into his film, while resonating Gene Kelly’s American in Paris.

Ryan Gosling’s character wants to single-handedly save jazz for a new generation—and Chazelle does too. We thought there must be a trick to Gosling’s piano performance, which is bravura at the least. He sings and dances too.

Emma Stone’s eyes may be reminiscent of Bette Davis, but she is show busy to the nth degree. Attention, movie fans, we have a movie here, right down to the fluorescent green drapes out of Vertigo.

Dreams in La-La Land may be achievable—but at great cost, though the journey is richly detailed in this hypnotic movie.

The last musical we enjoyed was A Chorus Line, which we saw a dozen times because our friend Jimmy Kirkwood wrote it. He loved show biz stories too, and this would have grabbed him.

Though this movie missed out on its big Oscar, it’s the sort that will live in legend and re-telling and re-viewing in the generations to come. You cannot miss this film and call yourself a fan of Hollywood, jazz, or creative impulse.

Early Mohican Epic: The Last Shall Be First

DATELINE:  Bad Indians

Bruce Cabot   Bruce Cabot

Fenimore Cooper’s Romantic epic of the West takes place in upstate New York, of course, in 1757. It’s where and when the wild west begins in The Last of the Mohicans.

The 1936 version of the classic is extremely well-done, but has what you might expect from a studio version in the black & white age. The American Indians (before becoming Native Americans) are played by actors with fair skin and blue eyes. This is particularly noticeable for the most noble of all American Savages, Chingachgook.

The last of the bad Indians, Magua, is played terrifically by underrated Bruce Cabot, fresh off fighting as a stalwart hero against King Kong. This time he is barely recognizable with his Mohawk haircut and bare midriff. He is sullen, dangerous, and quite impressive.

The King Kong hangover continues for him. The musical score for the film is a rip-off of the overwrought music for the giant ape. In several sequences, Cabot seems to be re-enacting his other role on Skull Island in native garb.

His foil is Randolph Scott as the first true rifleman, Hawkeye. And, no one could be better in the role, as the actor shows early on his subtle humor in the part.

One of the truly odd changes is the reversal of Alice and Cora, the two daughters of the regiment. In the original story, Cora is dark-haired and tempestuous. She is called Alice here, and her blonde sister becomes Magua’s obsession. In Cooper’s book he appreciates her dark looks, not her blonde locks.

The story is further muddled by putting the key scenes with the last Mohican somewhere earlier in the plot—and ending with some kind of court-martial of Hawkeye. It doesn’t matter too much, as this turns out to be a pleasing version overall, hitting on the key moments of the story and casting truly fine actors.

Who Wears a Blackhat in Cyberspace?

DATELINE:  Guess Who?

Hemsworth or Pratt or Pine  Pratt, Pine, or Hemsworth?

When a friend called to tell us he’d seen a rather poor copy of a Michael Mann movie, we had the sorry news to inform him that Blackhat, a cyber crime thriller, recently filmed, was indeed a Michael Mann film by the venerable director of Last of the Mohicans and Collateral.

The star was reportedly Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Pine. We figured it didn’t matter which one played the stalwart hacker, or disheveled hero. We were not prepared for the star to be a matinee idol in federal prison who somehow had learned the skills of James Bond and Jason Bourne by reading in his cell.

We have reached a critical mass in society when the only people who can save the country from computer crimes are already in jail. The government must come to a deal with the hacker to win his patriotic assistance. You know this is not a winning plot-line.

What’s worse is that the U.S. must team up with an American-educated Chinese communist military computer whiz to catch the cyber blackhat before he destroys the free enterprise market. Good grief.

As you might expect in this kind of movie, the story quickly changes from a thriller catching cyber crooks into a revenge tale going after deplorable sociopaths.

We won’t bore you with the details, lest we be accused of spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, the FBI leader on the case is played by Viola Davis who is always worth watching and is the best part of the movie.

The stars of the film seem to be targets of the bad guys and are systematically picked off. We leave it to your imagination who ends up seeking revenge against the government and the cyber hacks.

We hate to pan a movie when so many good ones deserve our attention, but Blackhat has left us with little choice. Surely your time is more valuable than to be spent on this trifle.

A True Tale of NASA & Civil Rights

DATELINE:  Hidden Figures

NASAMonae, Henson, & Spencer Cut a Rug

When you cross two stories based on true events of the early 1960s, you have the NASA Mercury mission running head long into the Civil Rights movement.

Hidden Figures may be highly anticipated for telling a story few people may have ever heard about. NASA featured three black women, all highly intelligent and poorly utilized, in the nascient days of the space program. The movie tells their story of patience, goodwill, and triumph.

This may not be a feel-good movie, but it is superior entertainment. How these three women who are brilliant mathematicians could put up with the slights, the prejudice, and the petty treatment of so-called educated people at NASA may shock modern audiences.

Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, are bonded together in adversity, relegated to the women’s computer pool. They were literal computers, people who added up figures by hand, waiting for a chance to shine with their genius.

Leading the bigotry at NASA are a couple of surprising actors, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons, both who usually play highly sympathetic roles. Not here. Their supervisor is Kevin Costner, so you know where courage and heroism may emerge.

The women work with the original seven Mercury astronauts—and Henson’s character makes a deep impression on John Glenn.

The film will end happily—because we know our history. The journey of development and adversity will give greater appreciation to the struggles of women in the days before any kind of liberation. It is also an actors’ showcase with delightful performances all around.

Those who know Henson from her TV work in Empire will be surprised at her range here. Those who know her from Person of Interest will be happy she has found a superior film in which to perform.

Mifune: Brando & Duke Combined

DATELINE:  Japan’s Superstar Not Named Godzilla



It was said that Japan exported two mammoth stars in the 1950s.  One was Godzilla, and the other was Toshiro Mifune.

As John Wayne was the quintessential Western star with director John Ford, Mifune was the quintessential Samurai star for director Akira Kurosawa.

In the documentary called Mifune: The Last Samurai, with narration by Keanu Reeves, Mifune was the Japanese Wayne with a touch of Brando. What intensity and dedication to art!

From 1950 onward, Mifune gave performances that made art house audiences in the United States jump up and take notice. He was far more influential on American film directors who took plots from Roshomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, and other classics—and remade them, using the stylized direction and the singular performance of Toshiro.


However much someone might imitate Mifune, no actor actually had his natural angst and tough spirit. Try as they might, Clint and Yul had to avoid copying Mifune. No one could quite catch the look of a man with an arrow through his neck as Toshiro.

He was a hard drinker and hard worker and made over a dozen films with Kurosawa before they parted ways.

His lifestory gives an angle to Japanese life and films that Americans might not know about—and Steven Spielberg offers his insights (working together for the film 1941), as well as two sons of Mifune in recollections.

Toward the end of his life, Mifune went up against Charles Bronson (Red Sun) and Lee Marvin (Hell in the Pacific) as a film antagonist, but his classic films are singular achievements. Though he played mostly samurai warriors and ronin, he showed considerable range as an actor. This documentary gives you a sampler of his talent.

Laurel & Hardy Tribute

Babe & Stan Return

A relatively unknown BBC radio drama is turned into a slight one-hour movie about comedy team Laurel and Hardy. It is set in 1957 when Stan makes a death-bed visit to his old teammate after being estranged for a year. It’s called Stan, but should be Stan & Ollie.

Since Laurel always wanted to be a stand-alone act, the title is Stan.

For fans who remember them from two-reelers, this short film is a joy forever. It explains in flashbacks how their rocky start together transformed each—and made them immortal Hollywood icons.

What makes this little film so special and why it works is all in the casting. Not only are the elderly men reminiscent of the duo, but so are their younger versions. As the old men, with Hardy suffering from a stroke are Jim Norton as Stan and Trevor Cooper as Oliver. The younger versions are extraordinary too, lending to the verisimilitude: Nik Howden (Laurel) and Mike Goodenough (Hardy).

Of course, the younger generation, used to SNL weened comedians, may have a tough time identifying with the Great Depression duo. Laurel and Hardy do analyze their importance, to make their lives feel worthy, at the end. They were ordinary, and made audiences see humor in the worst of times.

Stan recalls their initial teaming and how he opposed it. Though Laurel was actually the brains of the twosome, he basically came up with gags and directed their scenes. Yet, Oliver Hardy made contributions that Laurel recognized as highly valuable.

Stan re-lives his past by watching their old films and thinking of new bits—but time has passed them by. With bittersweet moments, this is a fitting tribute to Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Available on Amazon Video.

Bell, Book & Candle: Bewitching Entertainment

 DATELINE: Early Bewitched


After Hitchcock made them a romantic couple with perfect chemistry in Vertigo, they made another film that year. It was called Bell, Book, & Candle.

It was a sharp satire about a coven of witness in Manhattan.

James Stewart and Kim Novak excelled in turning suspense to laughs, with an assist from actors like Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.

At least one scene echoes Novak’s San Francisco apartment in Vertigo, but she has a scene-stealing cat named Piwacket this time.

Stewart is a book publisher who falls under Novak’s spell, but the entire concept was done to death in the 1960s under the TV series name of Bewitched. The original idea here seems to have been undercut over the years—except for the striking adult subtlety.

Lemmon and Kovacs shack up in a hotel room to write a book, but their relationship sounds a great deal like consenting adults. They play it to the hilt in the closeted 1950s, which may be the biggest surprise. The Zodiac Club where Lemmon hangs out with other warlocks certainly doubles for a 1950s gay club.

Novak is stunningly beautiful, and Stewart still has enough in the tank to be at the top of his game. The scenes shot in New York with body doubles indicate that Stewart and Novak never left the Hollywood studio when making this film.

The magic of movies is perfect here, from the lush color, muted effects of witchcraft, and the interplay of adults not into situation comedy.

Paterson: Busman’s Holiday

 DATELINE:  Nouveau Jersey


Jim Jarmusch has put together a film without a white-haired protagonist. Paterson is both the city in New Jersey and the name of an understated, amiable bus driver.

Jarmusch may be trying to illustrate that lives of quiet desperation are infinitely improved when there is a dose of quiet creativity. Though lives are falling apart all around him, Paterson relies on his poetic works to maintain balance. His wife is flaky and more prone to artistic pretension than art. He accepts all with Zen mastery.

His days may be more pedestrian as he takes the same route daily, and ends each day with a walk of the dog and a single beer at the local pub. Yet, there is magic everywhere, as evinced by the twins he always encounters after his wife makes an off-hand observation.

Indeed, Paterson’s dog Marvin, an English bull, makes yet another dog companion in recent movies that proves a boon companion. He steals the show and the movie is dedicated to the memory of Nellie who portrays Marvin.

Paterson does not solve the problems of those around him, but seems to suffer their pain in sympathy. Like Emily Dickinson, mentioned in passing in one scene, he lives without fame or acknowledgment of his art.

One lesson is simple. There are no chance encounters, and every meeting has meaning.

The poetry in the film resembles that of William Carlos Williams, but its mundane nature suits the goal of Jarmusch and of Paterson, poet and place. This could be the only film to give poet Williams recognition in the credits.

Many viewers will complain that seven days in Paterson offers no escape from ennui, but Jarmusch has woven together images and ideas that display deep meaning in detail. Paterson has a rich history that may surprise you.

The main performance by Adam Driver is sublime. He is sensitive and sad, kindly and a man who rises above his bus stop.

A rather special film, you must discover this one for yourself.

Hush…Hush (Say It with Ellipsis, Not Comma), Charlotte

DATELINE:  Whatever Happened to Joan?

hush Joan’s Replacement: Olivia


Joan Crawford missed a sour mint julep when she bailed out of her second movie with Bette Davis.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte clarifies a few notions we have carried since we last saw this from back in the 1960s. Despite the handle that this was another film degrading older actresses, it is nothing of the sort.

Director Robert Aldrich gave his stars some dignified screen time amid the severed hands and decapitated heads. Bette Davis looks fresh and powerful. Taking over from Crawford was Olivia De Havilland in an unusual turn as the harsh cousin who allegedly comes to the rescue of her faded Southern Belle cousin who has fallen into hard times and dementia.

The cast is marvelous: Joseph Cotten shows up as a syrupy doctor and Agnes Morehead is the floozie housekeeper. You will also find Mary Astor as Charlotte’s archrival Jewel Mayhew.

The film gave a few character actors their first juicy roles: Bruce Dern is the beau of Bette in 1927 who loses his head over her advances. George Kennedy shows up as a blue collar house wrecker. To top it all off, Aldrich brought back Victor Buono from Baby Jane to play Bette’s father in the flashback scenes; his giant portrait dominates the library for the remainder of the movie.

The film is not a horror picture at all. It is a crime drama that comes across as Tennessee Williams gone awry among magnolia blossoms.

You can’t help but see Joan Crawford in the Olivia role, though De Havilland makes a strong case. What a shame that Joan couldn’t abide Bette enough to see through to finish this picture. It’s a remarkable movie.

If you expect bloody scenes, this is antiseptic by modern standards—but suspense and melodrama is always delicious when old stars give their last hurrahs.

Turn of the Screw Meets Downton Abbey

DATELINE: Strange Fellowes

from time

Julian Fellowes held some out of town tryouts before his big hit with the upper crust Downton Abbey.  Gathering together two of his principals (Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville), Fellowes chose a story that would have been an old-fashioned Walt Disney British movie with Haley Mills in the 1960s. From Time to Time is time enough.

Instead, it was a flop in America—and may be a curio because of the great cult success of the successor to Upstairs/Downstairs. Indeed, Pauline Collins—once the upstairs maid—is now Maggie Smith’s housekeeper. The year is 1944—and young Tolly is sent to stay with his grandmother to stay clear of the war in Manchester.

Tolly (Alex Etel) is no Haley Mills; we leave that sort of thing to Douglas Booth (Sefton). Tolly is a clairvoyant and soon realizes he can weave between timeframes at his granny’s estate. Soon he is spirit in 1810 as distant ancestors have family squabbles over Jacob, a slave boy, that Hugh Bonneville has brought to England as a companion for his blind daughter.

After that, you might expect complications with two astral planes and plenty of dirty laundry. Performances are uniformly superior to whatever passes for movies nowadays; this is a Fellowes production, written and directed by Julian

We give kudos to Dominic West as the butler Caxton, not Carson, and his odd relationship with the son of the manor, Douglas Booth as the foppish jeunesse doree, Sefton. Also around is gardener Timothy Spall in the modern age.

The film falls short of Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, but if you are in the neighborhood, you may as well stop by for tea, ghosts, and sympathy if you have time on your hands.