Apt Pupil Outruns Mentor

DATELINE: Crypto Nazis in Suburbia

Bryan Singer, director of Apt Pupil,first ran into hot water, not because of the subject matter that indicated Nazi youth were living in American suburbs, but because he filmed teenage boys in the high school shower after gym class.

This 1998 film should not be forgotten for more important reasons.

High crimes differ in every culture. Singer’s point made Stephen King’s novella more horrific than the original story where the FBI could identify your garden variety mass killer with a profile. In this film version an All-American boy on a bicycle discovers the old man in his neighborhood is no innocent immigrant, but a fugitive Nazi killer from Auschwitz.

It was an era when immigrants were welcomed into the United States at the border, no matter how dubious their credentials. After all, safe haven is often de rigueur for evil-doers.

Instead of turning the reprobate into authorities, the kid wants to be tutored in the fine art of Nazi supremacy. It was a wild idea twenty years ago, but today with neo and crypto Nazi supporters all over the landscape, we might discover this budding monster wins some sympathy. How many shooters in recent years were teenagers with MAGA caps?

Performances make this essential two-character drama into something special. Ian McKellan plays an older Nazi and Brad Refro is the innocent-looking teen. The sophistication of Refro’s work makes his early death a far greater loss to acting. Each star is brilliant as we watch their subtle sexually charged father-son jamboree.

At one point, Refro as Todd buys a Nazi uniform for his pal to see him march around. McKellan dryly announces, “I see I have been promoted.”

The revelation that Refro’s youth may be worse than the Master comes at different points for some audience members. You could think that the kid is a victim of a powerful influence, but his treatment of his high school teacher Mr. French who discovers the ugly secret is far more stinging than the headlines of today’s child abuse cases.

Who can you trust in this world? Everyone uses a façade to shield their hideous criminal intentsions.

Up to the ending, McKellan’s Nazi thinks he can outsmart the American Nazi, but the freedom of choice in the United States makes for a far more dangerous brand of Fascism, as we now know from Trump’s campaign for a second term.

This is a chilling look at Nazis, homegrown and imported.

On the Offence with Sean Connery

 DATELINE: Endeavour Predecessor!

Back in 1972, Sean Connery did not want to play James Bond: to arrange for him to do another film on 007 romp, Connery insisted he be allowed to play a disturbed police detective based on a dark and depressing play called The Offence.

The movie showed off Connery as a powerful actor, but was a box-office fizzle. Audiences were not ready to see James Bond in a dubious psychologically damaged role. The film remains topical and fascinating: it deals with a police sergeant detective in London who cracks up while investigating another hideous child molester case (shades of Jeffrey Epstein).

With its disturbing lead character finally at wit’s end, his response is police brutality and murder that is ripped out of the headlines of 2020 without the racial angle. It’s directed by Sydney Lumet, no less.

The film mirrors Endeavour, the PBS series, set at the same time of early 1970s, now dealing with police like Fred Thursday at the end of their rope, having to face brutality and violence day-after-day. Endeavouris accurate for the feeling and style of police work in those days.

One may have sympathy for these benighted knights of crime, but they have lost the ability to make good decisions.

Trevor Howard shows up to match Connery in an interrogation scene as the chief constable of Scotland Yard. Their acting in tandem is remarkable, but the film is depressing and unpleasant as it details the reasons why the police sergeant kills a child molester while he is in police custody.

If this is to be recommended for its relevance, it is to be watched with a barf bag handy. You will likely be unhappy to see Connery’s license to kill, in this role, is not for espionage fun. This is a dark, stark, cruel movie.

 

 

Endeavour Takes Turn for Worse

 DATELINE: Unpleasant Developments

 Morse, We Hardly Knew Ye! 

In this abbreviated seventh season, the second or middle part of the trilogy of related chapters will continue to indicate to us something bad has happened to the psyche of Endeavour Morse, our stalwart and brilliant young detective.

Perhaps the constant and unrelenting crimes of violence are having a terrible effect on all the characters. Well, in a thoughtful series like Endeavour, this means your characters are developing into something you may not like.

The three major characters (including James Bradshaw as the amusing coroner) watch a woman view her teenage son on the morgue slab and go mad with denial that he is dead. Not pleasant stuff for our hardened police.

In this case, we saw veteran Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) finally fed up with murders and cruel treatment people inflict on each other. When the old cynical pro goes obsessive, you know that he will have a more divisive relationship with his sergeant Morse (Shaun Evans) likely to destroy their relationship.

The overlap of the first episode is that Thursday still believes another man killed young waitress Molly. He is now obsessed, trailing the suspect off hours when another is going on trial for the crime.

We see more of Morse’s personal beliefs than ever before: He opines the “dead deserve justice,” as to why he does a job he dislikes. He also admits he is not the forgiving type (which we think may include forgiving himself). He loses his moral scruples at last and in disappointing fashion, going after the married woman after all.  Well, actually she goes after him with wanton disregard for her millionaire husband.

Morse’s quondam friend, the woman’s husband, we suspect, knows all about this and has been observing. We will find out in the final episode of the season whether our detective skills are up to Morse’s level. He seems not to see it.

The show is overlaid with racism against Pakistani immigrants in 1970, and cruel violence even among themselves in their diaspora. We were reminded of the old chestnut movie, My Beautiful Lauderette, from the 1980s that also covered the Pakistani prejudice in England.

If this is how the show will ultimately evolve, we may at long last lose our taste for the characters and the series, whether it returns for an eighth season or not. Morse’s moral scruples have been compromised and that is never a good sign for heroic TV detectives.

Doubles and Fakers on UnXplained

 DATELINE:  Local Connection!

 Imposter, Not Tony Curtis.

Here is another fascinating subject, not usually covered in any depth by the spate of paranormal, mystery investigators. These are stories about near criminal impersonation.

The UnXplained came across with another winning episode.

If the show were worth its weight in truth, it had to deal with the most famous impostor and faker in my resident town:  yes, Ferdinand Demara stayed here a while in the 1950s, pretending to be a elementary school teacher with fake credentials. A neighbor was actually in his class that year—and she laughed he was no Tony Curtis (the movie star who played Demara in The Great Impostor).

This faker and poseurpretended to be a Canadian doctor and performed surgery during the Korean War. Yes, he operated on suffering wounded soldiers!  Caught, he was still deemed a hero for saving them. He went on to act out his fantasies as a Trappist monk, a lawyer, a college professor, and other stolen identities.

Demara’s life was always pretending, but did not much evil other than deception. He died a fat faker of 350 pounds, not pretending to be a health nut.

However, subsequent figures that Shatner’s show uncovered were increasingly sociopathic and homicidal. A French fake in the 1990s took over Hollywood as an investor and party-thrower, friend to stars. He was stealing their money and allegedly wanted to produce movies. He claimed to be Sophia Loren’s son.

Then, there was Clark Rockefeller, a German low-brow who went by several identities—and he was no Rockefeller. He was, it seems, a murderer with a yard with at least one victim—and another still missing.

These were the worst: the women were a brain damaged Polish peasant who convinced herself she was Czarina Anastasia. They made movies and plays about her fakery. And, given a short shrift was Billy Tipton, famous jazz pianist, who was found to be a woman upon his death.

This was another fascinating show, featuring rare clips, interesting insights, and the underplayed narration of William Shatner who knows something about playing roles.

Endeavour’s Seventh: Crime Goes On!

DATELINE: Night at the Opera

 Shaun Evans, not Groucho.

To kick off the seventh season of egghead murder mystery, Endeavour once again turns to star hotshot, Shaun Evans, to direct the first episode of Endeavour.

He is even better the second time around: with aplomb when it comes to set-ups, color, and the new modern police office settings. He seems to have wasted time filming in Venice for a few scenes that could have been faked without much notice in a studio. Producers even created an opera for the clueless.

The series has grown darker, starting with Endeavour’s heavy narrative opening about the comedy and tragedy he is about to face. Even his boss, Thursday, is now fed up with grisly killings and his humor is turning sour while Morse goes on vacation to Venice.

The episode is over-wroughtly titled “Oracle” when “Psychic” would have done well.

It’s 1970 now, and a waitress at the New Year’s bash is killed walking home from work. It is the heavy-handed start of women’s equal rights—and it is played historically nasty. Most men of the era saw it as a fad and did not take it seriously. If you use this show as history, you see something far more sinister.

Crime goes on, even at Oxford’s new fangled psychic research center where remote viewing experiments are in their infancy.

The red herrings, as usual, pile up in this show, which now have caught Roger Allam’s Thursday short-tempered.

Endeavour (Evans) remains the kiss of death, or so we suspect, as he succumbs to an operatic affair in Venice that is over before vacation ends.

There are a few intrigues that may trip you up: an old former classmate, a millionaire bon vivant seems gay and has an interest in Endeavour, and who could blame him? However, it is the petty jealousy of fellow detective Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) that is most amusing.

Psychic research is given a once-over effectively here and respectfully. If you don’t have it, you can’t fake it—and the ending is going to be a surprise for most.

The series is now in serial form, not self-contained mystery. The three-parts will meld into one.

 

 

 

 

 

Capone’s Last Year

DATELINE: Just Call Al ‘Fonzie’ 

 The Ultimate Al Capone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Dirk’s Shadow

DATELINE:  British Murder Mystery

 As a Charming Killer!

Of course, Janet Greene is no Agatha Christie, but English female mystery playwrights were big in the 1950s. Her big play has more sociopathic psycho than most.

So, the big cheese to play the role was a perfect choice.

From light comedy to darkest character drama with sociological implications, Dirk Bogarde stormed onto the scene in British, arty films in the 1950s. He could play a charming medical students in the film series, Doctor in the House,or he could be a dangerous sexual predator as in Cast a Dark Shadow  all within the same year!

No actor in the Hollywood system could do that sort of range.

In 1955, he managed to play one of his creepier wife-murdering fortune hunters, cast as the darkest shadow, Teddy Bare who is married to oldster Mona Washbourne. Her name is Moni, but it sounds like Mommy when Dirk speaks.

Moni makes a will, against Teddy’s wish. With no will, he receives all her money. He is forced to dispatch her immediately and must find another wife/victim.

In some ways, the young man after old ladies is not credible, but the idea of a young man hustling an older man was not feasible in 1955, but we give Bogarde credit for his unspoken suggestion. In one scene he is reading male health magazine with men in bikini photos.

That was about as blatant as you could be to send a gay message in 1955.

In glossy black and white, the film is a beautiful production with sharp sets and lovely photography from director Lewis Gilbert. The other women victims are younger and more apt, Margaret Atwood and Kay Walsh.

This is a lost gem that now is found on streaming services.

Epstein’s Murder Will Out

DATELINE: Prime Suspect.

Alex Acosta & friend.

Maybe we will learn what really happened to Jeffrey Epstein, but not while William Barr is AG and Trump is POTUS. The only prosecutor prepared to go after Epstein and his co-conspirators was fired by Trump recently.

Yes, Geoffrey Berman did what Alex Acosta would not, and Trump has dismissed him. Acosta was paid off with an appointment to Secretary of Labor, but resigned two days after Epstein’s death. Trump praised him, and he ignored victims of child abuse.

Why would a man be taken off suicide watch in the federal prison? Have his Bunkie removed? And be given dozens of sheets and extension cords? Someone certainly made sure he had a message to kill himself.

Who is ultimately in charge of the Federal Bureau of Prisons? None other than the man whose father was a pal of Epstein, William Barr. And who is Barr’s superior? The man who was a close friend of Epstein, Donald Trump.

All the dots are there in this series, but no one dares to connect them. It’s dangerous, and Ghislaine Maxwell has her helicopter pilot license and is off globe-trotting. Epstein put his will into the Virgin Islands legal system, an irony for the owner of the Lolita Express jet. It is also a means to deny anyone access to his estate for at least a decade.

Murder or suicide? Both Michael Baden and Cyril Wecht, America’s two most prominent pathologists, will give you an answer that is disturbing.

Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein?

DATELINE: Trumpeting Epstein’s Death

 the Buddy System?

The short cable series in three parts went to tackle this thorny question, and you would be amazed at how many people became angered by the question. The series has received many low grades and bad reviews. Yet, it uses actual police video, interviews, and even Epstein’s own voice.

Who Killed Jeffrey Epsteinis a good question and a puzzling mystery, and an interesting documentary.

Just how and why may be of interest: a billionaire predator for years managed to buy whatever he wanted in girls as young as 14 years, and art as old as valuable. He had many residences—and even more powerful friends like Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Donald Trump.

Some speculation is that he made his money because he had dirt on the famous rich people who attended his parties. No one is quite sure how many girls were molested, or how he made his money.

The series opens with all the blunders and peculiarities of his death in a high-tech New York City federal prison. Cameras malfunctioned; his bunkmate was released suddenly and not replaced; guards fell asleep or surfed the web instead of making rounds.

It was a perfect storm for a perfect crime. With life nowadays considered cheap, it would not take much powerful moneymen to wipe out Epstein. Yet, others bristle at the idea it was not suicide. You may wonder why “conspiracy” is such a dirty word. It certainly makes an outrageous murder all the easier to cover up.

Epstein’s latest criminal lawyer said he was upbeat and ready to fight again. His other lawyers said his plea agreement of 14 years earlier was airtight. He likely would have walked again.

Interestingly, and not noted in the first episode, the prosecutor of Epstein in New York, by the name of Geoffrey Berman, was recently fired by Donald Trump, one of Epstein’s friends. It almost requires a new episode of investigation.

The lawyer of O.J. Simpson, Klaus von Bulow, and Donald Trump, is Allan Dershowitz—and he intimidated all the girls who accused Epstein.

The man who gave Epstein his first foray into rich society by hiring him as a teacher and liaison at the Dalton School in New York was the father of AG William Barr. Epstein had no experience and no degrees.

We have here a horror story of money’s power.

Vatican and Third Reich Wholly Unholy

 DATELINE: Vatican Coverup

 Sunday school Nazis!

You can figure that Pope Pius XII will not be a candidate for sainthood anytime soon. If half of what this French documentary contends is the truth, the pontiff of World War II was a fairly reprehensible being.

Even today the Vatican refuses to declassify its Nazi documents that show collusion.

According to this account, the Pope and his minions at Vatican City were not anti-Semitic (which is a racial prejudice), but they were simply irrational religious zealots who blamed Jews for the death of Jesus.

When you have Hitler trying to win over the Vatican and trying to show his Nazi regime actually was based on Christian principles, you have twisted logic and those willing to accept it. Bishops were given the privilege of joining the Nazi party (heretofore Catholics were banned from this) in the early 1930s.

The Nazis quickly put priests in Nazi uniforms and made them chaplains on the Russian front.

Pius XI was not as thrilled with the Nazis as his successor who happened to be the Vatican’s German ambassador for a dozen years. When XI died three months before the war started, Hitler had his man in Pius XII who never met a Nazi he didn’t like.

By 1943 Pius heard reports from his spies that the Nazis were killing hundreds of thousands of Jews. He said nothing—even when everyone thought he might condemn murder. He didn’t.

When the war ended, the Vatican’s work with the Red Cross just started to warm up: they managed to procure passports for Dr. Mengele and Adolph Eichmann as well as Klaus Barbie, to move to South America. It was Pius Xii’s right hand cardinal who orchestrated this.

If you want to be infuriated, disgusted, and horrified, this documentary Unholy Alliance: Vatican and Third Reich  will certainly make you sick to your stomach.

 

 

Best Agatha Christie Bio

DATELINE:  Mystery Maven

You have to delve into the Britbox archives to find the 1990 biography of Agatha Christie done a dozen years after her passing. The thinking at the time was that she was a surprise to have her popularity survive her death.

Indeed, one interviewed critic dared to say he thought she had great staying power and would keep her fame and interest alive well into the 21stcentury. Imagine that!

This is, perhaps, a highly intelligent portrait called An Unfinished Portrait.It is based on the title of one of her nom de plumeworks that passed unheralded for years. Her furtile and creative mind is boggling.

This delightful film is narrated by Joan Hickson (who played Miss Marple several times) and features appearances by David Suchet (the definitive Hercule).

Using archival interviews with the grand Dame, you have an understated genteel woman who fairly much is dumb-founded when an interviewer asks her if she likes crime. She retorts, she likes detectives and puzzles.

She worked as a pharmacist during World War One, and learned all about poisons. The documentary uses words from her novels that parallel her personal feelings and biographical events.

IN one creative period from the 1920s to 1950, Dame Agatha wrote about 35 classical titles, all still known. Several include plays like The Mousetrap  or Witness for the Prosecution.

 

We could list 30 titles here that you’d recognize.

 

The film is unflinching in examining her strange, staged disappearance in 1926 that cast a murder charge over her philandering husband, Col. Christie. She set him up, or so it appears. She later married an archaeologist, 14 years her junior, who gave her many plot ideas.

Miss Marple was based on her grandmother, and Dame Agatha always maintained good manners in her personal life and in her storylines. She just enjoyed giving people a good mystery to figure out: chess on an entertainment level.

What a refreshing look at the great mystery writer.

Trump’s Heart of Darkness

Behind Trump’s Hitler persona, there lurks the heart of Josef Stalin.

The POTUS called governors of the states “weak.”  He wants to crack down on protestors by putting them in jail for ten years so “we never see this stuff again.”

Now we know why he wanted to buy Greenland, he was planning on turning it into a gulag where all political dissidents would be housed.

It isn’t enough to round up illegal immigrants and throw them into prison without due process, he now wants to either shoot American citizens or lock them up. Oh, where have we heard that mantra before?

If anyone needs to be locked up in a looney bin, it is Trump.

Never mind the Constitutional guarantees of free assembly or speech. The only right he believes in is having a gun to shoot people on Fifth Avenue.

If the sociopathic nature of Trump were located in the heart of Jack the Ripper we would not be surprised. He is nothing short of a billionaire twin of Robert Durst. He is the emotional twin of Jeffrey Epstein. If it does not please him, he plucks it out.

He loves to quote racist rants of the 1950s and 1960s that is music to the ears of his racist supporters. We have never met a racist who knew what it was or thought it was all that important. Self-knowledge is impossible to an idiot.

He hunkers down in his bunker like Hitler during his last ten days. And he calls out to his vicious dogs and deadly weapons to smite his enemies.

Can it be that Trump’s insanity has grown worse? Those who defend racism as a minor infraction are quick to join the genocidal gang that want to unmask oldsters and give them coronavirus. The rest of the unwanted ranks can be killed in the streets.

Trump values the heart of the dollar more than the human heart.

Does SD Governor Advocate Genocide?

 Not Quite Eva Braun.

DATELINE: Coronavirus as Genocide

Hitler would have loved COVID-19.  It would have solved all his problems the natural way: through survival of the fittest.

By the same token, a group of American neo-crypto-Nazis have embraced the idea of opening the economy and letting the chips fall where they may. Even Trump admits there could be some deaths, but the greater good is money.

In South Dakota, the governor, a Trump Republican wants to wipe out those pesky Native Americans on their tribal grounds who have ordered quarantines. She has not and will take them to court to make them face the virus. Apparently, the woman governor believes the only good Indian is….well, we thought that went out in the 19th century.

By far, the people most susceptible to dying from coronavirus are blacks, Latinos, and immigrants. If that means your urban centers are thinned out, let the double death rate run its course.

A few intrepid protestors have insisted that the only people who should be in lockdown are those worthless oldsters over 60 whose usefulness to society is over. They now drain Social Security and medical benefits.

Lock them up. Next step will be to send in infected health aides to make sure they are housebound, bed-bound, and finally death-bound.

Why wait? Heaven is around the corner for all you breathless old-timers.

Yes, we can thin out the population and decrease the drain on society’s resources with a good pandemic. If you are gay and out of work, too bad: starve to death.

Food banks are bankrupt and you need to lose weight anyhow. Let coronavirus be the new fad diet.

 

 

Cold Pursuit: Liam Neeson as Charles Bronson

DATELINE: Another Cold Dish?

You almost feel as if they genre of revenge flicks is reincarnated with a higher-level actor: Yes, that is Liam Neeson playing Charles Bronson in the cold-blooded killing movie called Cold Pursuit.

Actually, it is a hot-blooded crime spree: Neeson is Citizen of the Year in snowy Colorado where he plows the roads for skiing enthusiasts. When his son is murdered by drug dealers, he goes into Bronson mode.

Supporting cast includes Laura Dern as a thankless wife who leaves him, and Tom Bateman in a young Joachin Phoenix mode as the head mobster.

While he is being honored, his son does not attend the ceremony—and his later burial is in frozen tundra during a blizzard, highly unlikely scenarios.

In any case, Neeson as Coxman starts to hunt down the drug ring from the lowest rung, up to the top. His inventive and sadistic means of death may be pure vigilante that Bronson would approve of doing if he were still around. Who said the revenge genre was dead?

Liam Neeson has been pursuing these action films now for a few years, having given up on serious roles apparently. There are numerous jokes by victims that he is an “old man” out of breath from his endeavors. All the victims of revenge are sent cascading in a wire mesh over waterfall, hundreds of feet to a lost grave.

The mob thinks their native American partners are double-crossers, leaving Neeson more freedom to dispatch them singly. Ultimately there is a big shoot-out between gangs, leaving Neeson with little to do. The subplot of the gangster’s young son is left in limbo, and the entire film is punctuated with RIP notices for every character who dies in the picture. We did not count.

We had not seen the parallel previously—as Death Wish was remade a few years ago with Bruce Willis as an inspired vigilante. It’s hard to determine if Neeson wants to re-make most of the notorious Bronson oeuvre.

 

 

 

No Coronavirus Test, What me Worry?

DATELINE: Walking Along the Dead Line 

The President of the United States is the New Alfred E. Neumann.

Donald Trump is prepared to kill himself with coronavirus—and infect you too.

We know that self-destructive behavior is the mark of people who think they are immortal demigods. So, it does not surprise us when Donald Trump deliberately fills his Air Force One and his winter home in Florida with people who have shaken hands with a man who died of coronavirus.

Madness is a relative condition, and flu symptoms are not usually associated with losing your mind. However, opening the barn door to let the microbes enter may be a first for a world leader who thinks he is part Ghengis Khan and part-Superman.

Without a flu shot and without a coronavirus test, Trump is able to leap over CDC doctors in a single bound.

Whether he starts to cough and then re-enacts the role of Von Aschenbach in Death in Venice may be the third act of his election campaign.

Ted Cruz has yet to respond to calls to infect his president, but others have taken off their gas masks and gone into the lion’s den. Next, they will stick their heads into the lion’s mouth, bad breath and all, to defy the medical advice of science.

Self-quarantine is for those who have humanity at heart, not for those who enter King Tut’s tomb before going home to Downton Abbey or Mar-a-Lago, or whatever that black hole of Florida is called.