Dead Again, Guilty Again!

DATELINE: Jussie on Steroids.

HERNANDEZ

If you want to know what makes a ghost return to his haunts, you only have to see another case of Massachusetts justice. It will give you the heebie-jeebies.

The Commonwealth Supreme Court has re-instated a guilty of murder verdict on Aaron Hernandez, the serial killer for the New England Patriots. His first trial had been overturned unceremoniously, and he was “not guilty” in his double murder second trial.

You are never declared innocent, no matter what.

The Hernandez conviction was overturned upon his suicide because in Massachusetts, if your appeal is unfinished upon death, you are declared free at last. It need not matter how heinous you were, or how and who you killed, you are no longer a convicted killer. Your jury has wasted its time. Your victim’s family is thrown into turmoil. You are released from prison for cremation or burial.

The evil you did lives on. The good was interred in the state Supreme Court.

So, the Supreme Court feels it has restored justice by playing ping-pong and pin-ball with the guilt of Aaron Hernandez. The law was called archaic and insensitive to modern victims. Hence, Hernandez is back in the eternal prison cell of ghosts like Jacob Marley.

We presume such a finding is enough to send the dead scrambling back to their previous haunts: like the mansion in Attleboro where Hernandez lived his rococo lifestyle. It remained empty for years. No one would dare stay there overnight.

If you want to guarantee that the spirit of Hernandez remains housebound to the place where his victim often visited, you have restored the dead zone. It is likely that Odin Lloyd, the victim, may also be there.

What a cozy arrangement: killer and victim stuck together for eternity. When you play ping-pong with fatality, your fate may be hell on earth and re-living what is never dead.

William Russo is author of the notorious book, The Strange Case of Aaron Hernandez. You can buy it in the old-fashioned print style, or a version designed for you if you are a smartreader.

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ABC Murders Agatha Christie

 DATELINE:  New Version of Classic Tale

old Poirot

Amazon Studio has produced a 2019 remake of the ABC Murders by the foremost crime novelist. Alas, this version of the classic story is libel against the author and defamation against Hercule Poirot.

Go back to watch last century’s episode with David Suchet.

This time we have John Malkovich with shaved head and imperial beard. This is not as offensive as the handlebar mustache of Kenneth Branagh recently in Murder on the Orient Express. It is, however, the victim of Just for Men:  yeah, Hercule colors it, sometimes.

This mystery is in three parts that grow increasingly distant from the Christie canon. You may well ask who is meant to be audience for such a tale:  it offends the millions of diehard fans who know what to expect, and it misleads new younger fans from what Christie is all about.

There is no humor, no clever twists, no plot maneuvers. here. By the third episode, you may well drift away. Worse yet, this is an aging Poirot in 1933 who has no Inspector Japp, no Miss Lemon, and no Captain Hastings, to help him.

Indeed, he must deal with a new Scotland Yard detective who is unsympathetic and hostile. Disrespect of a senior who was once glorified for his achievements may be an interesting idea, but not here.

The cast features Eamon Farren who has impressed us in previous roles as a most peculiar bad guy. Here, he is either suffering a brain tumor, or has played NFL football. It’s the 21st century—and you know what excuses murder nowadays.

We had no idea that there was so much kinky-dinky stuff in Agatha Christie, and neither did she.

Also aboard is Rupert Grint, though he has aged worse than Malkovich’s Poirot.

This Poirot is not fastidious, prissy, or clever. One character notes that he walks like he has sore feet, though we never see that foible.

What a disappointment, or do we mean travesty of the original story?

Underground Space Aliens

DATELINE: Not so Nice

phil blasts aliens

Genius scientist with government-drug induced amnesia and son of a notable Philadelphia Experiment doctor, Phil Schneider predicted he would be murdered and made to look like a suicide. It happened in 1996. In the documentary The Underground, we have them coming up for air.

Schneider either planned ahead, faked with improbability, or was clairvoyant. Yep, he died after a series of lectures warning of underground tunnels done in cahoots with reptilians and insectians who colonized our world from outer space.

Even worse, according to Phil Schneider these creatures smell worse than Bigfoot. In one shootout with the creatures, Schneider explains how he lost some fingers to a ray gun. We are not sure why cooperative aliens are being shot at by our scientists and engineers.

Well, you might say we haven’t heard the whole story.

This might sound like science fiction, except that trillions of dollars in black budgets and secret building projects have the US admitting about a dozen bases a couple of miles under the earth.

His family gives full cooperation to this documentary, including many illustrations. There is also a grisly set of autopsy photos to show Schneider’s death was unnatural.

Known experts like Richard Shaud, who has a series of books on tunnels into the Earth’s core, highlight the veracity of something big going on under our feet. There is no mention of how such drilling miles down might impact earthquakes. It must have some connection.

The old master series Ancient Aliens has given cursory nods to this notion over the years. Perhaps they await a new season before giving Dr. Shaud’s insights full coverage. He makes more logical sense and real investigative journalism than most.

Schneider seems to have died in vain. Let’s hope not.

 

 

 

Surrogates Again

DATELINE: AI Goes Bad

bee-strung surrogates Young Bruce Replicant!

It’s been ten years since one of the most clever and intriguing films about Artificial Intelligence in the future came out. Surrogates deserves another look because so little has superseded its message and style.

All the robotic replicants have bee-stung pouts.

This was another in a series of highly intelligent films made by Bruce Willis in the sci-fi mode. It may be the best of the lot.

Set in Boston in 2054, it tells of an era when the Supreme Court has allowed surrogate robots to replace you in daily work and routines while you lounge in a control seat.

You will be a fat slob, aging and ugly, but your surrogate will be a beautiful toy of whatever gender you choose. So, all the day-to-day people in the film are stunning and stiff, wrinkle-removed and smooth skinned. What’s amazing is that Bruce Willis looks like Baby Jane Hudson-young with his blond locks and handsome young physique.

We could not figure out whether he needed more makeup and special effects to be his middle-aged self, or his young replicant self.

He plays an FBI agent who must investigate the murders of surrogates and their masters—but he has to become a true gumshoe and go out on the street as his old self to do it, despite the agony and stress of being out in the “real world”. He constantly surprises his beautiful partner cop (Rahda Mitchell).

The notion that AI will legalize identity replicants is not so far-fetched, and the hilarious satiric barbs at “loaners,” and other modern problems is delightful. Intermeshed here is a murder mystery.

Yes, there is an obligatory and over-the-top car chase through the streets of Boston, though we have no idea how they did it in reality, so we presume it was all faked.

And the climax in which all surrogate replicants must be deactivated is a delight to see as they literally fall in place around Boston. It was a pleasant, summery diversion during an ice storm in Boston.

 

 

 

 

 

Equalized by Denzel Again

DATELINE:  Inequality!

denzel as mcCall

Don’t infuriate The Equalizer, as played by Denzel Washington for a second time in Equalizer 2.

We loved the Michael Sloan series about “retired” agent Robert McCall on TV with Edward Woodward, and we really like the idea that he has retired into hiding, faked death, to work as a vigilante for hire to help the helpless. We do miss Robert Lansing as Control.

Here he lives in Boston, and the backdrop of the Hub is photographed with all kinds of reverence, from the Zakim Bridge to Roxbury. We also like the notion that to meet people, McCall now works as a Lyft driver.

An old familiar face plays a Jewish passenger. We were shocked to learn it is Orson Bean, whom we have not seen in 40 years.

The corrupt people at the Agency, the Company, or whatever you want to call that American secret spy group, going by odd alphabets, seem to be worse than ever. No wonder McCall wanted out. Now, one of the few people he liked and trusted, Susan, another retired agent (Melissa Leo), has met a mysterious circumstance.

When Denzel goes into full mode, the bad guys should cringe, though these kind of villains always think they can match the hero. Otherwise, there’d be no entertaining movie.

The moral questions about the right of agency’s to off people they deem bad guys, without proof, is at the heart of this film, which makes it a cut above the usual death-by-gruesome-means movies.

Director Antoine Fuqua is adept and amusing enough to set the climax in a hurricane, which certainly helps with the dispatching of bad guys.

 

Noir Classic: He Walked by Night

DATELINE:  Movie as TV Pilot

Dragnet

We had never seen He Walked by Night, and it took us aback right away. It is thought to be a 70-year old black and white masterpiece of low-budget, poverty-row studio. Even the directorship is mysterious: was it really Anthony Mann who sneaked over to another studio to do the work?

Right from the Prologue, we recognized the classic line: “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” What’s more, actor Jack Webb had a featured role!

Then came the ponderous narrator talking about Los Angeles, a big city, etc.. This was followed almost immediately with a long discussion of a dragnet across the city!

Yep:  it was Dragnet!  We were about to see some kind of movie prototype of the famous police show of the 1950s.

Webb did not play Sgt. Joe Friday. No, he was some lab rat in the forensics department, and young virile Scott Brady was the cop.

We learned later that Jack Webb befriended Marty Wynn, the LA technical adviser (whom Brady played). They partnered and came up with the radio/TV show Dragnet in 1950.

This movie was unusual for other reasons. The LA criminal psychopath was played by young Richard Basehart—in cashmere gloves and Brooks Brothers suit. He was a tech-savvy genius, creating 12-foot TV projection screens 40 years before they really happened.

This villain was brilliant and diabolical in his murdering rampage. The intriguing concept of Dragnet, always, was that the pedestrian and bland cops were flatfooted, but persistent.

The other feature here was the deadpan humor of the police, likely a defensive response to the evil they always encountered. It too would surface on Dragnet a few years later.

Also a bit ahead of its time, the climax in the underground flood tunnels of Los Angeles is a precursor of the Third Man where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was chased by police in Vienna.

The Hard Way Made Easy

DATELINE: Little Known Classic

McGoohan & Van Cleef Old Stars Die Hard!

It comes across as a movie made for British TV, but The Hard Way is easily a thoughtful and careful drama.

The stars are the mainspring of this film:  you have a chance to see Lee Van Cleef play an American mobster with Irish ties, and his assassin Patrick McGoohan. What a treat to find these aging legends together in a taut character drama.

Since the film is set in and made in 1979, the two stars are about 15 years past their prime.

As a consequence, both stars look like extremely tired versions of their middle-aged selves. They are not quite old, but soon will be there. The film has long been unavailable in the United States, but now can be streamed from Prime.

As we all know, Patrick McGoohan made a career out of playing some kind of British secret agent with a license to kill, whether he was The Prisoner or Danger Man.  And, here he is not too far afield as Connor, a secret mob hitman.

Van Cleef was more at home on the range but seems not too far removed when he visits McGoohan’s bleak, spartan cottage in the rural wilds of Ireland. In seclusion, far from family, McGoohan’s noir hero stays alone, apart from close contacts for miles, but the depressing little house has electricity in some miraculous fashion.

Van Cleef will force his enforcer to kill again by some dint of personal loyalty. It is not a case of enthusiastic friendship, and their scenes together are fascinating in the politesse of criminal etiquette.

John Boorman produced this film, which was done in Ireland entirely as a modern film noir with redeeming moments of stunning silence. The sense of bleak coldness is palpable.

The film is a treat for aficionados, more akin to a LeCarre story.

Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen?

DATELINE: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

Killed Kilgallen? Heroic Woman Ignored Again!

This week is the 55th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, which began a cascading of bad events and cultural deterioration in America.

One of the forgotten victims and researchers from the earliest conspiracy days of the Kennedy Assassination was a muckraking journalist named Dorothy Kilgallen. She was a Broadway gossip columnist and star of the TV game show called What’s My Line, which probably contributed to a sexist dismissal of her work.

In November of 1965, she was found dead in her luxury New York apartment—and her ground-breaking research and manuscript was missing. She had interviewed Jack Ruby privately twice and was preparing a second trip to New Orleans

Her death was suspicious, but not investigated by police. Author Mark Shaw’s original book on the subject, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, spends half the work on her biography—and the second half of the book on lining up suspects and trying to determine what she had uncovered. Many people are still burying her research.

There is no cooperation from Kilgallen’s three children, for some unknown reason. Shaw’s work is thorough and compelling, all the moreso because most “serious” books on the assassination of President Kennedy ignore her mysterious death and hard work.

Kilgallen’s enemies were numerous, as might befit a gossip columnist with a poisonous style of indictment. Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover loathed her. She knew many of the mobsters who were enemies of the Kennedy family and felt betrayed by patriarch Joe and brother Robert.

Shaw loves Kilgallen even more than her family and is intent on restoring her value and importance in history. If she indeed was a murder victim who came too close to the truth in the early days of conspiracy theory, then she needs to be recognized as a pioneer of the truth-seekers.

It is a fascinating story told by Mark Shaw, though you will suffer the bane of murder mystery: she was not able to identify the culprits before her untimely death–and neither is author Shaw.

 

Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.

 

 

 

Winter Kills an Assassination Plot

DATELINE:  Not Citizen Kane

Taylor as Madam Hollywood Miss Taylor, We Presume?

Richard Condon’s novel called Winter Kills, a roman a clef of the Kennedy Assassination, makes for one of the earliest of conspiracy theory movies. Winter Kills is by the man who wrote the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.

Vincent Canby of the NY Times called it equal to Citizen Kane, but that seems a stretch. It is more akin to Oliver Stone’s JFK.

A stunning cast of cameos appear and disappear quickly. The opening credits are about as jaw-dropping as Murder on the Orient Express:  Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy Malone, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, and on and on.

How could it go wrong? Well, you can start by scratching your head over the notion that movie is billed as a tragic comedy.

The Kennedy murder in 1963 may be a comedy of errors in its commission and solution, but hardly a comedy.

The film takes the off-putting hints of conspiracy and gives them fake names:  Joe Diamond for Jack Ruby, etc.

Jeff Bridges is the young man (at his most attractive in 1979) who is the brother of an assassinated president who decides to solve the crime himself. In the meantime, conspirators are killing everyone around him. His attitude is bizarre, like someone has strung together unrelated scenes (blame goes to the director).

John Huston gives another irascible performance as the President’s father and Dorothy Malone is his mother.

The film predates the Internet but makes some intriguing theories that a master-programmed spy network of computers is following everyone as early as 1960. It is a stunning prediction on today’s world. That alone is gripping and clairvoyant.

All the usual suspects are present: Hollywood moguls, billionaires, crackpot businessmen, mobsters, Cubans, political hacks, the CIA, and on and on. We know the drill by now, but back in 1980, this was shocking. With more evidence now available, the theories here are standard conclusions today.

As for the movie, it is over-the-top and worth your attention. Not Citizen Kane, it is equal to Stone’s JFK.

 

 

 

 

 

Geriatric Death Wish

DATELINE: Don’t Call Him Dirty Harry!

what's it all about, Alfie?  Dirty Alfie?

When you take a premise to the British producers, you will have something better than the original American version.

So, when someone floated the idea of a British vigilante going after bad guys that the police cannot catch, you end up with Harry Brown, outdoing Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis in Death Wish.

This thriller is about an octogenarian who takes on teenage hoodlums single-handedly. Now, there are a raft of British movie stars who could come out of retirement to play such a role (Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, etc.). However, this one is delightful because the man of the gun is a version of Dirty Harry, Michael Caine.

As far as the teenage bad guys, they seem motiveless and simply evil for their own pleasure, which could likely be true enough.

Michael Caine is driven to draw on his heroic soldier roots from Belfast’s conflicts. He notes that the enemy in that British conflict actually stood for something they believed in. These drug-infested youth are just nasty for their own sake.

You throw in some highly inept British police that are typified by Emily Mortimer as an all-business detective, and you have the need for an aging hero to try to chase kids down the mean streets.

Caine’s righteous anger simmers and you believe this retired gentleman can draw upon something from his past when he goes rogue. We need to see a tough guy without mercy who is 80.

Obviously, the world of movies and the old stars still has a draw—and the aging boomer generation still loves its Alfie and 60s spy. We know what it’s all about: showing that age has not slowed down heroic feelings.

Palace of Silents, Off Sunset Boulevard

DATELINE: Silence Please!

silent movie theatre

We thought Palace of Silents would be some nostalgic look at a movie house that shows only silent movies since the early 1940s. You know, slightly wacky, obsessive people with good intentions.

Little did we know we were about to enter Sunset Boulevard where Los Angelinos are all Norma Desmond.

You have to love a movie that offers you a surprise or two.

Around the start of World War II, a conscientious objector named Hampton and his wife built their own tiny theatre with a small apartment above. Here they planned to show his grand collection of silent movies to an ever-decreasing and disinterested public.

Not exactly a popular activity, he was a pioneer in film restoration, finding the best prints and splicing them together in his home lab. If a half-dozen people came by, it was enough for forty years.

A friend named Lawrence Austin horned in on the widow, pulling a snow job on her and taking over the property. Lawrence Austin was a Hollywood fraud, telling lies and embezzling to beat the band. However, he refurbished the theatre and continued its mission. Silent Movie Theatre continued, perhaps even flourished with riding the coattails of Buster Keaton revivals.

Austin’s dubious and secretive past (he was a closet gay and may have used the old theatre for shows not on the screen). Eventually, he had a laundry list of enemies, including ex-cons.

He was murdered one night in the theatre as it was about to show Murnau’s Sunrise. A minor scandal in Hollywood, it was quickly solved, and the theatre was saved again by a vaudevillian mentality who knew little about silent movies.

Yet, the story of the grand old movie house transcends scandal, sordid lives, and misuse of its charm. The movie may pleasantly surprise you.

 

 

Aaron Hernandez Back in the News

DATELINE: Out, Out, Damned Spot!

A1 steak

While Tom Brady and the New England Patriots pulled another game out of the hopper in the last second, the news was not all good. The Boston Globe featured an interview with another gay lover of the late Aaron Hernandez.

Yes, the paramours of alleged and former murdering tight end of the Patriots are coming out of the woodwork. Had he not been indicted for multiple murders, Aaron Hernandez might have been on the receiving end of Tom Brady’s passes this past night, instead of Gronk and Julian Edelman.

Instead, we are treated to more salacious details of his affair with his high school sweetheart, the quarterback of the Bristol, Connecticut, football team. Aaron had a thing for QBs, which explains his trips to California to train with Tom Brady years ago.

Of course, nowadays, Tom has no memory of the name Hernandez and never breathes it in polite company or even to the media.

Several years ago, during the trials of Hernandez, we were a lone voice in the wilderness, pointing out that the police covered up the gay angle to the crimes—believing it did not serve the public to hear it.

And, of course, the prosecutors declined to go into the gay motive in the murders because they thought the public would never find an NFL player capable of being homoerotic behavior, let alone homicidal behavior.

If you want to read the dirt, unvarnished and uncovered, go to the either the print or ebook entitled The Strange Case of Aaron Hernandez, available on Amazon.

 

 

Tinker, Tailor, Puzzle-maker

DATELINE: Cold Warriors

Hardy boy

 Hunky Hardy Boy!

If you want to be challenged by John LeCarre’s masterpiece of espionage during the Cold War, you might well take in the movie version of George Smiley’s hard work in finding a mole that caused the death of Control in the British secret service.

One kingfish at the agency seems to have a direct connection to the Kremlin. Though Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been forced out into retirement with his mentor, Control (John Hurt), he must work covertly to restore the integrity of the Circus.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those who enjoy armchair psychology and thought-provoking shades of gray.

Through complex flashbacks, and even more complex human relationships, you will find these are not pleasant men. The cast is stellar beyond compare: Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, are stand-outs.

The sexual peccadilloes are unspoken, but there is a strong scent of blackmail and unspoken ties among the men. It is nearly as much a guessing game about their bedtime bedmates as it is about their political bedmates.

The complexity and subtlety of the film probably makes it beyond the tolerance level of your standard James Bond satire fans. This is the low-key, grubby, office worker mentality of the Cold War. Oldman is particularly wooden to hide his tormented feelings.

Every spy ought to be brought in from this Cold War before their tedious work drives them to distraction.

Oldman plays much older, and the young men (Hardy and Cumberbatch) had better days ahead as superstars. They could not be more stunningly attractive in 2011 and quickly made a mark with this film.

 

Sherlock v. Conan Doyle: Battle Royale

DATELINE: Who Hates Sherlock Holmes? The Author

doyle

If ever there was a legendary love/hate relationship, it was between Sherlock Holmes and the man who was his spiritual father and creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

In a French documentary called Sherlock Holmes Against Conan Doyle, we have a battle on the order of a duel with the Napoleon of Crime and the Actors Who Took Him On.

Meant to be a money-making enterprise and a throwaway for a couple of stories, Holmes turned into Doyle’s Frankenstein Monster.

A marvelous and entertaining documentary gives us a blow-by-blow description of Doyle’s losing war with his temperamental genius/consulting detective.

You know who will win this fight. Holmes has survived with hundreds of movies and TV shows, depicted by a variety of actors with waspy disdain—from Rathbone to Jeremy Brett, to the modern versions like Cumberbatch. Thankfully, we never see Robert Downey in the role.

The little hour is chock full of clips of these Sherlocks making annotations on Conan Doyle, a man of some adventure and style himself. Often thought as a Watson type, Doyle was actually more of a Professor Challenger sort.

Killing Holmes was frowned upon even by Doyle’s mother, and money is the great resurrection device. After ten years, Doyle was forced to bring him back from the dead.

Based on an old professor who used to wow the med students with his erudition, Holmes was a clever creation who was enhanced by his narrative fellow, long-suffering and frequent punching bag named Dr. John H. Watson.

If you want to see fleeting glimpses of many classic Holmes portrayals, and rare clips of Doyle, you may enjoy the time, though it covers familiar territory.