DATELINE: Literary Road Trips
Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.
With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.
These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.
The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.
Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.
They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.
These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).
The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.
Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.
After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.
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.
DATELINE: Where is he?
Lost in Art?
Whenever we have a chance to opine about metaphor, count us in.
Tom Brady posted a tunnel of himself, in civilian clothes, in a black and silver tunnel in an unknown park runway.
His wife is a model, but Brady is not.
He is house-hunting and taking his son around to check out schools in Nashville, Tennessee, today. That is hardly where he will retire. That is hardly where his wife wants to be, and his son loves hockey. We know that Tom talked to coaches in New England about hockey, of which he was ignorant, but doing a crash course to keep up with his son.
There is not much hockey in Vegas.
Retirement communities in Nashville and Vegas are popular, but Brady wants to play a few more seasons.
Ah, metaphor! No metaphor is perfect. But they are powerful tools to understand the world.
No one has mentioned Kobe and Tom. Has the death of a superstar ball player had an impact on his thinking? Yes, but not to the point of leaving the game apparently. He simply will go to a team where he can spend more time with his family—not training callow youth in how to play.
It is not the tunnel of death, nor the tunnel of love, where you are surrounded by those you know—especially at the end where you are at heaven’s gate. No, there is no welcome committee here, no wagon of goodies for his delectation.
Tom is a man who owes no one and will consult no one. This is his life alone.
DATELINE: Halos For All?
Stars Jonathan Frid & Joan Bennett
Perhaps it is more than amusing that the production company of Dan Stevens actually produced a documentary about Dan Stevens and his ground-breaking soap opera, the gothic Dark Shadows.
We expected that you’d have full participation of the original cast and crew—and the treat, or horror, is to see these young actors in their twilight years. Yet, it is fun too.
Many are gone of course: like Frid, Joan Bennett, and the marvelous Grayson Hall (barely mentioned).
Stevens himself was an ad-man who went to producing a golf show—and had a dream for a gothic serial. Never did he expect it to be a daytime hit for kids with sympathetic vampires, tormented governesses, and cross-time crossover storylines.
Who really made Dark Shadows a hit? Was it the producer with the classic hard edge or the gaunt actor who played the reluctant vampire? Well, you know who produced the show and produced the documentary. Frid did not join the cast until nearly a year had passed, but with him it zoomed to cult status.
There was recently a fiftieth anniversary shindig with survivors like David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, and so many other favorites. They all grew up as actors on that show as much as their audience grew up. The show had bad sets, primitive special effects, and sometimes awful plots badly acted. It was of no consequence to fans.
Frid and Stevens ultimately came to loggerheads, and Stevens was better able to move on to Winds of Warand other films. It is a trip down memory lane.
DATELINE: Unexpected Slapstick
Laughton & Costello!
Almost ten years after his low-budget pirate on the bounding sea as Captain Kidd and 20 years after Bligh’s Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Laughton jumped at the chance to reprise Captain Kidd. He had also the opportunity to reprise Henry VIII in a movie with Bette Davis as his daughter, Queen Elizabeth. They famously greeted each other as “Father,” and “Daughter,” off screen too.
Now, the irascible Laughton would poke fun at himself and his performance as Captain Kidd confronting scene-stealer emeritus Lou Costello. Perhaps that was the true challenge for Laughton and his Oscar-level talent. He was about to show he could play vaudeville with the best of them.
Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd was another in a long series of features in which the comic duo came across monsters of cinema, historical figures, and pratfalls of comedy.
Dignity knows nothing of being a performer with an audience eating out of their backhand of talent. Laughton was a comedian at heart and could steal a scene before Costello could roll an eye.
We were surprised at how many pratfalls Lou Costello gave. Any barrel he hid within was blown up. The big surprise was Laughton: he took the falls without a stuntman. Chairs were pulled out from under him and he plopped onto the floor, and he fell face first into sand in another. It was noteworthy.
If ever there was something unseemly, it was that this comic version of 1953 was in Technicolor, which was never the case for the earlier Laughton masterpieces. If there was a silver lining on the silver screen of the 1950s, it was that garish color fit the bill. There were plenty of explosions among the song and dance routines.
If ever there was a chance to make a side-trip to Oak Island and bury a treasure, this little pirate satire gave us a vision of outright lunacy. A map in the opening credits could be Oak Island.
You start off with a musical introduction to Laughton as the crew sings and dances on their ship, and Kidd sneers at the mention of women. Yup, Laughton had to love this.
We were mostly appalled.
DATELINE: Not Again?
Jerry Lacy as Bogey
We went back in our time machine to the time machine of 1972 who brought us back to 1942. It is Play It Again, Sam,which features Humphrey Bogart advising Woody Allen.
No, Sam never appears once yet again, even in the actual film clips from the movie Casablanca. Dooley Wilson seems to be discriminated against. He sings part of “As Time Goes By,” at film’s end.
This astral route brought us face to face with legendary tough-guy star, Humphrey Bogart. He returned in 1972 in the guise of Jerry Lacy, an impersonator who had a decade of roles as the iconic man in trench coat with Borsalino.
Alas, to see Bogart’s best scenes in Casablanca, you had to endure Woody Allen as Allen Felix, movie critic before the Internet and blogs, who adores Bogie and has an apartment decorated like a 1942 teenage boy. Those collectibles are worth big bucks today.
Though Allen wrote and starred in this vehicle, it was directed by Herbert Ross which gives it some grounding as a ghost story.
The appearances of Bogart dispensing advice to nudnik Allen is appalling, as he speaks sexist and violent attitudes that he never expressed in his movies or real life a generation earlier. If you see this film as homage to Bogart’s Rick and his romance with Ilsa, you have been sold a bill of goods by shyster Allen.
The film comes alive when Bogart and/or Lacy appear, and the film goes down the chute when Allen’s nutcase New Yorker takes center screen.
The Sam “again” part has more to do with Allen re-enacting the Rick role with Bergman in a climactic scene. This was before Allen became Bergman (Ingmar, not Ingrid).
Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts take on thankless roles in Allen’s world, which Keaton was able to transcend by slipping over to The Godfather at the same time she did this film. Roberts and Lacy were not as lucky.
Though the Bogey ghost appears with more frequency in the final 30 minutes, it is not enough to save the story from itself.
Whether Bogey conjures his personality as a dream, an hallucination, or the actual spirit of a movie icon, may be in the eyes of the beholder. We like to think Lacy channeled the real star, but taking it in again decades later, we see this is not a ghost, but a frightful excuse for Allen to behave badly and perform even worsely.
DATELINE: Dug Out of the Film Mausoleum
Two hundred years ago Resurrection Men stole bodies out of graves and sold them to medical students.
Today Resurrection Men steal movie star images out of film archives to sell to fans. The body of work of James Dean is about to be dissected by film students.
A generation ago we wondered if old clips of TV and movies could be merged into a new script with old, dead actors as stars. It seemed fantastic to think James Dean could, at long last, costar with Marilyn Monroe.
Well, we have reached one plateau, or perhaps hole in the ground. It appears that James Dean, with permission of his greedy surviving relatives, will rise from the dead thespian hall of fame.
A script about some Vietnam-era characters will cannibalize a few of his past scenes, dubbed with a sound-alike actor, to create, without his knowledge or permission, a new movie: yes, his fourth leading role, sixty years after he won Oscar nominations for East of EdenandGiant, will likely result in no Oscar this time.
Some fans are incensed, and others are utterly perplexed at how such a task can be completed.
Can Dean be colorized, animated, and computer-generated into a character he never heard of, studied, or believed he could depict?
It won’t matter because the notion is out of his hands. It is a new-fangled out-of-body experience. It might have driven James Dean out of his mind or sent him speeding off in a Porsche to his doom.
Nearly all of his costars are gone, and a few who lived long enough to entertain the misuse of their images in a post-death world, have left wills and other documents that will forbid any such action. Dean, alas, died long before such a notion was possible.
Dean will costar with other actors he never screen-tested, and it is impossible for him to create chemistry. He will be like a wooden statue in a department store window. Oh, his costars may be able to respond to his behavior, but he will be denied any chance to upstage them.
The film will be called FindingJack, and it’s entering pre-production. It’s more like Finding Jack Spratt, as he is an invisible and hidden carbohydrate in a world of spaghetti film stock.
DATELINE: A Dark & Stormy Movie
Polidori, Shelley, and Byron, aka Spall, Sands, and Byrne
If you want to learn about the dark and stormy night in 1816 that resulted in the creation of Frankenstein and Dracula by Lord Byron’s pals, you might look elsewhere.
Ken Russell’s hothouse and nuthouse movie about Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron is pure Gothicnonsense. As was the style of Russell back in 1987, you had a psychedelic version of biography and history. It is not satisfactory.
The cast is somewhat exemplary: Gabriel Byrne as lame Byron, Julian Sands as pretty Shelley, Timothy Spall as off-putting Dr. Polidori, and Natasha Richardson as demure Mary! Wow, you almost expect the acting alone will carry the film.
However, the director hijacks every moment and even has cast members chewing on rats. We thought the film turned into that rat-festival moviel, Willard.And, inexplicable pythons wrap around suits of armor. Yep, it’s Ken Russell.
Instead of a dark and stormy night where these highly creative people choose to write great books, we have a literal ghost story. The demons are really around every corner. You almost feel sorry for the servants who basically take a powder during the latter part of the movie to avoid these koo-koo birds.
The summer without sun inspired the writing of Frankenstein and Dracula. Byron took credit for Polidori’s work, and Byron couldn’t write prose. The stepsister of Mary is around for crazy moments in which the sexual peccadilloes of the characters is tested.
We have more than your usual homoerotic connections between the men, including some fairly passionate kisses, but Julian Sands was never prettier. Gabriel Byrne seems to have bigger breasts than the women stars. Timothy Spall is actually slim.
The film becomes increasingly erratic and difficult to watch, as befits what did in the style of Ken Russell ultimately. We had hoped to see something truly fascinating, but not quite on the level of a train wreck.
DATELINE: Kill Count Around 200?
Keanu with Anjelica.
We just had the pleasure of watching a film that is the epitome of political incorrectness in America after a half-dozen shootings in society. John Wick: Chapter Three Parabellum is a violent satire of gun use. At least, we think it is meant to be funny.
Para bellum is Latin for “prepare for war.” It is only one of several high-toned touches of art and culture in a brutal shoot’em up. We did not have our clicker with us, but we believe Wick kills over 150 people, one at a time. It causes the movie to run for a full two-hours and have credits that will feature keanu’s chef.
Keanu Reeves has now appeared in three of these sagas, his big money-making series. At 55 he is giving contemporary Tom Cruise a run for old age. We cannot imagine how he can run, jump, kill, and duck endlessly and never be out of breath. And, he is shot and stabbed on more than one occasions.
You know that Wick is dangerous when he kills an assassin in the New York Public Library—with a book. And then puts the bloody tome back on the shelf.
The film is a series of set pieces of mayhem. It seems everyone in the world is packing heat—and most of those are hired guns. No wonder we have shootings every week. It’s part of a movie fantasy world.
Among the high-brow stars is Anjelica Huston playing The Director, some kind of Russian oligarch balletomane who runs a dance company like she’s a female Diaghilev. Also on hand for chuckles is Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne. Don’t worry about your stars being killed off: they will need to return for the fourth entry (yes, it is clearly coming).
In the meantime you can wonder about the brilliant choreography done by Reeves, and then there are outlandish set scenes like a swordfight on motorcycles.
We want to say the body count is quite high, but we think more panes of glass were broken than any other kind of vandalism. There isn’t a window in which someone does not put his head right through.
We also see plenty of blood splatter as heads are blown away with armor piercing bullets when a sword through the eyeball is not handy.
We haven’t seen this high a body count since Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood went Where Eagles Dare, killing Nazis.
DATELINE: Trump as Queen of Heartless
If you remember your literature, you know it was the queen of Hearts that constantly solved all royal court problems by shouting, “Off with their heads.”
It’s now the mantra of the Trump administration.
If you cross the President, he wants you fired. There’s nothing new in this as he made it his tagline on TV where he starred as a buffoon in an American business satire.
Now he has taken the royal pledge of vindication to new heights, or depths. He has now started to emulate the Queen of Hearts, sending out his Mad Hatter, Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce, to threaten to fire weathermen for saying a hurricane is not imminent.
Imagine! You are fired for doing your job. “Off with their heads,” and their paychecks. It is nothing new under the rainy reign of Trump.
Thousands of Bahamians have lost everything in Hurricane Dorian that nearly missed Alabama, but Trump won’t give them aid or assistance. They have lost their passports, and now he wants their heads on a silver platter. Let them die in misery is his motto.
“Off with their heads,” we expect that slogan to echo through his campaign rallies to come. Political opponents? Off with their heads! Musicians wives? Off with their heads! Media journalists? Off with their heads.
We can hardly wait for the worm to turn, and have the Congress vote for impeachment while shouting, “Off with his head!” That would make us a wonderland of a banana republic, which seems to be Trump’s fondest wish.
DATELINE: Boris Bad Enough?
If watching the British version of Trump has any productive value, the nitwit of England, Boris Yeltsin Johnson is going down the tubes. His government is crumbling on national TV. The usually civilized Brits have painted themselves blue and are on the tribal attack, not seen since the Romans found it necessary to build Hadrian’s Wall.
Brexit’s wall is something akin to Trump’s wall, via Hadrian the Emperor (he was the guy who made his boyfriend a god).
We are now learning our history and not from the History Channel where we thought everything was a conspiracy of ancient aliens and golden treasure hunters.
It now appears that the British constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. For a thousand years, politicians in England have trusted the goodwill of politics, which now seems naïve at best. There is no written constitution in Britain, and that is certainly not what keeping the Trumpian term “great” in Great Britain.
Indeed, Trump has wondered if England will ever be great again, or if it will continue to sleep the fitful nightmare of a leader with a massive flow of hair that indicates hyperbole lives even in the land of Queens.
TV ratings on the popular TV show about a great British bake-off have gone south. The big climax is a contest on making cookies (which the Brits call biscuits) while the government crumbles.
You can expect America’s great stable genius and expert on everything with his theory of know-nothing to enter the fray and make matters worse. It will be the red-coat revenge for Yorktown’s surrender.
DATELINE: Limited Series Ratings Down
Donald Trump once infamously said that he wanted each day of his presidency to be like a TV series episode. The Trump Show is not Another World, or even As the World Turns. It is stomach-turning overkill.
What fat old soap star failed to understand, among a million misunderstood points, is that even a soap opera is only on for five days per week, and it usually moves at a snail’s pace. The main characters may not appear every day. Trump violated his own comprehension of what his White House should be.
Even Dallas or Dynasty was on only for twenty weeks of the year—and then took a hiatus. It built toward a stunning climax. It did not try to create a climax each day. That is bad plotting, as Casca and Cassius might tell Brutus.
It certainly is what any decent soap writer would tell the notorious bed bug hotelier.
Trump’s show has no co-stars and no one receives a good bit of dialogue. Woe to them who ad lib, because they will find themselves out of the series post haste. Just ask Mattis, Scaramucci, Spicer, and Sessions.
If the villain wins in an episode, Trump must put on a superhero outfit and damn the Kryptonite of collusion.
Even the good wife (or wives as it were) must be a Stepford robot, unable to speak out that she never met people he says she adores. And, most of the women are like J.R. Ewing castoffs: blondes who don’t cut it more than a guest episode or two.
You might yearn for the episode that asks who shot J.R.? You won’t find it in the Trump teleplay. He’s the one who can go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone (likely a black Baltimorian) and get away with murder.
He can lock up children like Richard III and not ask for a horse to help him get away.
We do expect the forces of the empire to all turn against him in the final page of this bad show—much like they did to Laurence Olivier when he played that Son of York: chopped liver would be too good for Trump.
DATELINE: Tarnished Hero with Feats of Clay
Chump or Champ with Cousy?
On a night when when usually are talking about Ancient Aliens, we find ourselves facing a true abduction crisis and missing time. It seems that Boston Celtics legend, Bob Cousy, has been taken prisoner to the White House, turned back the clock to the years before the Civil Rights movement, and now he has become the voice of white racist America in the Oval Office.
Yes, Bob Cousy who reconciled whatever differences he had with fellow NBA legend Bill Russell has rekindled the fires.
He received a pat on the back from the President he most admires apparently in his lifetime. What happened to the Celtic legend?
Well, his Jesuit roots of Holy Cross conservatism emerged. Perhaps you can write him off as the aging hero outliving his standards of integrity. Growing old does not always mean you die of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes you simply become the epitome of everything you lived through and fought against.
Time makes us all doddering fools and blithering idiots. You can outlive your usefulness and your own personal values. It’s called betrayal by younger idealists, but it is far more powerful than that.
Cousy once teamed with Tommy Heinsohn on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden, and they were both brilliant and talented men beyond the game that made them famous. One season in retirement years they were even teamed up as fellow commentators for a season of Celtics games on TV. It was extraordinary to behold.
When they grew furious with each other, now and then, they simply called each other, “Thomas,” and “Robert.”
We wonder if Tom has started calling his friend of lifelong years, “Robert.” We know that William Russell may be doing so, if he is even speaking to his one-time nemesis in the locker room. Time wounds all heels and we have an Achilles heel ripped apart by the President Medal of Freedom.
Perhaps Couz showed his mettle by doing and saying whatever needed to receive his Medal.
He stood next to a man who wants to give himself the Congressional Medal of Honor. Heaven help our old heroes from their blithering end of days.
DATELINE: Republic Con Job?
This is definitely not the week to be a Republican in Baltimore.
Without a doubt, this is not the week to be a Republican in Maryland.
We suspect this is not the week to be a Republican if you are black.
You are not a Republican if you are among the rat-infested in Kushnerville, Baltimore.
You probably don’t want to call yourself a Republican if you are a decent, kindhearted person who likes people.
You probably don’t want to call yourself a Republican if you are not a white nationalist neo-Nazi .
In all likelihood you are not a Republican if you believe in democracy and free elections
When Trump claims he is not a racist, you likely believe him if you are a Republican.
If you know anything about history, you may not call yourself a Republican.
If you believe Abraham Lincoln would be ashamed of the Republican party today, you are likely not a Republican.
If you believe Donald Trump is the most corrupt president in American history, you are definitely not a Republican.
If you don’t think Trump is a lockstepping, goose-stepping Nazi, you are definitely a rank and file Republican.
If you are a white Red Sox fan, you likely are a Republican.
If you think Shakespeare’s Richard III is not about Trump, you are a Republican.
If you feel like you are being drummed out of your party by racists, You are probably a Republican with a conscience. But chances are, you’re about to switch your registration to anything with human decency—And that definitely means you are not a Republican much longer.