Whatever Happened to Agatha?

DATELINE:  1979 Vanessa Redgrave Movie

 agatha:vanessa Redgrave with Hoffman

The biopic movie about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie remains a fairly puzzling non-explanation as can be found.

In Agatha, the Michael Apted movie is scruptiously produced and has big stars of the day in the key roles:  Timothy Dalton, fresh off James Bond, as Captain Christie, the unloving husband who drives his wife to distraction—and Dustin Hoffman as a no-nonsense American journalist who is hot on the trail of the missing mystery writer.

Vanessa Redgrave’s eyes steal the picture as the writer. Willowy, she is hardly like the real Agatha  who was a well-fed Miss Marple type. However, there are hints to indicate this is the same methodical writer who produced so many classics of fiction. Dame Agatha seems to apply her writing habits to orchestrating a disappearance that is inexplicable.

Mrs. Christie actually left her child for eleven days—and was dealing with her mother’s death at the time of her strange disappearance. Neither of these points is made in the movie.

All in all, the viewer is led to believe this was an insensitive publicity stunt, though the writer may have wanted to punish her husband who is having an affair—and Agatha may be researching how to do in her husband’s paramour.

Hoffman is physically dwarfed by the tall, elegant Redgrave, but he gives a sharp performance. However, he too seems to send mixed messages as to his real motives as Wally Stanton, a deceptive investigator. If the real Stanton looked like Hoffman, Christie would have seen her model for Hercule Poirot, a role Hoffman might have played with more relish.

Ultimately, this fictional theory about the incident of Christie’s weird disappearance is about as unsatisfying as you could give the audience.

Along the way, the performances are meant to distract and impress. Indeed, they do. If Christie had plotted this script, she would have done a better job.

(This entry is one of a series of blogs on Agatha Christie.)

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Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie: Never the Twain

DATELINE:  Giants in Separate Corners

   agatha       hitch

Recently the question came to us: Why did the two great forces of mystery and suspense never collaborate?

The answer may be surprising. They were both highly successful, popular and beloved: one in film and one in literature. They were both British, lived and died around the same time, and trod the same grounds of creativity.

A few claim Hitchcock was a misogynist: but his greatest collaborators were women (apart from his wife Alma). He enjoyed the works of Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca, The Birds) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train).

Apart from that fact, both Hitch and Agatha loved to use the setting of trains for their greatest works! Hitchcock could have directed Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, his peak, and most think he did direct it:  but it went to Billy Wilder who used Hitch’s techniques to great effect. Hitchcock could have directed Ten Little Indians in 1945, but chose to avoid the Christie works altogether.

Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he disliked the genre of the ‘who done it.’  He found it antithetical to his idea of what made for cinematic story-telling. He likened the genre to a crossword puzzle, with revealing clues as the main point of the story. It was bread and butter for Christie, but Hitchcock hated the notion and revealing the killer at the end of the story.

You may think two of Hitch’s intriguing films, at the least, were of the who done it school:  Psycho actually revealed who the killer was, but not in the way you expected it to be in the final reel. Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s least favorite films and he filmed it because he was told it was a Christie story, but turned out to be one of his weakest entries.

In Shadow of a Doubt in 1943, Hitchcock had two minor characters discuss how to murder each other—and referred to Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective of Christie, in less than flattering terms.

It’s almost tragic that Hitchcock did not direct Witness for the Prosecution or Murder on the Orient Express to see how he might have handled the material. Both films are brilliant stories and wonderful films, but the echoes of Hitch are omnipresent.

So, we were left without any collaboration between the two greats of 20th century murder mystery. It’s not much of a mystery, but it is a tale of audience misfortune.

Biggest Emmy Losers: Despite Quality

DATELINE: Overblow Self-Congratulatory Emmy Awards

domestic life with Joan  westworld

How much we are out of touch with the modern Emmy voter!

The best miniseries this past year, in our humble estimation, were nominated for numerous awards.  However, they came away with next to nothing.

What happened?

We loved Westworld and Feud: Bette & Joan.  How could they do so badly in terms of winning awards?

Jonathan Nolan and Ryan Murphy went out of their way to create extraordinary worlds, with detail and sets that transported the characters and storylines to places both familiar and peculiar.

Westworld takes place in some distant, odd future where automatons are coming to have consciousness and will shed their bonds of slavery. Feud takes place in some distant past where the Golden Age of Hollywood is fading faster than old stars themselves.

Somewhere along the road to hell of good intentions, we found both series veering off into a ditch with the more unwashed members of the viewing public.

Clever doesn’t sell, and history’s lessons are lost on the 21st century cable viewers.

You might find a few root causes for trouble:  Murphy depicted great stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as divas who became their own best performances. Nolan depicted robots, but we couldn’t tell them apart from real people. Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange gave the performances of their lives, to no avail.

It didn’t help that Olivia De Havilland took umbrage with the way she was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

All those women stars were passed over worse than Bette Davis by the studio system and archrival Crawford by the Oscars. It’s said that Mamacita Feud actress Jackie Hoffman pulled a Crawford and begged to accept Best Supporting Actress for anyone who couldn’t be present for the award, if she didn’t win.

Alas, winner Laura Dern was there: and Hoffman’s nasty wit overwhelmed her sense of good taste, worse than Groucho at his worst. She sore loser better than Joan.

Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton might be the Davis-Crawford level stars in Westworld, though they did not actively compete against each other. They likely cancelled out the other in votes.

You had too much classical music in Westworld to suit the rocks-off bourgeoisie taste of TV audiences. Debussy’s ‘Reverie’ echoed through half the episodes, and audiences had no idea what it was or if they could tolerate it.

Perhaps these two series were not politically correct enough to suit the anti-Trump fervor in Hollywood. After all, the main antagonist of Westworld was a Trump-style billionaire with arrogant pretensions, played by Anthony Hopkins.

Jack Warner, played by nominee Stanley Tucci, was a minor-league Trump in Feud.

Time, the great equalizer, may still redeem the two mishandled losing series. They will be re-discovered by generations to come; you can count on it.

Twin Peaks: Revised and Unresolved

DATELINE: Confounded Yet Again

dead but not gone

If you walk with David Lynch, you play with fire.

Despite our wishes, David Lynch did not put the entire cast in a bus and drive it off a cliff at Twin Peaks. Perhaps he should have.

If you thought everything would be wrapped up as the story seems to end (as if ever possible), you’re looking for a Christmas present under the wrong Douglas fir tree.

Everything comes full circle, and Twin Peaks brings us right back to the first episode 25 years ago. There, you will find a rewrite, revisions galore, to the original story, as agent D.B. Cooper returns to meet Laura Palmer before her fate. His mission seems to be to prevent the murder that started the entire 25-year odd odyssey.

Thank heavens Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee have not changed one whit. They play themselves 25 years ago, no mean feat. And they don’t look too bad in the process.

Lynch does assemble the entire cast in the Twin Peaks police station, and there seems to be some kind of paranormal activity with spirits, smoke, and bad lighting.

However, unless you own some kind of Ouija board or crystal ball, you will not understand what on earth is going on. As a Greek chorus, the mobster  Jim Belushi standing there for no good reason also asks the question, “What the hell is going on?”

The actors themselves look befuddled as they perform the scene. Well, as long as the paycheck doesn’t bounce, actors will perform in any tripe being of any stripe.

This episode ends with the late Jack Nance being fondly remembered at the end of the credits this time, “in memory of.”  Yes, he starts the original series once again by not finding the dead Laura Palmer wrapped in cellophane on the shore.

Alas, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Endeavour: S4, E2, ‘Canticle’ & Bad Acid

DATELINE: Morse in Swinging Sixties

Shaun

Doing a period murder mystery set in the Swinging Sixties is not easy, but Endeavour makes it pop culture time. So much can be a tad off, like scruff on the band members which actually came along a few years later.

The episode recreates one of those “Hullaballoo” style dance numbers with garish colors and plastic slick clothes to open the proceedings.

Inspector Morse (Shaun Evans) is thrust into the turn of the musical screw when rock became the season of flower children. He must investigate the band called Wildwood, which resembles so many of those one-hit wonders in the era when LSD became the tripping drug of choice.

We certainly recall Jackie Gleason leading a crusade against the smut accusations against the Doors, and something akin parallels the latest episode when a young man may be sexually involved with a band member, giving us an early exponent of the groupie mentality. Prudish condemnation arrives from the older generation.

Morse in his blue suit is more a child of the 1950s as police detective—as his boss Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) fully epitomizes the gruff professional Scotland Yard type we have grown to expect.

The usual suspects are all present, but veiled appropriately from quick solutions to the crimes: the greedy business manager of the group, the female hangers-on of the band, an moralist crusader, and in-fighting boy band members.

Morse prefers Wagnerian opera to rock, but still manages to be sucked in by every woman who bats her lashes at him. It seems far more credible when one of the rock group’s sensitive song-writers flirts with him.

Don’t be fooled. A bad acid trip is not far off and could untrack the brilliant detective in another clever, fascinating murder mystery in the series.

If you have not discovered Endeavour, you have three full seasons to savor.

Boy Culture in Homestretch

 DATELINE:  Production Deadline Looms

 Darryl    Actor & Author Darryl Stephens
The sequel to the phenomenal hit 2006’s Boy Culture, an extraordinary high-quality movie about gay life, may be about to hit the wall.

With days to go, the project desperately needs backers to reach its Kickstarter goal of $50,000. Nearly 300 diehard fans of the original movie have pledged to help produce a TV series to follow up on the characters and the culture.

Darryl Stephens is signed to reprise his role from the original show. You can pick up his autobiography on Amazon.

Time, in fact, maybe the worst enemy of gay movie culture. With only a few days left, will the gay community–and others– come through to help save the project?

Boy Culture should not be the purview of a few gay men. It should be the interest of anyone who believes the world of LGBT deserves positive presentation.

We saw a similar project come to fruition through this means, which ended with a brilliant little slice-of-gay-life movie called Chasing Pavement with Remy Mars.
Those who appreciate the need of artists to have backing need to step up again–this time for director Allan Brocka to weave his movie magic again.

Perhaps some glorious Angel will fly down to the set and pre-production group like a Deus ex machina and lay on $10,000 (buckeroos, not bitcoin) to the producers, director, and writer.

Perhaps one of those show busy angels does it in the movies, or even in a TV series. However, in real life, perhaps you need to be involved.

We anxiously await word on the fate of Boy Culture: The Series.

Space Children: Jack Arnold Classic

DATELINE:  1958 Gem

brothersPlaying brothers: Johnny Crawford & Michel Ray

One of the great under-appreciated directors of the 1950s is largely forgotten now, Jack Arnold. Among his best known films are Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man and No Name on the Bullet. He transcended genre.

In 1958 he tried another science fiction flick that didn’t quite win the cult following of his earlier movies. That was his interesting examination of a space alien that puts mind control on kids in The Space Children.

Mind you: this was way before sweet E.T. and monstrous Children of the Damned took over the minds of juveniles.

It helped that Arnold was fearless with child actors. He simply found the best and let them play it. In this case he used Johnny Crawford, before the Rifleman, and Michel Ray, before Lawrence of Arabia. As brothers, they are as good as the Hardy Boys.

He also cast some of the well-known character actors of the era:  Raymond Bailey (of Beverly Hillbillies), Jackie Coogan (of Addams Family), and Russell Johnson (of Gilligan’s Island), as his adult problems for the kids.

Michel Ray is particularly effective with eyes that seem to presage Nick Hoult 60 years later. It’s Ray who has the ray-beam power to paralyze adults, through his alien host.

These kids are children of rocket scientists—and their mission is to sabotage their fathers’ prototype Star Wars missile program. Yes, this movie is a tad ahead of its time.

The film is subtle and not given over to the histrionics we have come to expect from puerile space movies.

Perhaps the title misled audiences: this was clearly a movie for adults to ponder, not to titillate the popcorn set.

This lost gem can be streamed on your viewing device and clocks in at 68 minutes: it’s a dreamy entertainment.

Last Days of Warner Oland: On Anniversary of Death

DATELINE: Charlie Chan & Curry College

WO Oland in character

Ten years ago a little documentary biography was put together on actor Warner Oland. It can be found online.

We have long been a fan of his gentle, Method-acting style, immersing himself into playing (and living life) as the legendary Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Biggers’s famous detective.

Oland, with his exotic name, was the first and best of all the Chans—so much so that many thought he was Asian. His heavy eyelids made him look the part. However, he was born in Sweden, next to Garbo, one of their earliest American immigrants to acting.

Oland loved playing Chan, and even gave interviews in character—but his drinking problem seemed to have exacerbated with a doomed marriage in 1938.  On the set of his last film Charlie Chan Ringside, he simply walked off the studio lot and disappeared.

The movie was shelved, and Oland went back to his native Sweden in the pre-war turmoil of Nazi troubles. There, welcomed home by Swedes, he caught pneumonia and died. His last Chan film was Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo, a delightful performance. His close friend Keye Luke loved him as a Number One son might! Oland was cultured and cerebral.

Oland caught our attention years earlier, of course, on old-TV film festivals—but our real fascination came when we discovered he graduated from Curry College, then located in Boston as an elocution/speech school for actors.

We cut our own teeth at Curry for 30 years as a professor, of film studies, no less.

When we watched a Chan film this week, we went to the ubiquitous Youtube to find all our favorites. To our shock, we learned Warner Oland died 79 years ago the day we found a slight biographical movie called Charlie Chan is Missing: the Last Days of Warner Oland.

Charming and mysterious, Oland preferred his home in central Massachusetts, not far from our preferred home, and his wife had his body brought back to Southboro where his gravestone was the step to his beloved home in that town.

The film is short and chock full of info, but the clues to Warner Oland’s strange character disappeared with him.

M-J 12 Versus The Vatican, Book Review of Shadow War

DATELINE:  Old-fashioned Murder Meets Sci-Fi

MJ12kindlecover

A new writer has entered the scene with a work of fiction about the growing belief that there is a shadow war occurring with secret government technology.

This new book by Ralph T. O’Neal, III, contends that the Vatican is at loggerheads with the top-secret extra-governmental agency called MJ-12, a body that knows something about space aliens they refuse to tell the public. They may know as much as ICE may know about regular aliens in America. This may be Trump’s world of espionage, technology, and shadow warfare.

Mt. Graham Observatory in Arizona is the central location of the tale about two agents, one from NSA and another from FBI, who find themselves embroiled in an old-fashioned murder mystery two miles high.

With altitude sickness complicating the shenanigans of MJ-12 holding a secret meeting with the Vatican about their infra-red telescope and its discoveries, you have personal motives of characters undermining the technology.

Without giving too much away in the plot, the books uses something called “FotoFootnotes” that take the story to a level not quite seen in graphic novels. You have consistent images and explanations of the estoterica of the storyline.

Throw in the endangered red squirrels of Arizona and a bizarre transgender genius named Bel Esprit, and you have all the makings of an Agatha Christie-style tale.

The story is quick-moving and often dotted with humorous asides, but it will take the reader to an enjoyable, thrilling reading experience.

 

Boy Culture TV: Sequel for the Ages!

 DATELINE:   Producers Wanted!

 BC

One of the cleverest and surprising films of 2006 is prepping to have a ten-years later style sequel with all the original cast.

If you remember the delightful novella by Matthew Rettemund turned into a top-drawer comedy of manners by Q. Allan Brocka, you may be in for a big treat. Boy Culture wants to return.

They have a deadline of 29 days to find movie producers to contribute to a new Los Angeles production that will be short TV episodes transformed into a feature-length film.

Yes, Derek Magyar will be in the film as X, with Darryl Stephens reprising Andrew, and Jonathon Trent returning with his extra-long tongue. We are being tongue in cheeky, for sure.

If you ever wondered about all those people who are thanked at the end of a movie, here is your chance to join the conga line that passes quickly while most people are ready to hit the remote button. Well, if you are on the list, you may stick around to the utter end.

It doesn’t cost much to become a recognized Hollywood producer on a big production like this. Immortality seldom reaches out to movie fans, but the filmmakers have gone the Kickstarter way. It’s how small budget, big heart movies are put together:  with love of fans.

If you have a big wallet, you might even end up with a walk-on cameo in one of the scenes. Talk about becoming a Hollywood legend. It might repay you with dinner invitations for years to come—as you explain the thrill of it all.

We hate to say what it costs to be one of the co-executive producers but the benefits of being with the cast may be your last chance for groupie rights that only X would appreciate.

Quite frankly, our favorite character was Gregory Talbot in the original: the wonderful actor Patrick Bauchau played the reclusive, well-heeled patron of the extended family of boys.

Yes, we want in on this. But we want to see the movie produced successfully and be part of a legendary hit.

When they call action, Boy Culture TV may be your calling.

Charming Caper: How to Steal a Million

 DATELINE:  Masterpieces on Satire

 

 How to

If you look at this movie’s pedigree, you cannot go wrong. How to Steal a Million was a bit of fluff and a trifle from 1966 when stars were really able to carry a movie.

Audrey Hepburn can be forgiven for some of the ridiculous 1960s Givenchy outfits, but she is perfect in them—and her costar Peter O’Toole matches her every step of the way, even commenting it is time to give Givenchy a day off.

A wealthy socialite, Hepburn must orchestrate a theft from a Paris museum of a fake statue she owns but puts on loan in error! The museum is about to have the priceless fake examined—and she will be found out—and her father sent to prison.

O’Toole was escaping his epic dramas, for some fluff, with this film.

Director William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver, Ben Hur, Roman Holiday, The Heiress, and countless other classics) knows how to deliver high class and high quality. On top of that, it is one of John Williams’s first music scores (Jaws, Star Wars, etc.).

Combine this with top-of-their-career performances by Hepburn and O’Toole and you will forgive some of the anachronisms of the 1960s. O’Toole even gives us a quick impersonation of one of Hepburn’s earlier leading men (Humphrey Bogart, Sabrina).

Hugh Griffith is Hepburn’s reprobate father and Charles Boyer is around for a laugh, but Eli Wallach surprises as the wealthy boorish American billionaire art collector.

Filmed in Paris for atmosphere, the clever caper unfolds under the aegis of O’Toole who is actually a detective who uncovers art forgeries.

 

 

Logo Wars: Michael Jordan v. Gronk

DATELINE:  Sports Deadlock

 logo warsIt takes balls.

 

Michael Jordan’s silhouette image on all the junk he markets, around since the 1980s, is called Jumpman. We never knew his dunkman had a nickname.

Now, because Gronk has filed an image for his brand of products that resembles a silhouette of an athlete in action, we have a conflict that will be settled in the biggest court/gridiron, that of the boardroom of highly paid corporate lawyers.

Jordan and Gronk are prepared to go head to head, or shadow to shadow for the title King of Greed.

The problem for the two athletes and their endless money making operations is that some dumb kid will confuse Jordan with Gronk. Yes, you may buy a basketball sneaker and think it’s for playing football.

We know our educational systems are dumbed down more than ever—but we thought the emergence of emoji and sign language has sent kids back to the level of cave dwellers with an eye for cave art.

So, you mean they cannot tell the difference between a football shape and a basketball shape?

We are talking apples and oranges here, or at least spheres of another world.

Two tall athletes, arms raised, legs akimbo, holding some totem object is sending legal minds into overdrive. You can never tell when someone may spike a basketball, or dunk a football.

We have seen idiot players score a touchdown and then dunk the football over the goal bar. You can easily forget what sport you are watching.

It’s all the same when it comes to millions of dollars and corporate greed. It’s all part of the modern gladiator combat of American sports. We think Gronk and Jordan ought be holding tridents and nets, versus short swords and shields.

Oh, wait, they already did that sports combat scene in Spartacus. It was Woody Strode versus Kirk Douglas, all for the edification of decadent Laurence Olivier.

We are always happy to assume the role of Olivier in a combat between Gronk and MJ.

Paid for Sex: Gay Porn Stars

 DATELINE:  Awful Movie!

 Tommy Lettuce Rhymes with cabbage.

Never having been paid for sex, we may be hard-pressed to evaluate a film called I’m a Porn Star: Gay 4 Pay.

Our sense is that if you’re not committed fully to something, you probably won’t do a good job. The handsome young men in this film seem to be having a lot of fun– but insist they are not gay. It’s done for the money, but no one mentions that pay-rates are not exactly in the high tax-bracket range at Sean Cody studios.

The film gives us interviews of six people on the street, and a dozen studio studs who do gay porn—and you have instant godawful movie. The subject seems more apt for a late-night college-dorm debate than a documentary movie. However, we have never let our natural timidity prevent us from criticizing a movie.

All the young men who star in these gay porn Internet movies look like cookie-cutter gym-rats. They come in all sizes, but we primarily see only the tush, which is now de rigueur even in a Disney production.

This so-called scientific study includes commentary from one, lonely director who must deal with callow young dudes learning what it is to pretend to like something they don’t like. They like to say it’s acting.

The film starts out showing us a bunch of legitimate movie stars—claiming they were straight, but played gay roles in big budget movies. However, about half of the actors cited as straight were actually gay in real life. But, let’s not confuse the issue.

We aren’t sure what you call someone who pretends to enjoy gay sex, but really dislikes it. Some of these actors/models insist they will never do any gay deed again in real life after their porn career is over. Some others wink and nod.

There is an audience for a documentary like this. It’s called the undecided vote.

Is It Real??? or Just Another Movie!*

realkindlecover cover pictures include real and fake!

DATELINE:  New Book of Movie Reviews

Ossurworld wants to announce that a collection of reviews and commentaries on documentaries, docudramas, and biopics, is now available on Amazon.com for discerning movie fans and smart readers.

If Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” he’d be accused today of being a fake news critic…We have mixed up the real documentaries with those based on a true story in this compendium. You likely can guess when you have a real documentary on your hands, but not always. Sometimes it’s a biopic, or a docudrama, or just speculative facts and opinion. Sometimes the film is a masterpiece, and sometimes it’s just another movie.

We are sure that Ossurworld will start giving these away with a set of dishes sometime in the future. We think these reviews are swell, sometimes even funny. We hope you will too.

*Includes a few TV reviews.

 

Kroc Pot Founder

Kroc

DATELINE:  Your Inner Trump

Giving a tour de force performance, Michael Keaton almost wills the movie to be successful. Yet, there is the sound of Beetlejuice coming through when Ray Kroc makes his rapid-fire sales pitch. It is, at first, amusing—and then rather diabolical. It’s like watching Donald Trump’s “how to” video.

It was not the year for a movie about a Trump-style businessman in Hollywood. Just ask Meryl Streep. The Founder tells how McDonalds food chain grew to a billion-burgers-sold by hook and crook.

Other than that, the story reveals how Ray Kroc took the McDonald Brothers idea for fast food and ran with it.

Ray Kroc was not beyond taking credit for the ideas of the original McDonalds creators, but he also had to fight their small-minded integrity to quality. Kroc had traveled around the country selling milk shake mixers and recognized whatever quality McDonalds had was already ten times better than the competition in 1954.

He skimmed a little to expand the business. Shake well and stir.

When you hear Kroc’s explanation of how the Golden Arches fit in with the American flag and church crosses, you almost feel his fervor to eat a hamburger as an act of America becoming great.

What starts out as a visionary film depicting the wonderful ingenuity of the original McDonald brothers deteriorates rapidly into a tale of corporate greed, the side-effect of Ray Kroc’s vision. Beetlejuice in your head can do that.

The film has been ignored for probably glorifying crass commercialism in a Hollywood that thinks it is better than thou. This movie celebrates the Middle America out of fashion among those who hate fast food, environmental carelessness, and persistent ambition.

Dare we call them blue-nose Democrats?

You may not have to be a rugged individualist Republican to become a fan of this movie, but chances are you will be more inclined to see the virtues here among the dubious and ruthless business practices and Seven Deadly Sins.

As a movie depiction of an era and how to rake in a billion per year, this one will fascinate you– if you are willing to drive-thru.