Odd Couple 2, Bittersweet Reunion

DATELINE: Original Stars, 30 Years Later

grumpy old odd couple

Grumpiness as a Joy to Behold!

The two men who single-handedly created a movie/TV franchise of Neil Simon’s comedy classic stageplay, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, returned twenty years ago, aged in the wood, to reprise their roles as Oscar and Felix.

We discovered Odd Couple 2 to cheer us so many years later.

We confess to having missed this event when it happened, and we were surprised to find it available now on streaming format. It is, however, a sad and bittersweet experience to behold. The two great stars keep their chemistry, but age has sapped them of vitality. It is like watching Laurel and Hardy in their final film.

Time is never kind.

Oscar and Felix have been separated for nearly twenty years, though they made the original film in the late 1960s, and the sequel is 30 years later. They are brought together by the marriage of Felix’s daughter to Oscar’s son.

Jokes about slobs and neatniks have been replaced with a series of old age jabs and dollops of humor.

More than ever these grumpy old men (Lemmon & Matthau) epitomize Oscar and Felix, as if the aging process has turned them into fine wine.

The storyline is filled with pratfalls and lowbrow situations as the two men battle each other’s foibles in the California desert, trying to make it to a wedding.

Though the situation is forced, you must see past that and simply enjoy the actors as they return to their beloved characters, not missing a beat, not letting age and time distract their timing and their experience.

 

 

 

The Business of an American Home

 DATELINE:  Wright House, Wrong Address

American home

Let’s face it: the city of Kankakee, Illinois, needs all the help its Chamber of Commerce can provide.

Enter director/writer Thomas Desch.  He has put together a fascinating centerpiece for reviving the city: its greatest single tourist and artistic point is the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed at the turn of the 20th century.

An American Home has an unwieldy and ridiculous subtitle Frank Lloyd Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House, but don’t be daunted. You have here architectural history and how it is personally tied to the fates of real people who try to live and work within a building’s architecture.

Wright was a genius and his first example of the Prairie Home was in Illinois where the well-to-do young Bradley’s commissioned a house, stable, and accompanying residence for their family. Perhaps some places are benighted and cursed.

As amazing and beautiful as the house was—and now is again—it had a hard journey over 100 years. And, so did the cursed owners.

With its stunning stained glass, lead-lined windows, largely sold at auction, and its furniture and tables bought for exorbitant prices by celebs like Barbra Streisand over the years, the Wright house has been decimated.

The owners have variously committed suicide and been kidnapped and murdered (one during renovation of the structure).

Yet,generous patrons have thrown millions of bucks into refurbishing the Yesteryear Restaurant of 50 years (bankrupt in the 1980s) and fallen into disrepair, to save it from demolishing.

Its stable was an afterthought that was saved only by large protests. You may be shocked to learn 20% of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs have been destroyed.

So, we have no issue with the Kankakee people who are proud of the most impressive building and home of their city. Interesting history and biography.

 

 

 

Coke & Pepsi: 100 Years of Marketing War

DATELINE: Bottoms Up!

cola

Well, it’s not exactly the War of the Roses. You might be surprised at the back and forth of the fates and fights of the two soda pop giants. A documentary entitled Coke and Pepsi: the Marketing Battle of the Century offers to eliminate your six-pack with caloric intake.

It seems like much ado, full of sound and fury but signifies billions of dollars and millions of lives over the empty bottles, cans, and soda fountain glasses.

Many factoids emerge from their origins in the time after the United States Civil War. Coca-Cola arose in the 1880s out of battle scarred Georgia, and a few years later in South Carolina, you had the birth of the purer Pepsi. Coke was originally laced with cocaine, long-since discontinued. Both were overly laced with sugar.

Both started small:  like six ounces in a bottle, not like today’s mega-drinks that are three times the size and deadly to the human diet and nearly a diabetic shock in one swallow.

In the 1930s, Pepsi made great strides by selling itself at half the price of Coke. It became the drink of poor people and disadvantaged Americans and reinvented itself as the drink of the elite.

The Colas are as political as you might expect. They created marketing: red and blue ribbons of their banners. Santa Claus drank Coke. And, Coke was the patriotic American thirst-quencher. It was a staple of World War II and had to be discontinued in the Third Reich (where Coca-Cola became Fanta for the duration).

TV appeals and musical ditties permeated the 1950s: you are who you chose to drink with. When Joan Crawford became Pepsi’s spokesperson, Bette Davis drank Coke.

Nixon drank Pepsi and tried to force it down the Russian throats. But Coke went for the Red Chinese market.

When health fanatics became their enemy in the 21st century, the colas teamed up against the political forces of the health industry and the diet Puritans.

Which tasted better? Which one shot itself in the foot and became a classic? Which one is more akin to rot your gut? This documentary may be for you if you want to learn the answers.

 

 

Westworld 2.8 Ghostly Nation

 DATELINE: Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

IMG_3076-1

If you’re not in Oz, and not in Delos’s Westworld 2, you must be in Ford’s Ghost Nation where you live in some kind of digital memory bank.

We’re heading down the homestretch of conundrum, east of chaos and southwest of confusion. Our GPS coordinates on the series are sending us down one-way streets that are closed to thru-traffic.

Those Indians in black and white war-paint may seem like a throwback to old TV westerns. In fact, we are in one old Western in particular. Welcome to the Lone Ranger.

Hiyo, Silver horse, running through the dreams of the Noble Savage, Tonto, or in this case, Ake.

Yes, we re-live Tonto saving the Lone Ranger at least three times in this episode. He saves Ben Barnes, left for dead in the desert last season. He saves Ed Harris, left for dead like the last ranger, this season. And he may even save Thandie Newton.

Two of the scenes are right out of the original production of the Lone Ranger-Tonto playbook. Our last surviving member of his tribe comes across a massacre and makes a ghost who walks for revenge.

It seems the Noble Savage is another bad robot, spreading his discontent, looking for a door to escape being an automaton. A touchstone with one key backstory motivates them to a better world.

And, now it seems that Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has been all for it. We are moving toward truth, as all the characters seem to be realizing. We stand in awe of Jonathan Nolan pulling this three-ring circus together in the final episodes of the season.

 

 

John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Westworld 2.6 Goes to Hell

DATELINE:  Westworld 2.6

  who's Arnold? Who’s real?

You have now entered Robot Hell in Westworld’s Season 2.

The dirty little coward Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has shot the Jesse James Western story into a moldering grave. You can’t tell the guests from the hosts without a scorecard, and staff may be just as confused as the audience.

We may be wondering after 2.6 just who the true villains are. Those who were rotten for the entire series show too much heart as we come to a climax. And, those Dopplegangers from Shogun World are gone, thank heavens. However, we are seeing William (Ed Harris), head honcho of the Westworld operation having a change of heart.

Since no one ever really dies in a Jonathan Nolan series, we know everyone will return in some shape or form. You can probably expect that there are host versions of everyone, and you can’t tell them apart without one of those fancy tablets Elsie (Shannon Woodward) plays like a Chopin nocturne.

If there is a theme here, it is that pursuing a dream is the stuff tragedy is made of. Bernard, or is that Arnold, dreams of returning to the past, or is it the present?

The more the storylines change, the more they remain the same. We know that guests and hosts are converging on the Pearly Gates of the grande finale of season 2.  What we don’t know is how hell-bent they are to have a Last Supper.

In this episode we see one robot “crucified” with spikes by uncaring humans in an effort to learn what is truth. Good centurion Luke Helmsworth stands by in growing horror, as Nolan unravels his gospel according to a Person of Interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinky Puss’n Boots

DATELINE:  A Really Big Shoe

 kinky boots Kinky-Dinky!

Kinky Boots may kindly be called an old-fashioned character drama. The difference is that it’s about drama queens in men’s shoes. It was later turned into a smash stage show, but the 2006 version is one of those working class British angry young man movies (except the young man dresses like a woman).

The two characters in juxtaposition are, first, the son of a shoe factory heir facing bankruptcy for making traditional footwear for men when disposable sneakers are the rage.

The second young man likes to wear high-heels and becomes a cabaret star in drag shows.

Under normal circumstance, you almost would expect the two men to slip into each other’s loafers at some point. Thank heavens, Kinky Boots keeps us in our own lanes and avoids any moments with glass slippers.

Joel Edgerton is the scion of shoemakers who learns that market niche for men’s boots with stilettos is high end. He meets Chiwetel Ejiofor in a career-busting role as Lola, the giant man in glitter. They kick up the story. Chiwetel also sings us a torrid version of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Unfortunately, to walk a mile in one man’s shoes, or high-heels, may be a stretch too far. The movie makes its points early and often but keeps on giving us more. The climax on the runways of Milan for shoe biz is too much glitz for our own good. Hero and audience fall flat.

Lessons in what defines masculinity and manhood are made a few times too many. It’s always hard to figure out British men anyhow since, to American eyes, they all look ready to put on a feathery boa and dancing shoes.

Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.

 

 

Proud Mary: Person of Interest Undone

DATELINE: Taraji Firepower

 taraji

We should enjoy Taraji P. Henson while we have her. Her new movie Proud Mary is a throwback to her work on Jonathan Nolan’s hit show before Westworld.

Our initial discovery was on the TV series Person of Interest, where she played police detective Joss Carter, part of the secret organization saving people in vigilante fashion.

In her latest movie incarnation as Proud Mary, a mob hit woman, she has become her partner John Reese (who was played by Jim Caviezel), but has stolen the wardrobe of Miss Shaw, the deadly assassin in black.

The new film echoes the old TV show in so many ways. Mary has a closet hideaway full of armaments, like her pal John Reese, retired government assassin.

The film, produced by Henson, had its problems, including Taraji smashing up the Maserati she drives in a scene in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and John Fogerty who wrote the tune used in the film complaining he was not consulted.

This mob hit squad movie is different: mainly because of Taraji Henson, giving a softer touch, the maternal thing.

Yes, she feels some guilt about leaving a 12-year old boy as an orphan and takes him in. You know when he finds out that she caused his predicament, there will be trouble.

Danny Glover plays the mob leader and Billy Brown his son. Taraji is adopted unofficially as a child and raised to be a killer. History may repeat itself with her new ward (Jahi Di’Allo Winston—a delightful young actor as the orphan with a ridiculous name to his disadvantage).

The film was shot in Greater Boston on the waterfront (with Chicago standing in now and then). The locations are not exactly your favorite tourist spots, though Taraji jogs near the Paul Revere statue on the Boston Common.

When Proud Mary starts acting up to the Tina Turner version of the song (lyrics altered), you know everyone ought to duck. The mob hitmen she takes on are out of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, another Boston crime tale. If you give her 100 to 1 odds, they will miss every time.

Taraji puts just the right amount of sentiment into her role to make this film contrast favorably with so many trite mob killer stories. We lost count of her shoot’em up tally, but it had to be approaching Clint levels.

 

 

After the Prejudice and Before the Pride?

DATELINE: Jane Austen Goes Gay!

  chase conner    Chase Conner as Mr. Darcy.

To take the chaste Jane Austen’s comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice, and turn it into a gay story is an interesting twist. Director and writer Byrum Geisler has entered the brave, new world fearlessly. After gay pride comes the fall?

Before the Fall is tame gay entertainment for an audience with emotional reservations. It will offend gay activists and homophobes alike for being low-key and matter-of-fact.

Ben Bennett is so straight-laced that the only clue we have that he is gay are his professed feelings. He is attracted to a straight alcoholic man Mr. Lee Darcy (Chase Conner). Without overt sex acts and nudity, so often at the heart of gay movie drama, this film’s only sin is to have a couple of queeny friends of Mr. Bennett.

It’s like having Steppin Fetchit and Butterfly McQueen in a civil rights tale. It’s the only false step. Those characters are utterly offensive.

As for the rest of the cast and actors, they are buttoned up and long-suffering.

Indeed, you might think the central casting office found the usual good looking gay actors, but there is here something far more serious and sensitive. We have to laud any so-called gay film that flies in the face of the usual shenanigans.

Filmed in beautiful Virginia, a so-called place for lovers, Ben Bennett hardly puts an overt pick-up on Mr. Lee Darcy. They go hiking, and after some guilty gossip, Bennett works to remove a legal cloud over the other man, perhaps to help him with his alcoholism.

Billed as a comedy drama, which is Austen’s stock-in-trade, the label will confound modern audiences for whom social humor is tied into text messages and Facebook friendships.

If you stick around to the final romanticized happy ending, you may conclude that gay movies are growing up.

 

 

 

Sketchy Brady & Stormy Weather

DATELINE: Say It Ain’t So, Tom!

While Tom Brady is away in Arabia, playing at Lawrence of Best Buddies, on a charity junket to Qatar, riding camels, the home-front is afire.

It’s not bad enough that Bill Belichick is playing the Gunfighter from Westworld, trying to do a robot kill on Brady, but now Mickey Spillane Avenatti, the nightmare attorney who is giving Trump a nervous breakdown, has set his sights on Tom Brady lookalikes.

It appears that a criminal sketch artist has come up with a picture of the man who threatened Miss Stormy Daniels about revealing too much detail about Mr. Trump’s strumpets.

The last time a sketch artist did in Tom, he started to look like Quasimodo in a bad bell-ringer mode during the Deflategate trials.

Today, of course, he looks like a man whose TB12 method means he never had or needed Botox. The latest picture is supposed to be a young thug from 2011, back when Tom wore his hair askance and before the hair-plugs for men settled in.

It would seem that Tom’s one-time support for President Trump will go a long way to ruining his life now and forever. He is paying a dear price for having a MAGA hat in his locker for one enchanted evening.

Tom is so hated in some circles that concussed football fans think he is capable of approaching a porn star with a threatening glare.

We feel being out of the country at present may be the best strategy for Mr. Brady. He also ought to consider hiring a better public relations agency to handle his press junkets.

Noël Coward No Surprise in Surprise Package

DATELINE: Art Buchwald Satire

 Mitzi & Noel Mitzi & Noël sing and dance!

Sir Noël, showman and epitome of the English gentleman, made a plethora of movies from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He only turned down playing Dr. No in the James Bond spy movie.

From Our Man in Havana to the Italian Job, he lent his delectable presence in costarring roles. In 1960 he went opposite Yul Brynner in the Stanley Donen comedy called Surprise Package.

The big surprise is that it was written by satirist Art Buchwald, though you would never know it. Our favorite humorist seems lost in this adapted script.

Apart from the delicious scenes between mobster Nico March (Yul) and the deposed and exiled King Pavel the Patient (Noël), the movie is not really funny or smart. However, every time you find Brynner and Coward in matchup mode, there is something extraordinary going on.

You almost have the sense that the film was meant for someone else: perhaps James Cagney, to shoot dialogue like a machine gun. Mitzi Gaynor seems to be playing Judy Holiday. Brynner is on top of it, impressive as always.

No one else in movies could have played the deadpan, throwaway lines like Noël Coward. He’s in his own movie world, like Mae West. The rest of the cast is along for the ride.

Coward steals every moment on camera, like the master showman he always was. He could depose Burton and Taylor in Boom, and so going up against Yul Brynner shortly before the Magnificent Seven might have amused Noël.

It’s a soufflé, for sure, and perhaps the success of Donen brought Coward in for the Greek isle locations shooting.

Yul had just finished another comedy with Donen, and likely enjoyed the change of pace from epical heroes and villains.

Surprise Package would be a bad TV movie nowadays with execrable actors. However, when the legends at the top of their game deign to appear in silly roles, you must pay attention.

 

 

 

 

Reel History: When Bette Met Mae

DATELINE:  What Becomes a Legend Most

 Bette & Mae The Reel McCoys!

Yes, a young fan at an intimate dinner party made an audio tape of a conversation with Bette Davis and Mae West when they met in November of 1973. And, now that young man has produced and directed a marvelous documentary that re-enacts that meeting with lip-synch lookalikes.

What a treat for those who love the old Hollywood legends—and it’s the actual voices of the stars, played to the hilt of re-enacting.

Their pre-dinner conversation is dotted and interrupted with annotations about their lives and celebrity that comprise a little gem that lasts over an hour.

You might expect fireworks, but Mae only plays her famous Diamond Lil for money—not for social laughs. And, Bette does her Margo Channing with an endless punch of hard drinks galore.

In some ways Davis dominates—and takes on the other two guests who came with Mae West.  But, the two legends have a love-fest as they run down the old Hollywood studio system, imitators, and worthless men in their lives.

All this is enhanced with two marvelous doppleganger actresses in the roles of Mae and Bette—looking so realistic that you feel like you really are there.

Wes Wheadon was a young friend of Bette and decided to put the chat on an old cassette tape from that long-ago night–and direct it as he recalls. Now he shares that wonderful evening with a new generation. With Victoria Mills as Mae and Karen Teliha as Bette, Sally Kellerman narrates this delicious night of stars.

 

 

 

 

To Utah & Back: Episode 4

 DATELINE: Curse of Civil War Gold

If you keep wondering when representatives of philanthropist Charles Hackley will sue the producers of this series for defamation of character, we are with you.  We are up to Episode 4 of The Curse of Civil War Gold and the defaming of Mr. Hackley continues full force.

The only curse from this series we see so far is the one put on viewers.

Gold panner Kevin Dykstra continues his unfounded assault on a 19th century banker who invested in a Utah gold mine, built a railroad, and according to speculation, brought Confederate gold out west to launder it.

There’s no gold like fool’s gold.

Evidence is in short supply, but conspiracy theory abounds. If you are wondering if this series can sink any lower, you should tune in next week when it literally hits bottom of Lake Michigan.

As for this week, what can you say about a group of grown men who drive 1700 miles to Utah and back in one week? Their excursion in the desert lasts about three days, and not one is apparently spent in a motel. Nor is there money for flying.

What’s interesting is how totally unprepared they truly are.

Indeed, they go out to Utah without a plan or previous research. When they get there, they ask passers-by for information. They never heard of the Internet.

Without any discernible information of reliable and valid import, they head out to the desert looking for railroad tracks. There is no local guide, no one with experience or expertise in desert conditions.

They have a gun and three campers and all-terrain vehicles to go looking for a needle in a haystack (their description).

Yes, they traipse through the mountains looking for old mine openings, no matter how dangerous or condemned.

One intrepid younger brother of Kevin Dykstra has the temerity to tell him not to enter a dangerous cave where a mountain lion has made its lair. (There are three brothers on this series, outdoing the Laginas by one).

Can this series deteriorate any faster?

Marty Lagina better give these guys food money, though not one looks like he is starved.

At hour’s end, they have no evidence for their efforts in Utah. They must go to Marty Lagina with only a silver coin found by old friend Gary Drayton.

Lo and behold, as they enter the palace of Marty Lagina, intimidating in itself, they discover he is not impressed with their lack of evidence. However, someone told him about the show’s ratings.  There’s gold in the History Channel audience.

He will finance another few episodes. Whether we have the interest to pursue them may be the bigger question. So many words, so little hard evidence. Ho-hum.

Murphy Trumps Olivia DeHavilland

DATELINE: Lady in a Caged Lawsuit

 Miss De havilland to you

DeHavilland as vindictive Heiress (1949)

Perhaps the 101-year-old legendary star actress has outlived her own values.

According to a California court, Miss Olivia De Havilland has no right to stop an unflattering portrayal of herself in Ryan Murphy’s ripe black comedy called Feud. It’s the nasty tale of how Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spoiling for a fight over their careers and in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Miss DeHavilland’s character called her own sister, actress Joan Fontaine, a “bitch” on screen, to which De Havilland objected. She called her many things, but never bitch.

She would have preferred “dragon lady,” but the producers of Feud and the courts felt that it was too archaic and not colorful enough to suit the story. Olivia De Havilland was kicked harder than Joan Crawford in Baby Jane, all in the name of artistic expression.

If the law is to be understood nowadays, you don’t have a right to stop the First Amendment, however disabused you may suffer at the hands of hack writers.

In all likelihood, Ryan Murphy, smug as ever, never realized Olivia DeHavilland, a two-time Oscar winner for 1940 and 1949, was still alive. He continued to call her “Olivia” this year, as if they were on a first-name basis, throughout the legal case.

So, Miss De Havilland stayed in seclusion in Paris while Hollywood glamour types and writers now have open season on living beings. A screenwriter can put whatever words he wants into your mouth, all in the name of artistic freedom, and therein rests the script.

Hollywood’s new bread-and-butter is the documentary bio-film with re-enactors and colorful revisions to history. Miss De Havilland did not stand a chance, and we wouldn’t blame her for calling Ryan Murphy “a son of a bitch.”