Ancient Aliens Returns with Two Hours & Two Heads

DATELINE:  Twilight of the Hosts

Giorgio & Ramy

Giorgio & Ramy, that’s who!

The hiatus of the popular series Ancient Aliens was short-lived.

However, they have put their nuclear option on the table: Giorgio of the hair explosion has now joined forces with Ramy Romany and his Indiana Jones fedora, another new rising star and quasi-Egyptologist on the show.

They are teamed up to go to Cairo for a two-hour tour, a new age version of Gilligan and the Skipper.

This is a power move after thirteen seasons and a midseason hiatus. The two most popular hosts are on the chessboard.

Let’s hope their arc of the alien covenant does not shut down in the Great Pyramid.

Ramy plans to take Giorgio into the bowels of Khufu’s power plant (it’s no longer considered a tomb).

This is one-upsmanship, as Ramy takes great pleasure in escorting Giorgio into the Great Pyramid. How he did this feat is revealed shortly when the great Hawass drags his ass into the picture. He’s a man who never met an Egyptian tomb he did not visit on TV.  It seems Ramy is related to national blowheart Zahi Hawass, and that explains a great deal about the great Hawass and the great Pyramid.

Through judicious editing, we never learn how much Hawass hates the ancient alien theory about builders of the pyramids. He likes to say the native peoples did it.

It’s also amusing to watch the facial expressions of Ramy Romany when he disagrees with some of Giorgio’s more outrageous theories. He never lets a sourpuss pass without notice.

Of course, it all comes to a head with the twin hosts sitting at dusk before the Great Pyramid, with Ramy smoking a waterpipe for great effect. Their profiles and agreeing to disagree is certainly the start of long and beautiful friendship, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Captain Renault ran off with Rick Blaine at the end of Casablanca.

 

 

Hitler’s Hollywood by Any Other Name

DATELINE: Singing in the Reich

Hitler on movie set

If  imitation is a sincere form of flattery, Hitler’s attempt to copy Hollywood movies is indeed a nasty compliment. Hitler’s Hollywood is a horrid misnomer.

During the years 1933 to 1945, there was a thriving movie business under the Nazis in Germany, run by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of notoriety.

Hitler loved movies—and his studios planned to give him an exact duplicate of the big boffo productions out of Hollywood.

If he couldn’t have Garbo, he had Ingrid Bergman in one movie before she cleared out of the Third Reich for Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

The Germans loved musicals with numbers more extravagant than the Busby Berkley movies. They were overlaid, however, with nasty digs at Jews at every turn in subtle fashion. Then, there were the outright anti-Semitic films.

There were about a 1000 movies made by the German state studio with their own star system: comedy, melodrama, and historic epics, but never science fiction or horror. In fact, the melodrama featured so much fantasy and nightmares to the Aryan heroes that they turned into horror pictures.

The Nazis never knew irony.

If there was a steady theme, it was the glorification of death for the Fatherland. Good Germans dying for their country was a common theme.

As the war proceeded and was undermining morale, the films started to be oriented for female audiences—and in glorious technicolor. But the wild extravagance was panic to keep the home audiences on target.

The version of the Titanic sinking was blamed on the Jewish financiers, and then was banned from showings in Germany itself by Goebbels.

The entire documentary is narrated in creepy fashion by Udo Keir—and is hypnotic, horrifying, and surprising.

Last Call to Titan, All Aboard

 DATELINE:  Earth’s Next Home

 Titan

 It only looks like Mars.

Not to be confused with remembering the Titans. We are now talking about the Titanians, a group of people who will be scientists and adventurers to colonize the Titan Moon of Saturn.

This little documentary, made in France, but is international in flavor—using scientists from the United States and NASA, as well as ESA with experts from England and France.

Last Call to Titan is a riveting little documentary.

From the odd perspective of a narrator telling the story of how Titan was discovered and colonized, we have a different approach to a science documentary. It works on its own strange planetary level.

Leslie Clack is the British narrator who is obviously speaking to us from the perspective of 200 years hence. He is from a place that is far removed from Earth and has its own laws and culture. Those who move to Titan will never be able to return to Earth because the changes to the body by gravity would kill anyone who dared to come back.

Most will be born there and not want to come here.

Titan has an opaque atmosphere, mostly methane, and extremely cold (180 degrees below zero).  Yet, with diving suits, not space suits, people would be able to move around more effortlessly.

The early photos and exploration of Titan by the Cassini-Huygens mission are the real call of this hour-long show. It is a fascinating place with oceans, lakes, rivers, and a coastline worthy of a European spa town.

New propulsion systems are under creation that would cut the trip to Titan to six months. However, you still need to be slightly anti-social to survive the loneliness—and being stuck with a bunch of weirdo scientists as your boon companions.

Last call indeed.

 

 

 

 

Alas, Poor Yorick and Poor Shakespeare

DATELINE:  Heads, You Lose!

cursed

Shakespeare’s Tomb is a marvelous documentary that deals with the case of the headless Bard of Avon.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, they were graverobbers who wanted the heads of famous people and in Yorick fashion, they took the skulls from older graves. Phrenologists were also collectors who were interested in having a genius skull in their study. You could so easily read the bumps in the cranium.

You may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon—not the more protected Westminster Abbey.

You may also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon, as if he had an inkling that someone would want his head on a silver tray.

One of the most fascinating documentaries in a long time takes the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to examine his strange burial—and possible vandalism of his resting place in the late 1790s.

It may well be they took the graverobbers took a wrong turn, and grasped the head of Ann Hathaway, in a shroud only three feet deep, next to Shakespeare.

For unknown reasons, this purloined skull was dumped at another church where it has rested without a body in a charnel spot.

Forensic experts studied the discovery and concluded that it belonged to a woman. The documentary makes little of that wrong head, but she was the right age to be Shakespeare’s late wife who is buried next to him next to him in a shallow grave.

Apparently, Holy Trinity Church tried to cover up the problem by putting a new stone over Shakespeare’s dug  up grave and not telling anyone. Ground penetrating radar allows the film crew to examine Shakespeare’s grave without opening it.

Good detective work and charming hosts of the show make this little hour-long documentary is brilliant and worthy of your attention.

 

Perfectly Human Diet, Not a Fad

Perfect Diet, Not a Fad

diet

Though we have been taken with recent scientific study of human health through diet, we were unprepared for the superbly thorough documentary by C.J. Hunt.

A media journalist who suffered from debilitating heart conditions at a young age, the director and writer of this expert examination of paleodietic information may be dropping the final word on fad diets.

In short, the film is a history of diets after a 19th century fat man decided he needed to find out why he was morbidly obese (5’5” and 300 pounds). Blame it on the Industrial Revolution.

It appears that changes in the human diet began fairly recently in the epoch of evolution. One scientist uses the football field analogy to great impact. Homo Erectus was at the end of the field and working one’s way up to today, you find that in the inch before the goal, we humans began to eat grains.

Hmm. Meat eating appears to have, by all agreement, caused brainpower. That caveman diet of bone marrow and sweetbread was far removed from Wheaties.

It seems the modern diet is shrinking the brain pan. You can hardly call a return to paleo-eating as the latest fad. Blame your misinformed government on telling you to avoid fats and eat more carbs.

Nearly every health-conscious scientist agrees that vegetarianism is too exclusive. You need only avoid sugar, carbs, processed food, and salt. Nobody under 2 needs a glass of milk every day. We are victims of economic diet plans—marketing for money-makers.

A walk through the supermarket with a dietary scientist and doctor is an argument against browsing.

C.J. Hunt has provided one of the most illuminating and intriguing of insights into health and food. He puts politics, religion, and nutrition, on the list of hopeless argument. He already knows he is preaching to an empty choir.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Devilish Fun with Sooke

 DATELINE:  Porno, not Inferno

 sooke Sooke, not Cooke

How the Devil Got His Horns is hosted by a new media sensation from England named Alastair Sooke.

He is an expert is ancient art and classic art work. If you are expecting Alistair Cooke, you will discover the new generation is decidedly Alastair Sooke. And, the differences go way beyond white hair of Alistair Cooke to the lithe Sooke.

This young art critic has all the smarts and sexy appeal too.

Looking like an Oxford undergraduate, but the smartest kid in the class, the expressive expert from England is made for social media. He is ambiguous enough in sexual terms as to make you wonder about that wedding ring.

Sooke travels around Florence, Venice, and museums, wearing sandals. When he stops to explain an early depiction of Jesus on a church mural, he happens to be wearing the same sandals as JC. No coincidence we suspect.

He explains  how the Devil, Lucifer, originally was a blue angel on the left hand of God, before his precipitous fall. He is described as a bureaucrat in heaven, which explains his rebellion.

Lucifer’s initial beauty downgrades to ugliness over the years, as you need corruption to supervision corruption. Sooke raises the issue that Lucifer’s transformation was far more an aesthetic decision of poets and artists rather than Church leaders.

Sooke also revels in showing us the most depraved depictions of hell fire and suffering. As he tells us, it’s more porno than Inferno in the art world for the Medieval viewers.

If you want a blue angel for your guide, there is none better than Alastair Sooke.

Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.

 

 

Killing Jimmy Hoffa: a Profit-able Enterprise

DATELINE:  #Hoffa Conspiracy

Young James Young James (not Jesse)!

Al Profit (a You-Tube personality named Alan Bradley) directs this muckraking report and also appears, billed as historian. However, he presents himself he manages to give a provocative look at the life, death, and influence of union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

We presume that the brash Profit sees himself as the Francis Ford Coppola of crime documentaries.

His film on Hoffa indicates there beats the heart of a really serious filmmaker under the bravado of a con man, #AlProfit. Alas, for Bradley, the need to make a living, shaking his booty and hawking T-shirts, transcends his movie making skills.

Putting aside his groupie-inducing personality, Profit’s film suggests that Hoffa hated Robert Kennedy and was instrumental in the murder of John F. Kennedy to remove Robert as a smug snobby nemesis. There is no suggestion that Hoffa could have orchestrated RFK’s killing.

Hoffa had ties to the mob certainly: including Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, notorious peripheral conspiracy figures in the Kennedy Assassinations. Hoffa was also tied into Robert Maheu (notorious #HowardHughes chief aide) and the CIA.

On top of that, Hoffa was indeed pardoned by Richard #Nixon, presuming that the union leader promised to be an FBI informant against the Mob.

James Hoffa was scheduled to appear in 1975 before the Church Committee on Assassinations when he disappeared, and two other mobsters were murdered shortly before telling what they knew about political killings.

Hoffa was associated with Jack Ruby, and Sam Giancana may have ties to Oswald.

Add this one to the raft of theories with disturbing credibility.

Endeavour 5.1 Returns to Egghead Crime

DATELINE: Thinkers Apply

 Shaun Evans Morse’s Code

Young Morse, now a detective sergeant at the Oxford, England, constabulary, returns for a fifth season of Endeavour. It is welcome murder mystery territory, adjacent to Agatha Christie Land in an episode called “Muse.”

Morse’s first name is Endeavour, though no one ever calls him by that. As played by cutie-pie Shaun Evans, he is an anti-social, opera-loving, crossword puzzle kind of guy. He is, according to one of his colleagues, “prickly.” We like him.

The series returns for its longest season, owing to its growing popularity, and its setting which is the Swinging 1960s. As this fifth season opens, we are on the edge of the historic assassination of Martin Luther King. It’s not a plot device, merely a marker of the times.

If there seems to be a flaw in the series, it is that the Beatles haircuts that were all the rage of Carnaby Street and London appear to be absent in the students of Oxford as shown here.

As for the murders in academia, we find ourselves once again mixed in with a dangerous group of scholars. Between organized crime and academic dons, Morse must weave his over-educated presence, fitting into neither world. He is amused when his superior, Fred Thursday (Roger Allam’s crusty vet) talks tough to thugs.

This season the usual supporting cast members all return—the business-oriented female cop (Dakota Blue Richards) who respects Morse and likely finds him attractive but unapproachable. She must stoically stand in the interrogation room while a prostitute suspect slices and dices Morse’s character with a scathing psychological analysis on the mark.

There is the coroner with his macabre humor, and the head honcho Anton Lesser as the standoffish commander of the precinct.

This case centers on a Faberge Egg, now on display and likely to be stolen when a series of odd murders occurs in conjunction with its showing before auction.

The suspects are always cleverly lined up, and the red herrings are never ahead of Morse’s eye.

This was a juicy, intelligent murder mystery to start the new season, which is rushing headlong into the world crises of the 1960s and 1970s. Every little movie is a gem and, in this case, a jolly good egghead story.

 

Flush Twice: Unspoken Story of The Toilet

DATELINE: The Real Poop!

toilet 

After years of Upstairs/Downstairs and Downton Abbey, looking for a water closet, we find the BBC on the job and off the pot.

Yes, your upper-crust bathroom humor is alive and well.

A British documentary called The Toilet: An Unspoken History actually speaks volumes in a dry wit fashion, providing all the poop for your chute. Having a staid British narrator makes the puns about toiletry all the more eye-rolling.

Our host travels around ancient ruins, poking his nose into latrines and down old drop-offs, making more double-entendre than in a Mae West film festival. Those openings in the castle wall provided more than a draft. Yes, this is an eye-opening experience.

Jolly old England’s history of the Crapper and Queen Elizabeth’s elaborate john are all examined up close. In some manor houses, the chamber pot was kept in the dining hall—and you didn’t have to miss a morsel of your meal.

You may find a discussion and visual aid of urinals less watered down. In some cultures, the urinal has a center bull’s eye of a bumble bee: in Latin the word for bee is ‘apis.’ There’s a joke in there somewhere.

From ornate porcelain bowls, to the outhouse with three seats, of differing sizes, The Toilet makes for a Goldilocks of choices. No, families did not commune together, but you could find that one size did not fit all. Hence, you looked for the right dumping point.

After a while, you may begin to say TMI: too much information about privy moments and sanitary selection, up to and beyond the sponge on a stick, or colored pieces of wool with an aloe vera soothing texture.

Sitting on the serious part, the documentary explains how Bill Gates and his foundation are looking to eliminate use of water in toilets—turning waste into zapped gas power. And, Third World countries are still dangerous places, owing to poor bathroom facilities.

Yes, this amusing documentary is on streaming service for those with the wherewithal to expel the impurities, leaving you flush with the bloom of a water closet and relieved of laughter.

 

 

 

 

 

Bayer Laid Bare: Aspirin’s History

DATELINE: History’s Big Headache

Eichengrun 1900 Arthur Eichengrun, circa 1900.

Who might have thought there was a political scandal behind the invention of aspirin? It was created by a group of chemists in Germany in 1897 for a company named Faben.

Since then, aspirin has become the “wonder drug” of the 20th century, and today its usage and importance continues to grow, lately taking on curative effects for heart disease and cancer.

Not all is rosy. The documentary A Bitter Pill presents us with the ugly story of how a major drug and pharmaceutical company joined hands with the Nazis and Hitler to blackball a Jewish scientist, largely responsible for creating aspirin. Their strategy works until today.

Arthur Eichengrun was Faben’s most important chemist and he oversaw a group of young workers, but the German company fell into the propaganda hands of Hitler. The big lie took hold and Eichengrun was erased and deleted from all records. He was not even allowed into a museum where aspirin was touted as a great “German” invention.

Worse yet, though Eichengrun invented many other important chemical effects, he never complained about being ignored over his work on aspirin. Then, the Nazis came to power and arrested him.

There in a concentration camp, he was recognized as an important German and given “preferred” treatment. He survived but had to swallow the bitter pill that others took credit for his work.

Faben executives were put on trial as Nazi collaborators and found guilty. It was not much solace to Eichengrun who survived life in a Nazi death camp where everyone around him died. Faben turned itself into Bayer aspirin—and went on to make billions of dollars around the world.

Today the crypto-Nazis running Bayer in Germany still refuse to acknowledge the creator of the aspirin. As many in America have learned, the big lie may survive them all: there was no Holocaust, and aspirin was created by a non-Jewish scientist.

You may feel some outrage over this, and then again, you may be a Trump supporter where the crypto-Nazi policies today are still at work. Those types hate this movie.

 

 

 

Westworld Grand Finale, Season 2

DATELINE:  Who knows?

 ben barnes.JPG

 Back in the Saddle Again!

If you expect us to save your sorry series Westworld, you are barking up the wrong portal.

The Mighty Jonathan Nolan has struck out, and there is no joy in Westworld 2.

Anyone who can explain what happened is a false prophet.

The season finale ran about ninety minutes, an epic of sorts in which Westworld turned into John Wayne’s Alamo. Yes, we might conclude that everyone died at the end. However, HBO has signed up for Season 3,  which may be ready in a couple of years, and by then we expect that loose ends will mean that more than a few cast members will cut loose.

Those who have long-term contracts may be back. Alas, your favorite’s fate may rest on the volume of fan mail that demands a return.

We thought for a moment we were returning to prequel-land where Ben Barnes as Logan, now an android, runs Westworld. However, there were more endings on this series finale than you might find in a Steven Spielberg movie.

No writer or producer wanted to end this thing.

William, aka Billy, turns out to be Billy Pilgrim. Yes, we expect that madman Ed Harris’s character will make a full recovery, and we expect that technicians will selectively pick from among the hosts all your favorite characters for re-programming.

We think too that in the chaotic confusion that a few other characters revealed themselves to be hosts, not human guests.

Of course, you can never be sure on this loony-tune series that what you saw is what actually happened.

Beware of those who tell you what really happened. Only Jonathan Nolan knows, and he isn’t telling.

 

Damnable Damrell’s Fire

DATELINE: Great Boston Fire

 Boston's Great Fire 1872 Fire.

Boston nearly burned to the ground one year after the Great Chicago Fire. Damrell’s Fire is an extraordinary documentary, partly for the realistic animation and non-sensational approach to the subject matter. It succinctly presents the issues, the problems, the solutions, in a fast-moving 50 minutes.

No movie was made about the Boston conflagration because Chief John S. Damrell, despite opposition from political Brahmins, saved the city from calamity in 1872.

Damrell was a man from the people. His father and grandfather were firefighters—and he was not rich, nor a member of the aristocracy of the Athens of America.

He was merely a man who studied fire science and applied pragmatic strategies to a firestorm. He argued against using gunpowder to blow up buildings, noting that it made for more kindling and swifter moving flames.

For years he warned the city of Boston that its water pipes were too narrow, and there was not enough energy to reach upper stories. He railed against building codes and mansard roofs. Yet, the City snobs thought they already had the best fire department in the nation.

It took idiocy of politicians, yet again, to wake the country up to the reasons the urban areas were becoming tinderboxes.

Boston put him under the microscope after the fire, only reluctantly acknowledging his hands-on insights were years ahead of assorted commissioners who were political hacks.

Damrell did not win accolades easily. His resignation was eventually forced by powerful enemies, though he best recommendations were adopted.

Boston’s Great Fire deserves one of the best documentaries and receives it.

 

 

 

Man in Orange: Cottage in Oil

DATELINE: Parallel Stories or Tag Teams?

cast that never appears together

Cast actually never appears together.

Not to be confused with dull plotting, Man in an Orange Shirt is a Masterpiece PBS drama.

The film is a complex examination of gay life across 60 years with a focus on two generations: the post-World War II veterans, and the modern 21st century.  If there is any relief here, it is that this is not your typical gay story about randy American teenagers, charging out of closets.

However, the angst spreads over the decades. The older generation keeps a stiff upper lip and sucks in their tears, whereas the contemporary gay men let it all out. The tale is about a gay banker and his artist lover, separated by social convention and a wife in the 1940s. His grandson is also in the closet with a different inability to be monogamous, and never knew about his grandfather.

The stories share Vanessa Redgrave as the difficult grandmother, a painting of the man in an orange shirt, and a remote love-nest cottage, shared by the two divergent generations.

Suffering seems to be hereditary in this tale. Vanessa Redgrave took the role because her father, Michael Redgrave, was gay. She understood the sturm und drang in the script.

The cast includes Redgrave, Julian Sands in the modern tale, with Laura Carmichael (of Downton Abbey), and James McArdle in the past. As always, you have the best actors in the field, unlike American gay casts of beauty pageant boys.

Since England has been about 50 years ahead of the United States on the subject of homosexuality, it seems to have smaller moments of fraught tension. Young men forced themselves into a bisexual mold, whether it fit or not, in the old days.

Today’s gay men must fight to be faithful, and open relationships appear to be compromises that make for overwrought drama.

This is not your teenage gay disco dolly gay movie. Thank heavens.