Queen: Mercury Rising: Predating the Movie

 DATELINE: Long Live the Champion!

Champion Real Mercury!

From 2011, a biographical documentary on Freddie Mercury may well have been the instrument to inspire the movie story of his life called Bohemian Rhapsody.

In advertisements and descriptions, Mercury has been called one of the most beloved entertainers of the 20th century:  we presume that puts him in the esteemed company of Sophie Tucker, Judy Garland, and Lassie.

We love dramatizations of the basic facts elicited in this life-story of a musical icon.

What the Zanzibar native named Farrouk really transcended was the crossover of glam-rock and Bowie with some kind of sports anthem creator. He was his most important self-made titan/champion with an overbite.

Yes, let’s face it, Queen and Mercury created a couple of songs that have lived as the victory songs for every winning sports teams—and probably shall continue so for decades ahead.

That’s no mean feat.

Mercury as not Freddie, but a self-creation of the Raj and Brit music waves of the 1960s and 1970s. He certainly helped to establish MTV and music videos—and they gave him fame.

His coming-out at the time of Studio 54 meant he was in the forerunning of gay icons, and among the victims of a generation who died in the early horror of HIV infection. He was carefree and did not flinch from his lifestyle, even if it might kill him.

The movie with Rami Malek could not have found a better embodiment of Mercury than the wide-eyed actor. And, we will examine that film in due time. In the meantime, if you need a more objective look at his life, we recommend Mercury Rising, the story of Queen by those who were closest.

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David: Overexposed Masterpiece

DATELINE: For All the Marbles

David

 Michelangelo’s Boy!

The Private Life of a Masterpiece is a documentary narrated by the late Tim Piggott-Smith a decade ago.

You might not realize what a controversial and interesting history and life that block of marble chiseled by Michelangelo has had over centuries.

Years before the great Renaissance upstart put his talent to the statue, a couple of artists tried and failed to carve out an iconic image. They failed, mainly because the superior marble was only two feet thick in places. It was meant to be one piece, a marvel in itself, and nearly impossible.

David is the height of three men and weighs about the poundage of two dozen. Indeed, David is the real Goliath. He was originally meant to be posed atop a church in Florence, but he was hijacked for political reasons to face the threat of the Medici family, looking southward on palazzo level. After all, he was a killer.

As a result, David has suffered, and his face seems to mirror that. He has been stoned, broken, allowed to be covered in mold, and has lost some detail.

Yet, he remains more than ever the commercial icon of the 20th century, more popular today than ever before: he is the epitome of modern man. From the get-go, he has been a role model and object of love; nearly half of Florentines in the 16th century were likely bisexual men. They adored him.

Like any great work of art, he is subject to interpretation on many levels with each passing era. Surprisingly, he was not appreciated by Victorians unless he was covered with a fig leaf. Yep, they had one ready-made for coverups when required.

Entertaining and educational, this is a one-hour history that you may watch with never-averted eyes.

 

Invisible Wells Classic

DATELINE: Whale of a Film

Rains

When James Whale chose to do his next amusing gothic horror, it turned out to be H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist who becomes invisible. It has now become a trite metaphor, but this is the original—and therein hangs some fascination. The Invisible Man came out in 1933.

To play a man who won’t be seen for most of the film, Whale chose Claude Rains whose voice manages to carry his performance. And Jack Pierce’s makeup is the notion of a wig, fake nose, dark glasses, and a bandaged mummy wrap to hide the lack of face.

Rains would go on to become one of the most familiar of second-banana stars—stealing movies like Casablanca in every scene they gave him.

For a film made in the early 1930s, the delightful special effects of invisibility set a standard that today still cannot be achieved. There is something in the primitive, expressionistic style that gives the unwrapping of Rains to scare the locals with such hilarious and horrific power.

As Dr. Jack Griffin, Rains gives a couple of classic homicidal maniac speeches about murdering people for the good of science, while his lovely girlfriend Gloria Stuart (of Titanic fame about 60 years later) frets about. Whale nixed Rains as Dr. Praetorius in the Bride of Frankenstein because of on-set difficulties between them.

Henry Travers is the dutiful sober-sided scientist. Best known as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is less befuddled here. As the loud, half-crazed tavern owner, there is Una O’Connor, shrieking whenever there is a chance.

We also saw Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in one of his earliest roles as the man with the bicycle. He does a wonderful low-brow Brit accent. Also there is John Carradine, father of Keith and David, as a minor character on the telephone.

Alas, Whale was saddled with many American actors whose regionalisms are completely out of place in a small English town. The village boys are decidedly American in tone.

Whales frequently films shorty Rains from the knees looking upward, giving him a frightful height, and the sets are spectacular and sumptuous, a sign that the budgets had improved for the director of Frankenstein.

 

Whatever its shortcomings, this remains an impressive achievement in cinema history.

 

 

Swan Dive on Trump

DATELINE: Wile E. Coyote with Orange Hair?

Pelosi Bronx cheer.jpeg Pelosi’s Bronx Cheer?

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauded President Trump on finishing his epic State of the Union with 82 minutes of cram-packed disinformation, she added something to the lexicon of American culture.

We used to have the Bronx Cheer, a rather crude and effective means of making its recipient know how low he has fallen.

You cannot smell a Bronx Cheer, only hear it. You cannot smell a Pelosi clapback, but its visual image will resonate on Twitter and social media forever.

Now, when you want to skewer a blowhard, you point the middle fingers in your pointed hands and make little slaps like a jaw opening and closing on a fool on the hill’s neck.

Among hundreds of political observers—and Trump himself—and countless viewers and re-watching viewers, Mrs. Pelosi stuck it to Trump who had to stand there and take it. His mendacious speechifying was over. Now he had to look like the man with egg on his face or yellow feathers in his mouth. However, the canary just ate him.

Speaker Pelosi looked like Tweety Pie, sitting in the gilded cage, and about to tell us that, indeed, she saw “a Putty Tat.” Yes, indeed, like Sylvester, Mr. Trump just was given his quota of suffering succotash.

If she had been the Road Runner, she would have stuck out her tongue and beeped at him before dashing off and leaving the man and his moment conjoined forever as the biggest damned fool in history.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the priceless expression of the Speaker is visible, and only the back of a head of fake hair comes from the Trump vantage.

If you believe in emblematic moments, you know that Marshall McLuhan is laughing somewhere in the universe.

Andy Warhol at the Super Bowl, 2019

 DATELINE: Great Art Restoration!

Warhol & Whopper

Warhol Takes on Whopper.

We know that iconic artist Andy Warhol enjoyed pop culture, and perhaps he’d be intrigued with the Super Bowl antics every year.

He might be as surprised as we were to find him in a commercial, a highly expensive proposition, endorsing Burger King.

You might think the little scene was filmed by Andy himself at his Factory, but it was merely an appearance he made in 1984 for another director. Here is Andy in 2019, thirty years after he died, now on the big stage of Super Bowl party night.

At first we thought it was a body double—something Warhol was fond of using. He looked thin, but in good shape, making it a little difficult to discern when this was made. He had done all kinds of things—like a Love Boat episode and a cameo in an Elizabeth Taylor movie back in the 1970s.

This filmed scene was after the Studio 54 craze, and he sits quietly, well-dressed as always, his messy wig appropriately placed, and crinkling, opens a bag for Burger King.

We heard he was disappointed to find it was not going to be a Big Mac, but he was always game for product accessibility.

Perhaps the most curious part of his eating the burger, as that is the total action, is that he lifts the top of the bun off the sandwich as if he will pour some of the Heinz ketchup on it. Instead, he has difficulty pouring it onto the wrapper.

Like a cookie in coffee, he dunks the burger in the tomato paste which he even painted in one of his inspired moments.

Though the commercial was only a few seconds, the actual film was a tad longer. It showed him discarding the top of the burger and folding it over for another swipe at the Heinz. All his actions are fastidious. It’s on Youtube for those interested.

We hope his estate and museum was well-paid for this appearance. We doubt he would have been a Patriot fan. In all likelihood, only a fraction of viewers even understood the identity of the slight man in the burger commercial.

Million Pound Note, or Man with a Million

DATELINE:  My Fair Laddie?

wilfred & greg

Col. Pickering Meets Atticus Finch.

If you are looking for John Beresford Tipton to be handing out checks for a million smackeroos, this forgotten movie is way beyond your expectation. It’s actually a Mark Twain story written in 1893, one of his last ‘Americans abroad’ tales.

Here the American need not do much to blow away the fawning British aristocracy, in love with American money.

This gem came after Roman Holiday, but before Moby Dick, when Gregory Peck stayed in England to do justice to this low-budget marvel.

Two aristocratic British brothers make a bet that they can pull a Pygmalion and Importance of Being Earnest tale using a vagabond American sailor as their Liza Doolittle.

Enter Peck to do business with, whoa, is that Wilfred Hyde-White doing an audition for Colonel Pickering? You better believe the bettor. It’s like killing two mockingbirds with one million pounds.

We only wish the other brother had been Rex Harrison. Then, we would have had a film premonition of “my fair laddie.”  As it is, we have the formula that George Bernard Shaw would soon adapt to his famous play. He never found the time and the Twain to meet personally. So, he took a notion.

Yet, this makes My Fair Lady a delicious ripoff, especially since Audrey Hepburn had just made a classic movie with Peck before he shot this one.

Twain outdid Oscar Wilde here, as the poor American schmuck must not spend his million-pound note for one month to win the bet. Thank heavens for the fake media that goes on a toot to help Peck.

Because American audiences in the early 1950s wouldn’t know a pound note from a B-flat, this movie had a different American title: Man with a Million, but a million pounds was likely about five million dollars in 1893.

This film is charming, and in Technicolor, and stars Gregory Peck. What more could you ask?

 

 

 

 

Surrogates Again

DATELINE: AI Goes Bad

bee-strung surrogates Young Bruce Replicant!

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

All the robotic replicants have bee-stung pouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Relics: The Quest & Question

DATELINE: Shoddy Documentary

Pia's 1898 negative photo

Another French documentary tackles the tricky question of the history of relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

With so many collectible and miraculous items over two centuries, it is hard to believe that no documentary has given itself time to debunk them all. Holy Relics: the Quest aims high, but we must confess that we are not happy with those who want to gut crypto-science by fallacies.

This show wants so badly to expose the frauds that it commits fraud in itself.

There is no shortage of Jesus relics: his shroud, the nails, the true cross,  the crown of thorns, his sepulcher, the lance that pierced him, even samples of his blood. They have all been saved and sold for profit and political gain by the faithful and the greedy.

Taking each in turn, the documentary presents false information: claiming the shroud is done by dyes and blood in Medieval times, the so-called Italian scientist fails to recognize that the tests done proved it was not a dye or paint on the shroud.

The film does explain “contact relics” which are items of nails, cloth, or wood , that touched the original. According to Vatican laws, these are as good as originals. So, there are over 100 known nails (only 3 were used on Jesus –featuring one spike for both feet, but the documentary claims 4 nails). Pieces of wood from the True Cross are innumerable.

There is even rare footage from inside the tomb in Jerusalem where the body of Jesus rested for three days. It doesn’t look too special. And, the stone slab on which the body of Jesus was washed is a proven replacement item. It does not seem to make any difference for worshippers.

Yet, in its brevity as a documentary, items are omitted: the lance that pierced Jesus’ side is given only a cursory mention—and there is no mention of a bloody cloth in Spain that was used to wrap around the face of Jesus.

So, the film has more holes in it than they even realize if their zealotry to debunk all religious icons.

As much as there may be a need for a catalogue of iconic relics on Jesus, this show is not it.

Watership Upside Down in Bugsy Demeanor?

DATELINE: Hare-brained cartoons?

Watership Down Bugs & Daffy, or B’rer Rabbits?

Two movies about rabbits we have seen recently are cartoons. Of course, by today’s high-falutin’ standards, they are now called ‘animation’. Watership Down, based on a children’s book, is a think-piece, now remade with a couple of big-name Brit stars.

The other film we saw was a compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons from the Golden Age of 1942-43. The gulf between these two film works transcends streaming DVD and enters the realm of unreal hare-brains.

Stars Nick Hoult and James MacAvoy have definite chemistry as actors together, as B’rer Rabbits, in Watership Down. They play the voices of Hazel and Fiver. You may not see it, but you can surely hear their rapport.

The new version of the animated story has shown up as a Netflix movie series. Unlike Disney animation, in which characters can be distinguished, this film has a bunch of hares and bunny rabbits that are clones. After a while, we are trying to determine accents and vocalizations to tell if we are listening to Nick Hoult or James McAvoy.

We love both actors, and that’s the long and short of it.

We also do not love four hours of animation to tell a story. Alas, even broken into 4 episodic chunks tested our mettle. On the other hand, the eight Warner Brothers cartoons are about six minutes each. They are also racist, filled with fat hatred, and feature Bugs in drag often, but can’t end soon enough.

Though Warner cartoons are claimed to be highly restored, they grow increasingly unwatchable as color fades and clarity blurs. On the other hand, you can see every fur-laced lash of the hares of the new animation in Watership, if you really care enough.

The Biblical tones and literary pretensions of one are undercut in the other’s attempt to play down to Brooklyn rabbit accents and fat Elmer Fudd. Yes, Fudd has not yet gone on a diet in these early films—and even wears a corset in two cartoons.

If there is a big difference in the films, one has personality unleashed, and the other is less brash.

We may find that in each lesson it may be that teachable moments are less successful in cartoon form. It undercuts and underscores at the same time. However, in the age of superheroes and Marvel Comics, we suspect this is the new Dickensian epic-style.

We’d just like to see Hoult and McAvoy in human form. Give us a real movie please.

The Twonky: 1st Artificial-Intelligence Movie

DATELINE:  Non-conformist Weirdo Stuff !

twonky To Twonk or Not to Twonk?

When the protagonist of your movie is a pedantic philosophy professor (the ubiquitous Hans Conreid) in 1952, you likely had a bomb of a movie on your hands. When star Conreid said this to director Arch Oboler, the temperamental auteur noted he needed a tax write-off for the year anyhow.

The Twonky was based on a Lewis Padgett short story, one of the earliest visionaries to see computers and AI as the controlling force of the future.

Robbie the Robot and Gort were the mechanical men of the age (though a primitive slave robot was at work in Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire in 1935). It was the Twonky, a creature from the future who took up life in a modern TV set.

As eggheads decried television as a wasteland back in the 1950s, it is all the more ironic that the future visitor and time traveler would end up as an animated TV set.

Though Professor Conreid finds it distasteful to be at the mercy of a trained computer that tries to fulfill every wish, it would today make for a great weekly series on TV. The Twonky is there to make life easier for humans—and to monitor them, depriving privacy and free choice.

Its comedic elements are frightful, and the man who sees it all to clearly is the college football coach, an old geyser played by Billy Lynn. He drops pearls of insight and knocks the hero for not knowing his science fiction.

Arch Oboler’s weird film is decades ahead of its time, criticized for its humor and poor technical effects, the movie is actually on the marvelous side. We enjoyed watching the Twonky climb stairs, throttle a TV repairman, and strip a bill collector down to the birthday suit.

The best moment for us, as former college professor, was when the doctor offered Professor Conreid a sedative. He demurred as he had to write his college class lecture that night—to which the doctor noted, “Oh, well, then you don’t need a sedative.”

Rupert, aka Xmas Wish

DATELINE: Two Orders of Ham.

durante

One of the most forgotten of low-budget Christmas movies is a strange concoction from 1950. It has been titled Rupert the Great, and when colorized in recent years in India, was re-christened, A Christmas Wish.

Whatever you call it, this is a bizarre film billed as “heart-warming,” but it is an odd duck about an odder squirrel.

Yes, Great Rupert is a Puppetoon squirrel in show biz (made from stop-action). He dances in kilts and is highly intelligent. The film comes from the mind and production of the great George Pal. Alas, Rupert is a mere second banana in a second-rate movie directed by Irving Pichel.

The star is non-stop action. It is the inimitable Jimmy Durante who pulls out all the stops.

Perhaps kids in 1950 were more easily entertained.

However, this does not prevent us from watching in utter fascination. Jimmy Durante pretends to be Danny Amendola, not the former Patriots player, but some kind of vaudeville comic. Don’t be fooled: it’s Jimmy Durante playing himself.

If you ever wondered why Durante never starred in more movies, this one reveals the amazing truth. He steals every scene, wipes out other performances, blows away any semblance of plot, and dominates every moment of the film.

Not even an animated squirrel can stand up to Jimmy. He is a happening, an event, a force of nature.

Terry Moore was supposed to star with top-billing, her major film role after Mighty Joe Young, another animated creature by George Pal’s protégé Ray Harryhausen. Miss Moore was too cute to worry about animals. Durante was another matter.

The film was re-tailored to allow Durante to do his usual patter and sing “Jingle Bells,” in one scene at the piano.

Even Rupert the Great never dared to show his rodent face when Durante was about. This is a weak Christmas film, but a work of stunning film history. Thus, we have rendered this year’s Xmas movie review moot.

 

When a Mouse Sees a Ghost

DATELINE: Paranormal Spirit Cat

humane mousetrap Humane mousetrap?

What happens if a mouse meets a ghost?

In our haunted home, psychics who visited this summer told of detecting a spirit cat who prowls the house. He once belonged to a guardian ghost who stays in our home.

We have seen the spirit cat only once in the den. Out of the wall next to a bookcase, the large black shadow cat slowly crawled out.

We watched as he pranced into the kitchen. When wits were gathered, we went to see where he went. It had disappeared.

This week we had another odd experience when at 7am with all lights on and light breaking through the window, we found a single mouse sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Instead of running like a bullet to some portal of entry, he just sat there, moving only a few inches as we stood over him.

He wobbled like a drunk. There are no poisons in the house, so we retrieved a humane mouse trap and put it before him.

Stunned, he stepped part-way into the little cube. We nudged him all the way with a gentle push of the foot. He was taken outside to be released into a field of snow. He ran off with speed, as far from the house as he could.

What had terrorized him and left him in a state of shock?

Well, of course, we thought of our ghost cat. He once belonged (psychics tell us) to a former resident who died on the Titanic. Richard White was only 21 when he perished, but he too guards the house near his birthplace—and final resting spot–here in Winchendon Springs.

Had this mouse seen the spirit cat of my resident ghost? More than a few friends insist it is likely.

William Russo has written several books on paranormal activity in his home, including Chess-mate from Titanic and Living on Mill Circle. Both are available as e-book and paperback works from Amazon.com.

 

Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.

From Russia (With Kisses & Flowers)

DATELINE: Spy Extravaganza

Lotte Lenya Lets Bond Have It

Lotte Lenya & Sean Connery in Fight Royale!

No, From Russia with Love is not about a date between Trump and Putin. It’s the 1963 movie about James Bond, based on Ian Fleming’s hilarious novels, and starring Sean Connery.

With its iconic music, beautiful location photography, glorious Technicolor, and outrageous performances, it is a hoot and a half, even fifty years after its original release. Every set up will have your mouth agape and fighting back laughs.

If you want to know how a movie can stand up to time, take a look: even with its anachronistic and silly car phones, beepers, and lasers. These were cutting edge back then.

Not half the entertainment is in its two foremost early Bond villains: Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya.

Shaw’s tow-headed muscle guy was a forerunner of Dolph Lundgren’s Soviet superman from Rocky. It was the start of a decade of over-the-top villains, culminating with Quint from Jaws.

No overwhelming technology or special effects had yet to take hold in the well-produced low-budget Bond movies. However, a regrettable act or two occurs, with Connery slugging a woman. The producers also steal Hitchcock’s North by Northwest crop duster chase with a helicopter going after Bond.

Pipsqueak septuagenarian Lotte Lenya steals every scene, as she did as the procuress in Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Her final confrontation, a fight with James Bond, is a kick or two to the head. She gives him a run for his secret agent style. You can’t beat an old lady fighting James Bond in grand style.

The Gardener: Northwest of Eden

DATELINE:  Exquisite Nature Manipulated?

moon bridge Moon Bridge!

Should this exquisite documentary be called The Garden? No, it is named for the man who single-handedly created 20 acres of pure beauty. It’s The Gardener.

Frank Cabot is not your garden variety gardener. His family owned miles of land in Quebec going back to the 1840s. He is a patrician horticulturalist, but he designed his gardens methodically as a labor of love.

He also had the resources and independent wealth to fulfill his creative impulses to build on his mother’s estate. He wanted something with magic, mystery, passion, and surprise.

When you visit his garden, you will be stunned. The private estate is open several weekends each summer for small public tours. No group meets another. Frank Cabot believed the best wanderers in his garden went silently and in a solitary state

His book of the 1990s inspired the film entitled The Gardener.

You will hear his last interview as he explained why he made paths that led to other motifs in his horticultural symphony or sonnet. Having spent time in Japan during World War II, he made several expensive replicas of tea rooms, with staircase waterfalls.

There are bridges of all sorts, like the oriental Moon Bridge that mirrors a circle in the pool it crosses. You will step into intimate little alcoves of flowers and shrubs that open up to vistas that spread for miles.

The film is surely publicity for the actual garden, for who will not want to experience the majesty and philosophical transcending moments in person.

You will whet your appetite for a trip to Eden, called Les Quartes Vents, from a viewing of this magnificent documentary.