DATELINE: Literary Road Trips
Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.
With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.
These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.
The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.
Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.
They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.
These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).
The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.
Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.
After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.
DATELINE: Rarity, Rom-Com!
Oh, my, a mere trifle, a little movie satire of rom-coms.
It isn’t brutal, but is gently sweet and it manages to convey its cynical attitude through the big girl Rebel Wilson as a wall-flower overlooked by friends, coworkers, and society as a whole. She grows up learning she is not Julia Roberts.
We kept waiting for a new version of the classic tune Isn’t It Romantic,that was the key song in its own movie in the 1930s and in Sabrina in the 1950s. Well, it never shows up, though there are several hilarious and giant musical numbers that give the entire cast a chance to show off skills not otherwise employed.
She is unlucky in love, and then is mugged: banging her head, to awaken in an alternate universe of romantic comedy, the film genre she despises so deeply. It’s a movie stage version of her life, complete with musical interludes, a gay sidekick, and a wardrobe for the big size.
Throw in Liam Hemsworth as a billionaire playboy in counterpoint to the average nerd who adores her at work, and you have all the ingredients for a classic silly comedy. She fears she will end up in a slo-mo climax—and indeed, what she wishes not for.
Everything is right, not overbearing, and the sweetness is within the cursing cynicism of Rebel Wilson who decries this romantic version of the Big Apple and all the lovely people in it.
If you need a diversion nowadays—and who doesn’t with coronavirus and masks everywhere—then this ditty will hit the spot more than ever before. We might have disparaged it a year ago, but today, we embraced its escapist charm.
Depending on how bad the news becomes, this movie will be nearby for a second viewing, the only antidote to the horrors of a pandemic.
DATELINE: A Sleeper to Wake You Up!
We had the pleasure of watching a Dutch movie that was not insipid, nor overly obvious. Just Friends is a gay movie with a light touch.
Subtitles are secondary to the beautiful production and images, and Josha Stradowsk is stunning to look at, and he meets a Syrian played by Majd Mardo. They have chemistry and are delightful in their growing friendship.
The usual angst over coming out and family conflict are truly not part of the sophisticated tale. They are sexy, chic, and well-to-do. There are other conflicts that impede their relations, but Majd takes a job as housekeeper at Josha’s grandmother.
She is a delight too, as matchmaker and wise old lady.
These are intelligent young men, and their maturity makes for a story that appeals to all viewers. Josha is the one who has a hobby with his drone, and he sees Madj surfing from above. It is intriguing how connections are made.
Without a doubt, you seldom meet people in character movies that you really would like to spend time with, but these two are pleasant dinner companions.
What impediments to their friendship that must be overcome are not melodramatic and work out, making your time with this story fly like the drone, over the Netherlands and its beautiful world.
If you’ve been stung by horrible gay-themed movies of all stripes, you need your faith in a good film restored. This is the antidote.
DATELINE: Unexpected Slapstick
Laughton & Costello!
Almost ten years after his low-budget pirate on the bounding sea as Captain Kidd and 20 years after Bligh’s Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Laughton jumped at the chance to reprise Captain Kidd. He had also the opportunity to reprise Henry VIII in a movie with Bette Davis as his daughter, Queen Elizabeth. They famously greeted each other as “Father,” and “Daughter,” off screen too.
Now, the irascible Laughton would poke fun at himself and his performance as Captain Kidd confronting scene-stealer emeritus Lou Costello. Perhaps that was the true challenge for Laughton and his Oscar-level talent. He was about to show he could play vaudeville with the best of them.
Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd was another in a long series of features in which the comic duo came across monsters of cinema, historical figures, and pratfalls of comedy.
Dignity knows nothing of being a performer with an audience eating out of their backhand of talent. Laughton was a comedian at heart and could steal a scene before Costello could roll an eye.
We were surprised at how many pratfalls Lou Costello gave. Any barrel he hid within was blown up. The big surprise was Laughton: he took the falls without a stuntman. Chairs were pulled out from under him and he plopped onto the floor, and he fell face first into sand in another. It was noteworthy.
If ever there was something unseemly, it was that this comic version of 1953 was in Technicolor, which was never the case for the earlier Laughton masterpieces. If there was a silver lining on the silver screen of the 1950s, it was that garish color fit the bill. There were plenty of explosions among the song and dance routines.
If ever there was a chance to make a side-trip to Oak Island and bury a treasure, this little pirate satire gave us a vision of outright lunacy. A map in the opening credits could be Oak Island.
You start off with a musical introduction to Laughton as the crew sings and dances on their ship, and Kidd sneers at the mention of women. Yup, Laughton had to love this.
We were mostly appalled.
DATELINE: Murder in the 21st Century
Andress in Undress?
The expiration date on using The Tenth Victim probably ended in the 20thcentury.
A social satire about murder in the future, this Italian film has all the earmarks of Fellini and Antonioni. It is excessive, flamboyant, and beautifully filmed. Its main conceit was that in the 21stcentury America, violence would be rampant and institutionalized as a game.
You would have hunters and the hunted. Alas, nothing racial or insulting to minorities occurs. In fact, there is not a minority to be seen in a colorful landscape meant to be the United States.
The male victim is a highly successful hunter with a dozen kills to his credit, but now the computer system has turned the tables and sent a stunningly beautiful woman out to get him. He does not know her identity, and that is part of the game. Everyone dresses in eye-popping fashion, and the future is squeaky clean, streets bright and cheery.
The cast is exemplary for the time: Marcello Mastroianni bleaches his hair blond (it was big that year as Terence Stamp did it too), and he is pursued by the American killer Ursula Andress. Hunh? You mean it’s not Anita Ekberg? Or Sophia Loren?
The sets are spectacular, and the music is jazz out of the classic Fifties mode, what you’d expect in a Euro-entertainment of the period.
As for the plot, it is neither violent enough, bloody enough, or shocking enough to make it controversial. It is played for light-hearted satire, and there is not a drop of blood to be seen.
Other touches indicate that comic books are great literature in America in the 21stcentury, collected like first-edition Francis Bacon.
In 1965, this flashy film grabbed them at the art house. Today it is more akin to a flash in the pan, though we are reluctant to pan something that is original, singular, and cute.
DATELINE: Surviving Show Business
Terry McNally & Eddie Albee back when….
In all my connections to Broadway writers, Terrence McNally never came up much.
Now James Kirkwood would talk about everyone in show biz! We gossiped about them all. Yet, there is no memory of him mentioning McNally.
Oh, they knew of each other: gay writers winning friends in great theater. Kirkwood certainly knew Edward Albee who was McNally’s first important boyfriend, but McNally may have been too openly gay for Jim Kirkwood. It’s the only conclusion to make.
Every Act of Lifeis a documentary on the life of McNally who worked with every actor imaginable since the death of Jim Kirkwood in 1989, and that may be the survival of your reputation in show business. Richard Thomas, Nathan Lane, Rita Moreno, F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, all share memories of their careers and personal ties to McNally and his funny and varied plays.
All Jim’s closest actor friends, like Sal Mineo, are long gone. One young writer once said to me: “Wow, I didn’t think any of Kirkwood’s friends were still alive.”
McNally survived, though people like Robert Drivas, his tempestuous and exotic actor boyfriend after Albee, died of AIDS in 1985 in the first wave of notable show business deaths. Drivas was a closet case, and yet it was open and flamboyant McNally who still lives nearly forty years later.
There is no accounting for survival, but you have to admire it when it shows up at your door. The film on the life of McNally is likely a tonic and a fizz for gay people who need superior role models. If you die too soon, you can’t be much of a mentor. If Jim Kirkwood were here, I might say you should never have told me to write your autobiography and play coy about your gay life. Yet, he did.
McNally, had I known him, would never have said such a thing, but those plays and characters never quite grabbed like Jim Kirkwood’s creations.
Oh, it’s too late now to do much about it, but we can celebrate the life of Terrence McNally, albeit a tad on the late side.
Dr. William Russo wrote Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony, available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.
DATELINE: Jesus Express to Penthouse?
A Wailing Wall!
There was a time in history when it was not a politically smart move to be called The King of the Jews. It could end your career, but Donald Trump is delighted to be given the title by a Jewish supporter: there is no word yet whether this guy is a Pharisee, or just an idiot.
Jesus found the title a little onerous when the governor of a local province took issue with it.
As for Trump, he has no worries that King Herod or his son Herod Antipas (no, not antipasto) will take umbrage. Trump thinks his political opponents are the antipastos.
Herod, as you may recall from your history, murdered the Innocents, killing newborn babies. Trump merely puts kids in dog cages and denies them flu shots. How many die is yet to be determined.
Herod Antipas was the womanizer who like young girls, like Trump’s dear friend Jeffrey Epstein: you may recall that Antipas asked pre-adolescent Salome to dance without her seven veils—and then gave her the head of Barrack Obama, or someone like that.
So, the latest king of Israel would rather be a kingpin in Greenland where he denies he would build a gaudy skyscraper along the glaciers. He has even cancelled talks with Denmark because Erik the Red wanted Trump towers all over his island; sort of a thousand year old Green Plan.
We thought there was a law against American presidents accepting foreign titles of royalty, but no matter when it comes to Trump: he may not be president much longer if the insanity clause of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution is invoked.
Any Jew who votes Democratic is a traitor to God and Country if you hear the King of Jews in his latest tirade. Bernie Sanders, son of a Jewish immigrant, takes issue with the comment that all Jews who vote against Trump ought to be shot at sunrise by white supremacists.
Jesus denied he was King of the Jews, but Trump is not having any second thoughts. He revels in the notion that he can walk on water and change Greenland’s ice water into gold.
DATELINE: Electrifying Discovery
Not $50, Counterfeit Ben!
The first episode of the first season of Secrets of the Dead did not disappoint. Called “Ben Franklin’s Bones,” this historical documentary examined a horror story that seemed to emerge in the 1990s when excavators started to dig in the cellar of a Westminster house where Ben Franklin lived in for fifteen years.
Located in London, where he was an ambassador to Parliament for the colonies around 1760, Franklin rented rooms from a “second family” as he called them.
Police and detectives were called to the cellar where workers discovered a treasure trove (if that’s a bonanza) of many human bones. They needed a medical examiner to tell them how old these were, and if they died mysteriously.
Of course, the bones dated from the time that Franklin lived in the house. The noted Renaissance American was active in all kinds of research, membership in the Royal Society as part of his life of scholarship in London. However, no one thought he could be a serial killer. Call in the forensic experts.
And he wasn’t. The bones belonged to people (men, women, and children, birds and turtles) that were already dead. The bones were finely sawed—including the tops of skulls.
It seemed a bit creepy that Franklin could have anything to do with this: yet, the daughter of the household had married a doctor named Hewson who was a noted surgeon. He had presented papers on his research using mercury and turtles—both of which were in the cellar hole. The house, once renovated, became a museum to Franklin’s years in London.
Franklin was a close friend of the doctor and had sponsored his entry into the Royal Society. It would seem that even Ben Franklin had been connected to “Resurrection Men,” the notorious body snatchers of the era of Enlightenment. They provided cadavers stolen from cemeteries to medical men.
It wasn’t a crime to steal a body, only its clothes or jewelry.
The tease of indicting Franklin made for an alarming, if not suspenseful, study of life on Craven Street where the great man resided. All in all, this was a delightful look at a little-known facet of Ben’s amazing life.
DATELINE: Republic Con Job?
This is definitely not the week to be a Republican in Baltimore.
Without a doubt, this is not the week to be a Republican in Maryland.
We suspect this is not the week to be a Republican if you are black.
You are not a Republican if you are among the rat-infested in Kushnerville, Baltimore.
You probably don’t want to call yourself a Republican if you are a decent, kindhearted person who likes people.
You probably don’t want to call yourself a Republican if you are not a white nationalist neo-Nazi .
In all likelihood you are not a Republican if you believe in democracy and free elections
When Trump claims he is not a racist, you likely believe him if you are a Republican.
If you know anything about history, you may not call yourself a Republican.
If you believe Abraham Lincoln would be ashamed of the Republican party today, you are likely not a Republican.
If you believe Donald Trump is the most corrupt president in American history, you are definitely not a Republican.
If you don’t think Trump is a lockstepping, goose-stepping Nazi, you are definitely a rank and file Republican.
If you are a white Red Sox fan, you likely are a Republican.
If you think Shakespeare’s Richard III is not about Trump, you are a Republican.
If you feel like you are being drummed out of your party by racists, You are probably a Republican with a conscience. But chances are, you’re about to switch your registration to anything with human decency—And that definitely means you are not a Republican much longer.
DATELINE: No Ghouls Here!
Class of 1912.
With deep interest and fascination, we awaited a chance to read the insider study called Haunted Bowdoin College by David R. Francis, senior techie over in the Brunswick, Maine, area.
We found a general overview of the tours often conducted (over three hours) along the various sites of the campus. Since the College goes back to the start of the 19th century and has maintained its historical integrity, we found the breakdown done by various locations.
Our main intention was to see if graduate Richard Frazar White (who died on his graduation gift—a first-class trip on the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic) might have encountered some of the spirits during his time at the College.
Alas, the book is short on example: often taking the reader off-campus to ancillary paranormal history. There are a few nuggets, such as the Hubbard Stacks, a darkly unchanged library haunt.
Richard White loved libraries: he likely spent much time at the library dedicated to illustrious grads, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The book recounts their thematic work but does not indicate they learned first-hand about supernatural at Bowdoin.
Richard White came from a haunted background. He was born and grew up in Winchendon Springs in the family manse that was a house of many gables (and at least one murdered peddler). His family renovated an old tavern along the carriage route where murder was most foul in 1826.
Richard’s great-grandfather, Zadoc Long, wrote a poem in the Longfellow mold about the family’s haunted house. So, Richard had a long background in ghostly encounters—and perhaps was not much impressed with Bowdoin’s resident spirits.
Oddly enough, many of the reported ghosts are women—at an all-male college until the late 20th century. It seems girls of the town couldn’t resist the Bowdoin men—and paid an eternal price for it.
The work is slight, but the author has peppered the tales with his research photos—and those who matriculated a century ago may be still there. Each year the classes had their photos taken on the steps of the art museum, but we didn’t find any ghostly takers—except for Richard who has returned to Winchendon Springs.
At least one former exchange student from Bowdoin, now living in Brazil, told me that he traces his own haunted life from his days in Maine and the fatal attraction spirits seem to have for the ivy-halls.
DATELINE: No Free Lunch Anywhere?
This week we heard a comment that we stopped writing about sports because of “free agency.” Well, no, not exactly, though it is an appalling condition in society in general.
You have to understand that lack of loyalty and love of money is rampant across America, not just in basketball where Avery Bradley has signed up to re-join Rajon Rondo, and Kyrie Irving left the place he swore he would stay in front of a million fans.
We have seen “free agency” at work everywhere. If there had been DNA tests thirty years ago, we would have exercised free agency and gone to Harvard University to work as a professor: we have learned we are a descendant of Miles Standish and Massasoit (for whom Massachusetts was named). If we knew we had more Native American in us than Elizabeth Warren, we might even be running for President today.
We have seen free agency in the legal profession. The same lawyers who work for Donald Trump also work for Jeffrey Epstein. You go from billionaire to billionaire. Is it more money? Better opportunity? More challenges? It is not loyalty to a brand.
You might switch banks for better interest rates, or switch social media to be with different influencers.
In recent years we have experienced our primary care doctor whom we loved, move to the Sun Belt, where she said in her letter of departure to patients, there were “more opportunities.” To what? Cure cancer? Lower blood pressure? Deal with fewer insurance forms?
This year our dentist, who had a beautiful office and seemed happy, left for “more opportunities.” That likely means “more cavities to fill,” or “fewer teeth to pull,” or just where weather allows for fewer snow days.
Free agency is everywhere in society today, and it simply means people can go where they want, for whatever dumb reason strikes their limited fancy. We have an endemic pandemic epidemic of movers and shakers in sports, law, medicine, education, and politics.
Heaven help our society. We need a new prayer, and it must be time to move on from the Lord’s Prayer. Hell, no, I won’t go.
DATELINE: Poirot Dandy!
We took in an old TV chestnut from almost twenty years ago, Evil Under the Sun, from the eighth season of the off and on series of David Suchet as it attempted to film every Agatha Christie episode.
This one had the delight of Poirot being sent off to a health spa in Devon to recover from his obese condition.
Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) insisted that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) accompany him. The classic regulars of the show are here in their element, perhaps beyond their element. Miss Lemon is sent by Poirot all around the countryside to do legwork for the case. Usually, Miss Lemon claims to have filing to do—and must decline any other assignments.
The other stand-up regular is Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) more respectful of Poirot in later seasons. Though he and Hastings are now semi-regular dinner companions, they are always murder investigators.
The health spa is filled with suspicious and dubious figures who claim the place is the opposite of health. Its torturous steam boxes and daft clientele are perfect candidates for murder and murder victim.
It becomes increasingly obvious to Poirot that the place is ripe for crime, even as he is served various vegetable drink concoctions.
Sometimes murder flows trippingly on Christie’s contrived plots, though this one clunks to a finish, it is still fun to behold. We can see the roots of disgust in Poirot at the human condition, though this low-budget, low-star power TV version is a delight compared to the overblown movie with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.
Most of this is the result of a delicious ensemble cast and a deep dedication to the color scheme of Art Deco.
Gathering all the suspects in the hotel dining room for a big Reveal loses none of its luster for mystery fans. It’s a gem.
DATELINE: Learning Curve Bends Light Waves!
The Internet seems to teach us the impossible is not improbable, Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding.
We just read that Prince’s memoirs will be published posthumously. You mean he is not a vampire?
Another article tells us that Twitter is not America. Well, we already figured that out when 33% of our followers on Twitter are from Turkey and apparently do not speak English.
A new study on the concept of BS has proven to be overblown. Rich guys tend to exaggerate their abilities. Having more money apparently still does not make up for having little confidence and less talent. We even wonder if self-designations like “rich” are suspect.
We also found a journalistic piece that states that Twitter fuels anxiety. Well, that is one explanation for the Twitter-storms of Donald Trump.
A business named “mailchimp” claims to make marketing easy. Monkey see; monkey may do, as long as you have the money to pay the monkey to dance to the organ grinder’s tune.
Some people believe that slave-owner and man who turned down Lincoln to save the Union, one Robert E. Lee, was a kindly soul and gentle man. We call them white nationalists, but General Lee is not just a motor vehicle in a hick TV series. He is down by the levee with Kate Smith, watching their statues be torn down by the new majority in America, the Minority.
After watching the History Channel TV series, Project Blue Book, the United States military has decided to junk the term UFO and call those flying saucers, “unidentified aerial phenomena,” but a rose by any other name will still be high-flying space creatures.
Low-income people are apparently more devastated by scams on the Internet than rich people. When you’ve got nothing to lose, you lose everything, according to experts.
The latest notion of pollution is microplastics, which seem to be so small that they are floating around cities and landing in lakes, though you can’t see them. It is no longer smoke that gets in your eyes.
Ten minutes on the Internet has undermined all knowledge you thought you had avoided in school.
DATELINE: What’s New, Pussycat?
A short time ago we took a security camera into the library of our haunted house and set it up to learn what goes bump in the night. We never go into the library after dusk.
So, when the security camera app rang on our cell phone at 5am, telling us there was movement and heat activation, we gulped hard and opened up the image. No burglars were stomping around.
We saw shooting fireflies. In ghost-hunter business parlance, these are orbs, the electrical impulses and energy of spirits going hither and yon.
Two orbs shot up from the floor on either side of the room. Our attention was distracted. It took a trained ghost hunter, Eric Metzler to see more orbs and a couple of flashes.
We asked the attending spirits, Richard and Addie, to show an orb, they often obliged, though I was distracted and did not see them.
Richard is our mentor spirit from Titanic, and Addie Horton was head housekeeper of the family mansion. She lived next door most of her life but seems to have taken up residence in our study off the library in the after-life.
The only spirit in the house that has appeared to me is Richard’s cat. And, this large tom-cat black-shadow walked out of a wall next to a bookcase and blithely pranced into the kitchen. I ran after, but it evaporated.
I know it is Richard’s cat because one of the light-worker psychics who visited my home sensed a ghostly cat. Three psychics were in agreement that he belonged to Richard and served as his proxy, reporting back to my guardian spirit when he was apparently elsewhere.
They did not know his name, only that it was odd and began with a “G.” That made sense because Richard and his elder brother Percy made up a language—and the cat name was likely part of it.
When my friend Jose watched the video I sent, he called to my attention two bright almond eyes in the dark. He said they flashed or blinked on and off instantly gone.
I thought it might be a reflection off the bookcase.
I went to the library in daylight to see the approximate height of two shelves—the same size as the cat I had seen several years earlier. What is even more peculiar is that pro ghost hunter Eric Metzler used filters to try to bring the image out of the dark.
He found it alien-like. When I checked what that bulbous nose could be in the animal face, I saw that it was on the book binding—a round red circle that just fell under the cat eyes.
The book was written by a friend, Susan Kelly, on the Boston Strangler. It was a small photo of Albert de Salvo in a red circle. How amusing that it seemed to be the cat’s nose.
Not that I needed a reason to avoid the library at night, but now here it was.