John Woo’s Manhunt: Not a Killer Film

Woo - Manhunt

“Manhunt” (currently streaming on Netflix) plays like a remake of “Hard-Boiled” (with Chinese actor Hanyu Zhang and Japan’s Masaharu Fukuyama as reluctant team-mates, replacing Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung) – with a few of Mr. Woo’s other, better films from his ’90s heyday thrown in for good measure. (Yes, there are white doves , one of Mr. Woo’s trademarks, but no Chow Yun-Fat this time around). Perhaps reviving “Hard-Boiled”  is not as cynical as it may seem. According to various sources, a remake of Mr. Woo’s Asian action classic “The Killer” is in the works (by film-maker Woo, of course)

The alleged (and only barely coherent) plot seems to be just an excuse to string together a series of action set pieces (Mr. Woo’s specialty) including a galvanizing speedboat chase (hmm! think I saw something like that in a Bond picture). The dialogue careens crazily (and for no apparent reason) between English and what I can only assume is Chinese and Japanese. (I am informed that most Asian exports utilize this practice but I still found it distracting. Thank NF for subtitles!)

Back in the Nineties Mr. Woo had highly paid Hollywood heroes like John Travolta and Nicolas Cage working for him and Quentin Tarantino raving about his skillz as an action auteur.

Woo - Broken Arrow

Then came “Windtalkers” and “Paycheck” and suddenly John Woo didn’t look so golden.

Oh well, there was always the burgeoning Asian market. But after several period dramas (the Red Cliff and The Crossing series) John Woo is back in America lensing action sequences that defy gravity and heroes that never seem to perish despite multiple wounds.

Critics with fond memories of the original “The Killer”and “A Better Tomorrow” and/or Hollywood hits like 1996’s “”Face/Off “and 1997’s “Broken Arrow” give this film a passing grade (67%) but the audience (14%) was less than enchanted.

Woo - Killler

And in this case I’d have to agree with the audience. Although, considering where Mr. Travolta and Mr. Cage’s careers have migrated in the meantime, perhaps a re-teaming with John Woo may be a good idea for all three.

Woo - Pic
John Woo

“Fauda”: No Hollywood Heroics Here


Fauda (an Israeli TV series streaming in North America on Netflix) is (in my opinion)  “gripping”. “compelling” and all those adjectives lobbed at vehicles that may or may not deserve it  on first viewing – Oslo, August 31st comes to mind. The series is by turns a thriller (a team of undercover Israeli ops in occupied Palestinian territories search for an infamous Arab terrorist), sexy (the team leader is having a fling  while his neglected wife is having an affair with one of his team-mates) and offers an insight into two cultures which may have more in common than they realize. And, although the series doesn’t dwell on it, Fauda shows how unreasoning hatred can be spread from one generation to another.

Filmed on location in Tel Aviv and the Gaza strip, this fearless action-adventure is the real deal. No Hollywood heroics, this 12 episode series was co-created by Lior Raz, who actually served time in an undercover unit. and Avi Issacharoff , a former reporter described by The Times of Israel as a “well-known military and Arab analyst.”

Mr. Raz also stars as Doron, the burly leader of the team. These soldiers must be prepared to pass as Arabs. In other words, they must walk the walk and talk the talk. Unfortunately, Doron is so good at his job that he falls in love (she is a Palestinian doctor and unaware of his Jewish identity).

fauda -laetitia eido
Laetitia Eido as Dr. Shirin El Abed in FAUDA (no, it’s not Anjelica Huston)

Even an event as innocuous as a wedding is not safe from politics  and when one of the members of the wedding party is killed, the revenge cycle starts anew.

The series may be unique in Israeli television history in that both Hebrew and  Arab “sides” get almost equal attention. Despite this the TV show is a hit in its homeland. The only viewer complaint seems to be that the writers have made the Hamas terrorist and his minions too sympathetic.)

There is no need for the actors to research their roles.  Haaretz (one of Israel’s national newspapers) praises Fauda as “everyday  reality that most Israelis prefer not to see up close.”

In fact, I’ll leave the final words to Haaretz contributor Michael Handelsaltz. The show takes its title from the Arabic word for chaos. It is also the code word for the unit to abort a mission. As Mr. Handelsaltz writes “hell keeps breaking loose around us as we watch.

fauda - languages




I Got it at the Library: “Certain Women”

Certain - Kelly
Film-maker/Professor Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt refuses to be rushed.

But you already know that if you have seen Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cut-Off. If you are a newcomer to her highly personal and (some might say) idiosyncratic art Certain Women may not be the best introduction. See the two films above first and then see Certain Women and you should feel right at home.

You may have read about the slow food movement. Well, Reichardt’s films are what has been called “slow cinema”. And she determines the pace. (She has edited, written and directed all of the films listed above.)

Certain - Maile

Based on a series of short stories by Montana author Maile Meloy (sister of Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, by the way) Certain Women offers low key character studies of  four women (Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone), their humdrum existences,  frustrations and small victories. 

Reichardt’s films, like the slow food movement perhaps, are an acquired taste. The film recived a 92% per cent critical approval on the site but fared less successfully among the audience reviewers (RT Audience Critic Phillip Price wrote in part “…  There is a fine line between being understated and simply being uninteresting …. “

But as Ms. Reichardt told Nigel Smith of “”‘:  “It all just seems everything is getting faster. Faster, faster, faster – we all want things faster. I guess there is a part of me that likes the pull against that … 

Certain - poster


Brian Auger – Rhymes with Blogger

Is he a jazz keyboardist? Is he a rock musician? Is he a r&b player? 
Even Brian Auger finds it difficult to put a peg on his particular brand of music.
I’ve always held by the Duke Ellington quote, that ‘there are only two kinds of music, good and bad’, he told the ‘get ready to rock’ website. “I’ve never been able to pigeonhole my music, because there are so many elements in it, right through to strong classical influences …..

Long after most of his keyboard-playing peers have either retired or gone to that Great Jukebox in the Sky, Mr. Auger continues to be in demand.  He has either toured, recorded or played on sessions with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Sonny Boy Williamson, to name just a few. (Whew! No wonder the beancounters cannot “pigeonhole” the music.) He even toured with Eric Burdon in the early 90s and recorded a live album with him in 1993.  

Raised in London, he came of age in England’s so-called Swingin’ Sixties. According to Spotify Mr. Auger first began listening to jazz on the American Armed Forces network  and his older brother’s record collection. He studied piano as a youngster. After hearing a Jimmy Smith album at a local record shop, Brian went to a music shop and ordered a Hammond organ according to the musicguy247 website.He began playing in London clubs while still in his teens and still has fond memories of those days: “We’d play Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, a sort of East Coast Bop outfit with a blues edge. We’d play Horace Silver stuff for example, and it was an easy switch to playing R&B ….” 
In 1965 he formed Steampacket with Julie Driscoll, Vic Briggs, John Baldry and a promising newcomer named Rod Stewart. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the original line-up of Steampacket didn’t last long
I first became aware of Brian Auger when he formed the group Trinity. With Julie Driscoll on vocals the group had an unexpected hit on the pop charts with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.”
In 1970 the keyboardist formed Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. The original line-up included drummer Robbie McIntosh and several other musicians who would later form the Average White Band of “Pick Up the Pieces” fame. I still have an original vinyl copy of Live Oblivion with the group’s classic version of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset.”
Mr. Auger and his family moved to the States in 1975.  (My record company and my agency were here in Los Angeles. I was bouncing up and down the I-5 for quite a long time, so I decided at a certain point that I’d come down here,” he recalled for the musicguy247 website,” Lee Michaels… another organ player, lives in Malibu, said “I’ve got this place for you. Why don’t you, the kids, and everybody, have a look at it and come down here . We eventually ended up transferring to Malibu … Then we decided we liked Venice. It was actually more like the place where I grew up in London. There were people on the street… kids… and stuff going on.” 
Oblivion Express was revived in 2005 with Brian, son Karma on drums, daughter Savannah on vocals, and Derek Frank on bass. 
FAMILY PORTRAIT: Karma Auger (top) Brian Auger (middle) and Savannah Grace Auger (bottom right)
In 2014 Brian Auger and Oblivion Express played at the KJAZZ festival in Los Angeles and toured in Japan and Europe with Karma Auger on drums, daughter Ali and Alex Ligertwood (former Oblivion Express and longtime Santana singer) on vocals, Yarone Levy on guitar, Les King on bass and Travis Carlton, Larry Carlton’s son, on bass.

It is difficult (if not impossible) to sum up Mr. Auger’s diverse career in a sentence.  With thirty albums to his name, ten of which charted on Billboard, Grammy nominations and sell-out concerts Mr. Auger has nothing left to prove and new horizons in music to explore.(He recently recorded with Latin rockers El Chicano and toured with Italian superstar Zucchero)

Whatever the style of music, the improvisation he first experienced in jazz plays a key role in his ongoing creativity. As he tells, “It’s always important. It’s absolutely important. The reason I keep as much room for solos is because improvisation is where everything grows, all new ideas.” 

To hear some of Brian Auger’s music  click on the link below for a two-part podcast saluting Mr. Auger’s artistry over the decades:

Dirk Goes Gently Into that Good Night

Samuel Barnett (right) plays Dirk Gently and Elijah Wood is his “assistant


So this happened …. I watched the first few episodes of DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY and I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. Something about it, though, reminded me of the sublime madness that piloted the now ancient BBC radio series “The Goon Show” to heights of absurdity. The plot of Dirk Gently eventually makes sense (well, sort of) but that really isn’t the point. I’m talking/writing/posting about the recent American version here, not the British adaptation.

Series creator (and chief writer) Max Landis

Series creator Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis, of An American Werewolf in London fame) based the show on the novels by Douglas Adams. Although people that have read the books claim the current series (available in North America on Netflix) has little in common with the original works, that rarefied air of whimsy that seems to be an English specialty is in keeping with the spirit of the author’s work.

The late Mr.Adams (who died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in 2001) was the author of A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a rabid fan of the venerable British TV series Doctor Who (in fact, Adams wrote several episodes) and once collaborated on a script with future Monty Python star Graham Chapman.

It’s a safe bet that if you appreciated any of the above, you’ll be hooked by Dirk Gently. Others have been cast in the role but Brit TV actor Sam Barnett (Penny Dreadful) is such a natural in the American version that I can’t imagine another actor as the title character. And Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, as his “assistant”, Todd  Brotzman, has the same bemused expression as viewers  will probably wear during the first few episodes of this oddball series. The cast also includes the delightful Jade Eshete, the delectable Hannah Marks and the amazing Fiona Dourif (daughter of memorably offbeat actor Brad Dourif.)

Fiona Dourif – Carrying On The Family Tradition

Luke Cage Unbound!

I still have a jones for those old blaxploitation flicks. (In fact, as I write this, I still have copies of Pam Grier flicks like Foxy Brown and Coffy, loved her work in Jackie Brown, read her memoir, watched The L Word just for her).


That’s one of the reasons I like the new Netflix drama Luke Cage.  To me, it is like one of those great old blaxploitation flicks with a modern edge. Shucks, it even has The Delfonics (or what’s left of them) in one episode.

Mike Colter as the titular hero has the menace but not the malevolence of the drug dealer he portrayed to such chilling effect on CBS-TV’s The Good Wife (as Lemond Bishop, Mr. Colter didn’t have to crack heads. His presence alone spoke volumes.)

Kudos also to a sterling cast. I certainly  couldn’t know  Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes would make such a good villain after watching him in a completely different role in Netflix’s House of Cards.  And the indomitable Alfre Woodard as Cottonmoth’s corrupt cousin, Mariah Dillard, gets to show off her badass side. 

Mahershalah Ali as Cottonmouth and Alfre Woodard as Ms. Dillard in Luke Cage

Everything about this show is impeccable  – congrats to series creator Cheo  Hodari Coker and company for a block bustin’ adaptation of the underappreciated Marvel comic. (Now all we need is a Pam Grier cameo in Season 2.)

Mike Colter and the “real” Luke Cage (courtesy of Marvel Comics.)

True Confessions; Life as a Pirate Radio DJ (Part 2)

At one point in my duties as a disc jockey/broadcaster/host/producer/whatever I was in charge of an early morning (midnight – 3am) shift called “The Soft Music Show”. As the title indicates the tracks selected were designed to help the average Israeli/kibbutz volunteer fall asleep or at least relax after the pressures of the day. And, as you can guess, the average Israeli faced a number of pressures during the average day (although, in all fairness, there was not a single bomb blast, shooting or other act of violence during my six month stay in Israel – three months on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv and three months employed by the Voice of Peace.)

Our station breaks included the phrase "From somewhere in the Mediterranean ....' (even though we could see the lights of Tel Aviv twinkling from our location anchored in international waters.)
Our station breaks included the phrase “From somewhere in the Mediterranean ….’ (even though we could see the lights of Tel Aviv twinkling from our location anchored in international waters.)

One morning while working “The Soft Music Show” I heard a thump on the outside of the hull. I assumed it was an especially vigorous wave and went on listening to Chet Baker crooning “She Was Too Good To Me”. Then I heard another thump. I cued up “Angel Eyes” by Jack Jones (we still had turntables back in those days.) Then there was another thump (more insistent this time.)

I wearily climbed the ladder that snaked out of the hold where the control room was located and set foot on the deck. A few feet away I saw the outlines of another craft silhouetted against the night sky. There seemed to be guns of some sort mounted above the cabin or maybe I just had an overactive imagination. However, I didn’t imagine figures dancing and waving. Suddenly an object that looked like a grenade sailed across from the other ship. I hit the deck amid sounds of laughter wafting on the breeze.

I gingerly picked myself up and walked over to the greenish colored object. It turned out to be an avocado with a note stuck in it which read, in scrawled English: “Please play ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart
and ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.’ by Joe Cocker. ”

The latter tune didn’t exactly fit the format but I was not about to argue. Later, a veteran VOP DJ told me that since The Voice of Peace did not have phone service this was the manner in which some of the listeners delivered requests. That same ship got my attention about a week later (on the same shift) and threw me a bottle of wine. I caught it this time (and drank most of it).

To Be Continued