Cybill’s Defining Role: Daisy Miller

DATELINE: Top-Notch Henry James

cybill Perfectly Cybill!

As mentor to the star, director, creative  force, and whiz kid, young Peter Bogdonavich took dry Henry James and made a fast-moving, emotionally-moving film of a famous novella, Daisy Miller.

You could not find a more perfect American girl than Cybill Shepherd as Daisy: unspoiled, direct, and completely at odds with social conventions in 19th century Europe.

Caught between women like her scatter-brained mother (Cloris Leachman) and an American social doyen Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan), Daisy does not stand a chance if she ignores or simply teases Frederick Winterbourne (brilliant young Barry Brown, too soon gone to a premature grave), an American who is a permanent resident of Europe.

Whether it’s going on a tourist trip to Byron’s famous castle without chaperone, or worse, going to the place of the viral Roman fever at the Colosseum, Daisy is hell-bent on living her way. Extraordinary location filming makes this a treat.

Winterbourne resists the notion that her scandalous behavior is anything bad. Yet, he cannot convince others in his social set—and crumbles in their heavy pressure.

Rich Americans policed themselves to try to avoid any ugly American image. Fast-talking Daisy, flirtatious and coy, breaks all the rules in her nouveau riche niche.

If Daisy learns there is a social convention, she is hell-bent on testing its merits. What she does not expect is that she will be shunned by the Americans living abroad. To a social butterfly, as Cybill Shepherd delineates to a T, this is far more damaging than she expects.

Perhaps this quintessential American girl could bear all if only Winterbourne remained on her side. He is sorely tested, and ultimately as the laconic Barry Brown narrates, he has lived too long in foreign places.

Alas, it is Brown, the actor, who is gone too soon, based on the promise of this extraordinary film performance.

 

 

 

Slaughter-House 5: Major Disappointment

 DATELINE: So it goes!

michael sacks    Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim. 

It sounds like a sequel to itself, and that’s how it goes. Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novella is a man unstuck in time.

Slaughter-House 5 goes nowhere repeatedly and quickly.

It might have been a traditional sci-fi fantasy, but author Vonnegut achieved some kind of immortality by dealing with timeless repetitive living by a man abducted by aliens—and “forced” to randomly re-live his hideous life, from surviving plane crashes to surviving the horror of Dresden’s bombing in 1945.

Michael Sacks plays Billy Pilgrim, an all-seeing optometrist and is the epitome of what you’d want in the actor: he is timeless and can play callow youth, and middle-aged crazy. Yet, Sacks provided mostly promise unfulfilled. He never rose above this, his greatest role. He became stuck in the mud as much as anything else.

Other names in the 1972 film became more household:  Valerie Perrine, Perry King, Eugene Roche, Sorrell Booke, Ron Liebman, John Dehner, and on and on. The film is a litany of familiar faces of the age.

Music provided by Glenn Gould is Bach on harpsichord and limited to the alien scenes, which seems par for the course of the universe.

This was meant to be a great film based on a great book, but it’s not.

You might forget the movie if you don’t realize what the stakes were:  Michael Sacks borders and teeters in his lead role from wide-eyed innocent to bewildered twit. He seems perfect for abduction and living in a zoo on another planet.

Billy goes from hapless POW to hapless toy for creatures from a fourth dimension. He slips from a Lion’s Club speech to a POW camp assembly in a blink. He goes from here to there in a hop of time travel that Einstein would envy.

“So it goes” was the existential motto and motif for the book Slaughter House 5, but you will never hear it once in this film. That may tell you the failings and inadequacies of the movie. So it goes, indeed.

Hitler’s Concrete to Hide Lost Gold?

DATELINE: Lava Flows Over the Gold

HItler greets Yamashita Hitler Greets Yamashita, 1940.

The limited first season of this fascinating little reality treasure hunt show, Lost Gold of World War II, is moving to a climax that will make us yearn for the second season, if History Channel so agrees.

Like the Oak Island show, this one is driven by weather. Cold snow ends the season for Nova Scotia, and on Luzon Island, the monsoon season will bring this hunt to a finish for now.

So, they are racing like old race horses. Indeed, when they bring in a machine to dig down 40 feet, the old leader Struzzieri notes that the equipment is older than he—and nearly as shaky. We’re talking 70 years or more.

We wonder why they would guarantee problems with faulty equipment. Of course, the ground penetrating radar spares no expense—with an expert flown in from the States to find a void or tunnel.

Then, they hit a snag: not the old drill bit, but the old typhoon, Category 5, second worst in history.  Peter Struzzieri assures us that Grandpa is okay after the storm, though they never really go to check on their key witness.

It is a mere one-day delay.

About 40 feet down, they hit what they theorize is Nazi concrete, bunker strength. They even have old colorized newsreel footage of Hitler and Yamashita shaking hands. We cannot imagine that pure racist Fuhrer would give the inferior Japanese anything.

Indeed, when Bingo travels to Minnesota for a concrete expert, he blows up the theory by stating they hit lava, rather common in the Philippines.

Our intrepid American hunters disbelieve this, and they drill down harder than the Lagina brothers—and we are left with a draining hole leading to—you guessed it—a tunnel.

Hmmm. And only one episode left for the first season….

Lost at Sea: USS Partridge

DATELINE: Death on the Diamond!

USS PartridgeUSS Partridge.

My life seems to be surrounded by sea disasters.

Each person must reach a point in life where they have to take stock:  it may be time for me to sell some of the most cherished items that I have held in my safeguard for years.

Though I may hope my home will be a modern pyramid, taken care of by survivors, kept in pristine condition as I have set it up, that is not likely.

Things will be sold, or worse, thrown away and thought to be worthless by those trying to liquidate the property quickly. Oh, there is some vanity in thinking that my home, once owned by the victims of the RMS Titanic and haunted by their associates (Richard’s cat and his housekeeper Addie), deserves to be kept like Lizzie Borden’s house, in historical decoration forever, frozen in timelessness.

It would be pretty to think so.

The reality is something else, and I have put up for auction on eBay one item that particularly strikes me as precious in a lost, sad way.

I have a rare first-edition book, not even signed by author Cortland Fitzsimmons. It is his 1934 baseball murder mystery, made into a charming little movie with Robert Young that same year.

The book is special, not because of its American subject of baseball, but because of its own survivor history.

Stamped on the inside cover in fading blue print are the words “DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, Bureau of Navigation.”  Under that is another stamp, “Library, U.S.S. Partridge.”

That ship was commissioned in 1919, but never knew what heroism would be asked of it. During World War II, the ship became a mine-sweeper, fairly dangerous duty. Indeed, it was hit by a torpedo in 1944, and was brought to an ignominious end. En route to Normandy, France, after D-Day, a German E-Boat fatally attacked the ship.

The Partridge sank in 35 minutes on July 29, 1944. Thirty-five of 90 crew members were killed, and many others were seriously injured.

We don’t know who saved the book from the ship’s library, or why. We don’t know how many sailors on that boat read the book for pleasure and escape during their dangerous duties of the War. We cannot say that the spirits of heroic men are attached to this item. We know only that for a time, it fell under my protection.

Now, I must find another home for it and another who will care as much as did I. It does leave me with an empty feeling, which seems to be a bittersweet aspect of growing old.

Lost Gold’s Backdoor Episode

DATELINE: Grandpa Knows Best. 

Luzon meeting Luzon Meeting of the Braintrust?

Finally, in the fifth episode of trudging through the thick, humid, sticky jungle, the intrepid American heroes of this series admitted there were bugs eating them alive. Lost Gold of World War II holds your attention.

We saw sweat dripping several times over the past few weeks as they chop through thick underbrush, bemoaning how the Japanese soldiers managed.

Well, we heard in a throwaway line that prisoners of war and others did this heavy work—and were paid by being entombed in the mine shafts where the gold was hidden.

We were also bemused to see the true oldsters of the expedition going out on this show:  Peter Struzzieri, the ostensible brains back at basecamp and a spry 70 year old, and Martin Flagg, a less spry senior expert in Japanese secret society symbols were dragged out.

Peter Casey was clearly concerned that this was an arduous trek. But, the so-called carved turtle rock was something they must behold: it’s alleged to be a direction marker to a backdoor to the gold.

We did laugh when Struzzieri noted that the younger guys would go on ahead. No one is under 50. If you stick around for the closing credits, you will note that these scenes are all “re-enacted,” for cameras.

You also have to marvel when they go to “grandpa” who is the ancient source of wisdom (sort of their version of Dan Blankenship on Oak Island).

Like our gold diggers on Oak Island, these guys like to jump to conclusions. Thank heavens that Bingo Minerva is back in Texas, taking a shell casing to a military historian.

The ammo is actually dating from 1908 and American intervention in the Spanish-American conflict of 1898. If you want rationalizing at its best, the searchers speculate that World War II Japanese soldiers were using old American ammo by war’s end.

Oh, well, this stuff is still fun.

 

Death in April at Mill Circle

 DATELINE: Mr. Ralph Arrives at Stage Depot in Sky.

 

A weekend In mid-April in Boston can be overwhelming:  the calendar will fill up quickly with Boston’s Marathon weekend, Boston’s Patriots Day when the British evacuated Beantown. There is also the anniversary of Wilkes Booth shooting Abe Lincoln, and the commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic. Throw in Palm Sunday, and your datebook is overwhelmed.

Our burdens increased at Mill Circle on this 107th anniversary of Titanic’s meltdown, and the 154th year after Booth killed the President at Ford’s.

We noticed on the cold, rainy morning that Mr. Ralph, the giant shire horse who lives in our Great Barn, did not emerge with the other four stablemates.

The shire horse is bigger than a Clydesdale. Mr. Ralph clocked in at 2000 pounds and 32 years of age. Earlier this week, he had fallen down in the corral and took nearly half-an-hour to regain his footing. He kept resting his head back on the grass.

We know he was overworked even in retirement. Earlier that morning, he had been saddled and ridden for an hour.

Now on a day that we usually only make a short trip to Riverside Cemetery to visit Richard in his grave and his mother Edith in an unmarked area next to him, we had commotion next door.

We had never seen a super-large horse ambulance, brought in from some visiting town, vets, rescue workers, and assorted onlookers. A dozen cars and pickups clogged our small Mill Circle. It took a while for them to put straps on Mr. Ralph, put a stretcher under him, and have a truck drag his body out of the barn.

Yes, it was undignified for the glorious old beast. Yet, it was better than being stewed up for glue or gelatin. The other horses in the corral were agitated by the event.

As much of respect could be found when a gray tarp was put over his massive dead lump of mottled golden brown hide.

When we returned from our pilgrimage to Richard’s grave, they were taking each of the other four horses over to Mr. Ralph to show them their fallen comrade. The tarp was lifted, and each horse spent as much time as he wanted at the body. It was a strange ritual: one horse wanted nothing much to do with it.  A mini-horse mate spent considerable time looking and nodding.

Two others kept bending down to sniff him and raise their heads. It was a repeated action.

Later we learned that Mr. Ralph would be buried behind the Great Barn of Mill Circle, perhaps near the grave of the unknown murdered peddler of 1826 whose burial spot remains unknown. His ghost haunts the barn. Perhaps Ralph saw him during his tenure at Mill Circle.

Lost Gold Beneath the Gorilla Head

 DATELINE: 4th Episode of History Channel Series

marker Rock Gorilla Carving!

Continuing to be intriguing, Lost Gold of World War II has hit upon a modern, but dangerous, quest for lost treasure. Yamashita’s gold may have been secretly buried 75 years ago, but there are plenty of dangers today.

Like Oak Island, the treasure hunters are discovering plenty of potential flood gates and other dangers. We worry about them far more than other shows because these guys are all fat and old.

It occurred to us that they are not missing many meals. And, the latest one-shot expert is a diver from the American military thirty years ago. The search team leaders seem unable to find anyone except old soldiers who never die but put on big pot bellies.

These oldsters are scrambling up and down slippery rocks in humid weather—and it shows, thus giving us concerns that might not exist if these hunters were 25 years younger.

Their discovery of more markers carved into the overgrown jungle leaves proves that someone felt compelled to leave notations to tease treasure hunters.

In the meantime, back in California, Bingo has discovered one of the coins the team found was from 1980, but the other is clearly pre-1940.

One huge marker, a gorilla head, is carved beneath a waterfall, and it looks upon another smaller marker that designates treasure boxes. So, they take a chance to go down to the pool below.

Beneath that may be a cave entrance. Technology continues to save the day:  poles that emit sounds to indicate metal 18 feet below the surface—and pumps to empty out a pool in short time.

If events seem to be moving swiftly and with more results than on Oak Island, it’s true. Only if the show is renewed for another season will we reach the drag out levels of Oak Island.

So far, this is neatly paced and has us enthralled.

 

 

Dead Give Nothing Away: Lost Gold

DATELINE:  Japanese Gold of WWII

Yamashita HQ  General Yamashita’s Headquarters in Luzon.

The third episode of this intriguing series Lost Gold of World War II  is called, “Dead Giveaway,” in which you come to realize that the Japanese soldiers spent more time setting up fake treasure vaults than real ones.

Here too comes the admission that they have no idea what the treasure may be: it may not be gold. So much for truth in advertising on History Channel.

The series Lost Gold of World War II continues to be compelling, but we are not sure if History Channel will choose to re-new it for a second season. No word has filtered out yet.

The efforts to lead treasure hunters to their doom take on even more bizarre elements. From cyanide in bottles that shatter when a shovel hits them, to flood tunnels that spew forth torrents of water when breached, to now bombs under rocks that are moved carelessly.

If they went to all this trouble to dissuade, if not kill seekers of the treasure, it must be something special.

General Titicaca, oh, we mean Yamashita, apparently made his HQ in one of the remote caverns on the mountain where the hunters are excavating. He held out for almost 3 weeks after the Japanese surrender because he had unfinished business in burying treasure.

The group brings in a highly regards ordinance expert who examines the cavern where they were about to dig—and notes there are potato mashers buried here too. Hand grenades.

The dead giveaways are easy to find treasure spots that are meant to blow up the searcher.

There is real suspense here—and a sense that something may be uncovered, which gives this show a genuine chill factor. 

  

Born Again Ratzi!

DATELINE: Fake Birther!

birther

Never Trust a Birther Certificate!

Owing to the vagaries of the universe, what goes around usually ends up biting you on the big fat t-Rump.

So it is for President Trump who has now admitted that his father’s birth certificate is a big fat fake.

Well, that’s the fake news. The real news is that this birther controversy hints that Fred Trump was not an American after all.

He was born in the heartland of Der Fatherland. Yes, sir, Fred, he was a dyed-in-the-wool Teutonic member of the Austrian crypto-Nazi brigade.

It appears that Fred Trump and Adolph Hitler share some heritage. You could not put a thin piece of paper, like a birth certificate, between them. Hitler and Trump, Sr., were Austrian members of a fascist youth movement.

Three times lately, Mr. Trump, the lesser, has stated that he is proud of his crypto-Nazi Austrian father who was not born in the Bronx after all.

It seems the birth certificate showed by Fred all those years was manufactured by the same people who gave you Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Only a few years separated Die Fuhrer and Fred. As far as we can tell, the Austrian foothills were the place that Fred Trump learned all he taught his son about how to goose-step.

We expect that Donald Trump will soon be giving his father’s favorite Fatherland salute.

Now we know that the dog whistle you don’t hear is a call to all neo-Nazi and crypto-Nazis. Trump is proud of his white supremacist background.

Who would have guessed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gronk Goes to the Movies

 DATELINE: Goodbye, NFL! Hello, Hollywood!

Gronk

New England’s loss is the world of movies’ gain.

We may be one of the few football Patriots fans who is happy that Rob Gronkowski has made the decision to leave the NFL for a new career in films.

As a star of the gridiron, breaking all kinds of records over nine seasons, Gronk has spent nearly all available time working his screen image. He has appeared in a handful of small-budget movies and many television commercials.

His face, pliable and likeable, has become a brand unto itself. He has hobnobbed with stars and calls himself “One-Take Gronk,” meaning he only makes one take to print for the final roll of film. The film illiterate Boston sports media have no idea about his movie career, or abilities in that regard.

We are happy because the next time Gronk is tackled by five monsters, he will not hurt his back or break a leg bone. Right before they tackle him, the director will yell, “Cut!” and his body double will step in to take the blows.

Gronk is a movie natural. We expect to see him in a new Mel Gibson action movie as the season of football starts. Put away the cleats. He is taking on movie weapons for his next big run.

With his huge physical presence, he will find a happy set of movie parts in the big genres of the 21st century: either sophomoric comedy, or cartoon superhero epics. He can play a lummox hero or a hard-nosed villain with aplomb. See Ted.

He has sold his Boston properties and his next home likely will be poolside in Beverly Hills: like so many young people, he will have had his youthful years in Boston, but will begin his career and important life work elsewhere.

For years Gronky has graced our blogs with his antics. He will continue to do so—but now as a film personality. He won’t be playing Hamlet, but he will be entertaining.

Oh, we expect that some enterprising producer will team up Tom Brady and Gronk again in some sports film. Didn’t Babe Ruth charmingly play himself in Pride of the Yankees?  Didn’t Muhammed Ali play himself in several films? Gronk will always be himself in every movie role.

 

Terminator: Not a Dead End

DATELINE: More Arnold Around Corner!

Arnold No Spring Chicken, He’s Back in 2019!

If they ever make a musical version, it will feature the tune, “the Cyborg Couldn’t Say NO.”  The first Terminator movie is now 35 years old, and it’s holding up well enough that Arnold is returning this year to reprise his role in a new 2019 movie, reunited with his waitress target, Sarah (Linda Hamilton).

In the original, Ahhnold was catapulted to fame beyond his wildest hopes. In a monosyllabic role that gave him a range up to 3 monosyllables, he simply snarled his way through James Cameron script as the bad robot.

Interestingly, Michael Biehn had second billing. He was one of those good-looking cookie-cutter actors of the 1980s. He belongs in a new movie, but where is he now?

The film starts with a bang: beautiful naked men come raining down out of lightning bolts. It was dishy to see Arnold naked, though he later claimed it was not he. What a pity. He is young and quite attractive here.

As for the 35-year old movie: it features phone books, phone booths, and wide-open gun shops where you can pick up assault rifles of your choice.

There are no PCs, let alone GPS.

Police in Los Angeles are dumbfounded, if not struck dumb, when a woman named Sarah Connor is repeatedly murdered. Well, every Sarah in the book. They missed the unlisted ones.

It seems the cyborgs from the future (like all AI to follow) believe it’s time to rid the world of that problem: human beings. The future in this movie is 2029, and we better start counting our blessings.

The movie features a shoot-out in a disco nightclub, which is quite contemporary, and it features too an office massacre when the Terminator goes into a police station and kills 20 to 30 policemen.

Of all the distinctive qualities, it most resembles a film made a decade earlier called Westworld, wherein the cyborg goes on a rampage, is burned to a cast- iron skeleton and still keeps going.

It also features a female hero survivor in the person of the director’s ex-wife, Linda Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

Stolen Treasure in the Philippines!

DATELINE:  Sleeping Trillion Bucks

lost gold

More gold and art treasures hidden by a rapacious Japanese general? Yes, and this time it’s somewhere on an island in the Philippines where nutcases go hand-in-hand with gold-diggers. We did not see any Laginas associated with this History channel’s latest example of a series bit by the Goldbug.

The first episode is called “Death on the Mountain.”

The optimists at History Channel are calling this Season 1. Or, perhaps they are pessimists who expect multiple season frustrations. In any case, the betting is that we will have hit the mother-lode of ratings. So, gold in the logo is running downhill like lava.

General Yamashita of the Emperor’s army buried all kinds of goodies with booby traps that only American experts can discover and disarm. Well, if that isn’t hubris, then what motivates the diggers on Oak Island?

Ostensibly, there is a trillion dollars in modern terms of loot. In the first episode, they do find a tunnel and poison gas bottles ready to crack open with a feather’s touch. Previous treasure hunters unwittingly set these off and died.

The Lost Gold of World War II  has only been missing for 75 years or so, unlike the Oak Island treasure that clocks in at 200+ years. Yet, there is clear evidence that the Luzon treasure is priceless.

The hunters of loot are Americans of different generations and races, but lifelong seekers who seem to know about something most Americans never heard of. They insist Roosevelt, Truman, and Churchill, all knew about it, as does the CIA.

They locate a “witness” named Grandpa, for the obvious reason he is ancient. He is the parallel to the late Dan Blankenship of Oak Island: Grandpa is a witness who saw the activity as a boy in the 1940s. He points to dangerous expanse that might take ten seasons to traverse, which is great if the series is a hit.

We are indeed in the territory of one proverbial needle in a haystack. The island has nearly 200 reported treasure sites.

Old film clips are nicely colorized, and there is much history here to learn, and that makes this program at least worth additional attention.

Action is fairly fast-paced initially, with modern equipment and technology enhancing the search: the cast also has a researcher at Stanford, finding old maps and matching to satellite views of the terrain.

This series looks like a goodie! We are hooked already.

 

 

 

Clinging to the Titanic!

 DATELINE: More Paranormal Events!

With the 107th anniversary of the horrid sinking of the great ship Titanic, we have found our house more active in terms of spirit noise and incidents.

For those who have followed these adventures in books like Tales of a Titanic Family and Chess-Mate from Titanic, as well as Ghosts of Mill Circle, you know that Winchendon Springs is an unusual hot spot when it comes to the famous luxury liner.

Two residents were born and lived here, owned the houses around the mineral spring that once flowed here. Percival and Richard White, father and son, were booked on the Titanic in first-class D deck. Both perished.

Only 21-year old son Richard’s body was found and his mother buried him nearby.

Without knowing at first Richard’s connection to this house, we bought it in 2013. And, immediately it became apparent we were not alone. Many psychics visited the house and reported that Richard had followed me here. He may have led me here and influenced my purchase.

He has told psychics he feels safe here in this house as my guest.

My own obsession with Titanic, inadvertent at first, has grown upon learning Richard White is here, as my guest.

The Silent Scream may be a vehicle for his expression to me. Every day the little deflated blow-up doll shrivels and re-inflates on its own. Placed next to a model of Titanic under Richard’s portrait, it falls to the floor every night.

This past weekend was different.

The video camera alarm sent me a signal that there was movement in the library where these artifacts are kept. Upon going in there in the morning, the little doll was not on the floor, as the photographs show.

He was dangling precariously from the bow of the Titanic. It was said by witnesses that Richard was among those who jumped off the ship.

This particular sign has never before occurred. It is startling to see.

When I taped the situation for showing others, I heard nothing. However, when I played it back, there was a remote sound like the ringing of a cell phone in the distance. It is inexplicable.

The Silent Scream by Edvard Munch was painted during Richard’s lifetime and somewhat famous as an expressionistic cry unheard. A neighbor took a photo of the main house in the 1940s and in the window was the odd shape of the silent Screamer.

The doll I bought in 1990 for a college writing class for inspiration has stayed in my office at the college for years, and lately in my home. Since moving here, it regularly deflates and blows up by itself.

Once, I picked the deflated item off the floor when it had fallen—and it began to inflate in my hands: one of the creepiest manifestations in a house full of them over the past five years.

That is: until this latest event.

History of Time Travel: More or Less

DATELINE: Time, Relatively Speaking!

time bottled   At least in theory!

We admit to having a soft-spot for those mockumentaries that can fool us with their close imitation of traditional documentary form.

When you enjoy a steady diet of history through re-enactors, you certainly can grow complacent.

We tip our cap to Ricky Kennedy, director and creative force behind History of Time Travel, an ingenious little film that manages to weave a connection between reality, history, and outright fiction. He does it seamlessly and with a flourish of subtlety.

The historical overview is utterly perfect, but the focus on one “scientist” and his sons with an obsession for tripping up with a time machine takes on a large focus. Yet, that too is a sharp decision for pop appeal.

Not only are the conventions of movie-making and re-enacting spoofed, so are the so-called experts who seem both vapid and convincing: he cites professors from Harvard, Yale, and MIT, and throws in a couple of fake best-selling authors to spout their insider knowledge.

Interviews are interspersed with “home movies” from the 1940s. Oh, the technology existed, and that does ring truthful, but a few glitches in costumes and set will tip off the anachronistic lark to careful viewers.

We half-expected Dr. Strangelove to show up on the MIT faculty, and we are always receptive to a setting of Cambridge, Mass., our ancestral home.

People who like to find continuity goofs receive their come-uppance at the hands of this director. Without selling the store, we would advise any time travel theorist to pay attention to moveable props. We enjoyed the coffee mugs and backdrops: the doctor’s coffee pot is an amusing target.

Short and pithy, this 2014 film would be on the highlight reel of any proud film writer and director.

Fire in the Sky, Pants on Fire

 DATELINE:  Liar, Liar?

Sweeney in Slime  Sweeney in the Slime!

The 1993 movie version of the second-most famous alien abduction story (after Betty and Barney Hill) is certainly intriguing, whether it’s true or not. Fire in the Sky is no wet blanket sending up smoke signals in the UFO sweepstakes.

A group of young men, redneck loggers out in the woods of Arizona in 1975, encounter something mysterious and glowing. One of them seems to be “killed” by a ray—and the others flee. Later, the town suspects they have murdered their friend Travis Walton.

If the UFO segment were not played out in the final minutes of the film as flashback and Post-Trauma Syndrome, you would have a compelling tale of “witch hunt,” as the young men are hounded by media, tormented by police, and maligned as murderers by the community.

Robert Patrick, as the leader of the young loggers, gives a remarkable and nuanced performance as a befuddled man proclaiming his innocence.

On the other side of the equation is James Garner!

Yes, that big star is Detective Watters! He plays again a wry, cynical police detective. If you wanted a tale to have a certain gravitas, Garner’s appearance is perfect. He is the ultimate skeptic about UFO abduction and is the voice that the entire episode is a fraud.

The film has it both ways.

D.B. Sweeney, a boyish leading man of the ‘80s and ‘90s, nowadays mostly a voice-over man, was a handsome and sympathetic victim. His traumatic flashbacks are fairly disgusting and frightful.

Rednecks around him are all rather insensitive to his immediate troubles, calling on UFO experts before an ambulance when Travis returns after five days missing.

The real Travis Walton has since disparaged the movie’s sensational UFO sequence: yet, that is just a small element of a fascinating character study.

The kidnapping sequence resembles being taken by large insects and put into slimy cells for later digestion. And, the tests done to Travis are fairly horrific.

As Garner’s detective points out, he finds a National Enquirer magazine in the truck after the disappearance, with a headline about alien kidnapping.  Yet, he never truly debunks the story told by the young men, including Craig Sheffer as the problematic Dallis.

This film may surprise you by being at odds with the usual sci-fi films of this ilk; this is extremely well-done, whether you buy into the premise or not.