Commemorating Titanic after 107 Years!

DATELINE: Connections to the Past?

Harper & Clifton Father & Son Face Fate on Titanic (1953 version).

The 1953 version of Titanic and re-telling of the horrific night that is unforgettable and must be remembered was pure Hollywood spectacle. It had an all-star cast, and it ended with masterful special effects for its age. It had to be a black and white movie to heighten its impact literally with the iceberg and figuratively with the horror.

The central family of the movie plot bears a startling resemblance to the real family that became subject of my biographical history, Tales of a Titanic Family.

Rich Americans, the father is a prig played by Clifton Webb, and his stunning wife is Barbara Stanwyck. They have two children, the younger a boy (Harper Carter) at odds with his father. Their mettle would be tested by an iceberg.

So, not having seen the movie in dozens of years, we were not prepared entirely for what other coincidences and frightful similarities might turn up. The theory did not take long to prove itself.

The 1953 movie was released in April, on the 41st anniversary week of the Titanic’s sinking. Almost immediately upon introducing the mother figure in the movie, played by Barbara Stanwyck, she was identified as Julia. This stunned me a bit, as Julia was indeed the name of Richard White’s grandmother, and the name of his aunt, his father’s sister (His father died with him on Titanic).

Then, Clifton Webb showed up as the father: his name, of course, was Richard Sturges.

They have two children also on board the ship. The elder here is a daughter, and the younger son is only about 14. However, in a key moment, Stanwyck recites the A.E. Housman poem, “When I was one and twenty,” about fate. Richard was 21 when he was aboard the ill-fated ship.

Clifton Webb cannot buy a ticket in first-class because it is all sold out: which wasn’t true. White Star Lines tried to give away cabins that remained empty.

Though he was a world traveler, a man among many New York millionaires. Clifton Webb’s character has greetings for all his friends, from Guggenheim to Strauss to Astor.

Robert Wagner played a 21-year old college man from Purdue. He is a Richard White stand-in.

Among the delightful actors in this film are Richard Basehart as a defrocked priest, and there is also Thelma Ritter as the hard-talking, unsinkable Molly Brown. Brian Aherne seems to be ship’s captain in every movie version. Director Jean Negulesco is adept at weaving together an hour of soapish stories before the heavy business of sinking the liner.

In a key moment Barbara Stanwyck tells her husband that their second child is not his. They plan to divide up the spoils, each child going with one parent. It is a haunting parallel to the real family.

The final minutes of the ice-berg’s damage and sinking of the ship is done quickly and without any noticeable panic among the men left without lifeboats. They are all gentlemen, singing as the ship seems to blow up and rapidly spirals into oblivion.

There is no bad behavior, or messy deaths, as occurred in real life. We think the smoke stack fell from the ship and onto those who jumped off the ship, like Richard White. The unbilled narrator at the end of the movie is Michael Rennie.

Seeing this version of the story seemed to be fitting, as it became tailored to Richard White’s actual life experience. Watching was not easier, and not pleasant, no matter how purified the events. Richard apparently jumped off the ship, like Wagner’s character. Richard may not have been his father’s son, and Richard haunts this writer.

The ghost of Richard Frazar White brought me face-to-face with Robert Wagner a dozen years ago—and only now do I know why. Richard

 

Penultimate Sixth Season Episode

 DATELINE: The Gary Drayton Show!

Gary and JackGary Talks to Jack.

We are turning the seasonal clock to another chance the show will end here and now out of frustration. Perhaps only for a few fans.

Somehow, we doubt it if there is money to be discovered, or something akin to ratings popularity. You know when Rick Lagina calls the devastating work stoppage “a minor set-back,” and when his brother says, it’s time to make lemonade from the lemons, you have a grandiose problem.

North Atlantic weather is never entirely reliable, and even in these last few weeks of the season, you seem to have extremely cold days, and then they doff their jackets in mid-day sun.

However, time is the enemy of finding anything of value. So, they again bring in another in the litany of amateur historians who tells them there is half a billion dollars of loot somewhere on the island. Buck up, my Buckos.

This expert has done study of Scottish barons who came to the Canadian land over two centuries, and they came with tons of secret family treasure. Yup, these guys were descendants of the Knights Templar.

It takes Gary Drayton again to save the show, if not the season. With his acumen at high level, he finds more Brit uniform gold buttons—and even is the one who must go down into a leaky, pumped out cold well near the money pit. The local archeologist now is merely phoned–and he instantly acquiesces. Gone are the drawn-out legal matters.

We found it interesting his clothes were soaked and dirty whilst the two Lagina brothers were reasonably clean. Who goes on strike next?

Drayton finds more stuff in the old well, which he theorizes is important.

With only one show left, we think the bait is set to keep audiences riveted and wanting more.

 

 

Our Man in Havana: Cuba Before Fall

DATELINE:  Greene for Thrills

ready for bed Guinness Doth Make Coward!

Would lightning strike twice? Throw in a Graham Greene novella, director Carol Reed, and a hotbed of political activity in the 1950s, and voila, you have an instant spy thriller, called Our Man in Havana.

The novella and screenplay were written by Greene himself, which may or may not be good, considering his lofty and singular opinion of what a good film should be. He respected Carol Reed enough to trust him again after The Third Man. And, with his lukewarm anti-American streak, the pre-Communist Castro lent his blessing to the project.

The result is a last-ditch look at the charm of old Havana before it underwent a lifetime of rot. To see it like this may sadden any self-respecting tourista.

Add in a delicious cast:  Alec Guinness as a would-be spy, Ernie Kovacs as a Cuban military leader, Maureen O’Hara as an officious colleague, Noel Coward as a Home Office Boy, with Ralph Richardson as his boss, and Burl Ives, hot off his Oscar, as a German expatriate, and something’s gotta give. The story concerns a British vacuum salesman who gives off airs of an obsequious secret agent who riles up the Cuban dictatorship before Castro. You mean there was no role for Errol Flynn who was there for the Cuban rebel girls?

At one point, Guinness notes that his daughter has an American accent for some reason. We suspect it has to do with the producer hiring his girlfriend, but we may be too harsh.

Burl Ives advises Guiness to take a job as a secret agent for Noel Coward and send it fake secret reports by fake secret agents. Alas, reality bites: everything he makes up is actually true.

The humor is so dry in this film that it almost seems arid. Greene rakes the James Bond ilk over the coals, with its bird-dropping invisible ink and codes taken out of a Dickensian book of Lamb to the slaughter sayings.

Kovacs and Guinness play a game of drinking checkers as a mental match.

Today’s audiences may be more befuddled by the intelligence of yore. Some of the actors are clearly in a straitjacket with not much ado. Yet, the overall effect is high-dudgeon Cold War spy thrills.

Our Man in Havana is simply amazing when not overwrought with super-suction.

Stan & Ollie: Imitation or Acting?

DATELINE: Bittersweet Docdramas

Stan & Ollie

The resemblance to Laurel and Hardy is uncanny.

Stan & Ollie has a resurrection quality to its stars.

You might credit makeup masters, but there is also the subtle posture and gesture of the two stars as they mimic the familiar comedic personalities of the great movie team of the 1930s.

You have likely seen these two stars doing star turns in popular movies with tepid reviews: this is their best work and may end up being their least viewed movie. Laurel and Hardy belong to aficionados of film. Young people (meaning anyone under 40—or even 50—may be in the dark about the great comic duo).

John C. Reilly plays Babe Hardy, Mr. Oliver Hardy to you. And Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel. A Brit and a Southern gentleman were an unlikely partnership but were created by studio chemists. It was a team that clicked so well it became legend.

The movie starts in 1937 at their pinnacle of success, doing Way Out West and their amazing little dance routine. It is repeated several times for good measure. Badly paid, with little artistic credit, Stan Laurel feels slighted as Chaplin and even Buster Keaton received more accolades.

By 1953, on the down-slide with age and television co-opting their earlier films, they embark on a tour of the British Isles to re-kindle their magic. Alas, the movie turns bittersweet, with far more bitter than sweet. Breaking up is never easy.

Bad blood, old age, and festering antagonisms, seem to dog the two stars. The movie replays their famous routines as if it is part of their real lives. And, they are pure show busy folks: the show must go on, and they are always on. Poor, dear souls.

Fans may find this hard look harder to take than a Hal Roach (Danny Huston) cheapskate contract. As oldsters, they had to work; no fortune followed fame.

Younger viewers may well be advised to go back to movies like Way Out West, or shorts like Their First Mistake, for seeing comedy genesis. This movie, like old age itself, is anticlimactic.

 

 

 

 

Pirates on Oak Island: Deep Digging

DATELINE:  Extra-curricular Episode!

Matty Blake  Matty Blake: Out in the Rain Again!

The subset of the Curse of Oak Island is a series of a half-dozen shows that look at issues around the history and research of Oak Island.

This annotated bunch of episodes, on topics like paranormal and pirate history, is hosted, not by Robert Clotworthy, but by some cheerleader named Matty Blake, a radio personality.

Someone should tell this guy he has the job. He seems overly exuberant, hugging and high-fives all around. His exaggerated excitement seems to even rankle the Lagina brothers who show up for an interview on various topics he raises—usually for the negative.

His latest show was on Oak Island pirates. He interviewed various show people, like Charles Barkhouse and Gary Drayton. They give him insights because they usually are secondary figures without any limelight. After all, this is Marty Lagina’s production. No one elbows him out of the camera.

Apart from Matty Blake’s constant cheerleading patter, he shows elements of a lack of sense. He does one segment in pouring rain at the “smelly swamp,” and boasts that it is all part of the Oak Island experience. Sounds more like a production overrun.

 

Blake does raise some interesting points, and his latest on pirates looked at everyone from Sir Francis Drake to Captain William Kidd.

We must tell you up-front that our great-aunt Belle Walters grew up in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and with her husband, my father’s uncle John, they went there each summer from the 1920s to the 1960s. Uncle John was also a 33rd degree Mason, quite a big deal, and they firmly believed the treasure belonged to Captain Kidd. Even as a kid, we heard this theory.

Blake spent a great deal of time trying to find locals who knew who Captain William Kidd was, without much luck. How the times have changed.

He also raised the issue of Captain Anderson, another privateer of the late 1700s who actually lived on the island for a time and may have built a ramp from his land to the ocean front. Gary Drayton felt this was important—and we always pay attention to what Mr. Metal Detector Detective states.

The show always ends with the Lagina brothers throwing cold water on Blake’s theories—and he thanks them profusely. We know who signs his paycheck.

 

Enquiring Minds: Pre-Pecker-Pabulum

DATELINE: Checkbook Journalism to Kill-Fees

Dead King Biggest Issue Tease of Enquirer!

The Untold Story of the National Enquirer was not killed by a Pecker kill-fee, but by anthrax. This movie is a breath-taking trip down tabloid history.

You have to admire a documentary by Ric Burns that starts off with Herman Mankiewicz’s stunning film score for Citizen Kane, and then matches with a camera slowly moving up over a chain-link fence like the opening shot of Orson Welles’ classic.

The story of the National Enquirer and its original founder, Generoso Papa (an Italian immigrant who changed his name to Generoso Pope) actually laid groundwork for the Godfather Don Corleone (whom he resembled in character). Pope was pals with the Mob but claimed never to belong. He was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and Benito Mussolini.

However, this film is really about his genius and ruthless and cold-blooded son, Gene Pope, Junior. Any resemblance between this Pope and the Vatican is strictly distinctive. Pope went through several wives, disowned and was disowned by his mother, and found himself the apple of his father’s eye—thereby cut out of the will by his brothers.

The man who made the National Enquirer a scandal sheet of influence predates the present kingpin and Trump ally, David Pecker, who has killed stories to help his president. A young Trump is seen in a clip, disparaging the National Enquirer.

The original owner, Pope, would never have condoned such a mad idea.

His son, Gene Junior, went to MIT and finished in two years. What? College entrance hanky-panky back in the 1940s? It seems so.

Gene borrowed money from his mobster godfather in real life, Frank Costello, and bought the New York Inquirer, like Citizen Kane. A marketing genius, he soon tried the “gore” story approach and made it work. You had horror that made the Enquirer’s bad rep and took years of new marketing to alter.

Gene transformed his newspaper two or three times but found the notion of supermarkets to coincide with his “gossip” approach. The inquiring minds of America were hooked in the check-out line.

Pope moved to Florida and made it tabloid heaven. He created checkbook journalism and used ruthless and inventive methods to spy on celebrities. His pinnacle was the notorious Elvis in his casket photo.

A three-pack cigarette addict and workaholic Type A personality, he didn’t last long. A massive heart attack seemed to stymie the Enquirer, but it took terrorism in 2001 with anthrax to destroy everything, including archives.

The film ends with the bouncy music of Brasil, which is fitting. This is a complete documentary, completely satisfying in every way.

Easter Island: Not On Ancient Alien Map

DATELINE: Moai, Moai!

Moai

Like most TV viewers, we know misinformation and disinformation may be far more prevalent than we care to admit.

To watch a documentary, internationally produced with French and American scientists, on the notable “discovery” by a French ship in the mid-1700s on Easter day,  refutes almost everything you think you know in Easter Island: The Truth Revealed.

Indeed, truth may be far more unsettling than an episode of Ancient Aliens who have regularly called the large stone statues Moai (Mo-eye) as the gift of the gods of outer space.

The Rapa Nui were the indigenous tribes (four or five Polynesian groups) that created them. They have taken a bad Rapa in history, being thought too dumb to carve and to move these monoliths several miles over harsh, rocky terrain.

Controversy has dogged the Moai. Were they rolled on their stomachs, or walked along the roads? Well, among the debunkers, scientists dismiss both theories. It seems the giant faces were brought to a location only partially carved out. They were made in place.

The other big controversy is the disappearance of the population. They have been blamed for de-forestation, starvation, and tribal wars. It seems that none of these are options with studies of the flora and fauna, DNA tests on bones, and lack of weapons on the island.

The small population was captured to work as slaves on the South American mainland. Later a few were returned—with diseases that wiped out all but a hundred or so.

The documentary is chock full of the real story and the terrible history that befell an isolated group in the Pacific. They were actually closer to South America that we thought, and the brave people who sailed to Easter Island likely had no idea what it was or if they should remain after landing there less than 1000 years ago.

They suffered their accidental arrival for centuries.

 

 

 

Robin and Marian: Aged in the Woods

 DATELINE: Sherwood Denizens Return

shaw as sheriff Nottingham, not Cape Cod!

The idea looked brilliant in pitch phase: Robin Hood and Marian re-unite after 20 years and are older, but not necessarily wiser. You call it Robin and Marian and the critics will go wild. Throw in a cast to salivate over: Richard Harris and Robert Shaw stand out.

The script is by James Goldman who gave us The Lion in Winter, a rather pedestrian and witless look at Henry II and Richard the Lion-hearted. That, of course, was a sequel of sort to Becket, wherein Peter O’Toole played Henry and Richard Burton was the meddlesome priest.

The level of writing descends with each period drama. Now, you have Richard Harris as the Lion-Heart king, fresh off being King Arthur in Camelot.

We presume Anthony Hopkins and Peter O’Toole were unavailable.

Goldman does not botch the tale, but his legend is soggy-bottom stuff. Alas, the youth market of the mid-1970s wasn’t quite ready for middle-age.

The notion of a stellar cast gained traction with the actors: put Sean Connery looking to shed his James Bond image as an older bearded Robin, and Audrey Hepburn would come back as Marian after a film hiatus. Throw in with equal billing, the villain of the decade: Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws) as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wow. If you present off-beat director Richard Lester (3 Musketeers, etc.) as the man behind the camera, you cannot lose. It did not work out perfectly but is an adventure for sure.

If you compare this to Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas producing The Vikings, you have something less fun and less successful. Oh, it’s highly watchable, but not a romp. Shaw as usual runs off with the movie as the deadpan, time-worn Sheriff who knows Sherwood Forest and its foibles all too well.

Lester tries to steal the movie with his standard atmospheric shots of Medieval times, including people with physical deformity and mud-caked urchins everywhere.They stand out, but not in a good way.

Connery and Hepburn are, well, Connery and Hepburn, acting older. Throw in some choice character actors like Ian Holm as King John and Kenneth Haigh as the Sheriff’s rival, and you have top-drawer performers.

A pleasant time-killer is the least to be expected. What you actually have is a James Goldman version of a geriatric Romeo & Juliet, which does not satisfy.

 

 

 

Jamie Marks is a Ghost

DATELINE: Dead Boyfriends?

Dead Boyfriends

Carter Smith’s 2014 film is a mystery thriller, not a horror picture as Amazon streaming likes to call it. Jamie Marks is Dead may well be one of the most arresting and underplayed tales of a ghost in recent memory.

Of course, this starts off as an homage to David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Like Laura Palmer, Jamie Marks is a nearly nude corpse as the movie opens.

Though this is not the great world of Douglas firs, the setting is upstate New York, which seems fairly cold, remote, and unpleasant.

A girl, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) finds him and finds him stalking her in death. He is more interested in the varsity track star Adam (Cameron Monaghan), a cute red-head who soon starts to see dead people everywhere.

Suspicions seem to haunt the high school, as Jamie was bullied by the jocks prior to his death. And an ominous, and inexplicable dead deer carcass hangs next to Adam’s bleak home.

It doesn’t help that his mother is Liv Tyler who takes up with a drunk driver who put her in a wheelchair.

Thank heavens that Jamie (in an ethereal performance by Noah Silver) can offer Adam a considerable line of protection from the Great Beyond. We know something about spirits who are willing to offer their guardianship; our own protecting spirit is over our shoulder now, most interested in this review. He thought the movie was fairly accurate.

Alas, Jamie has a problem: he appears to be a murder victim.

Adam hopes to help his dead pal who takes up residence in Adam’s closet, which should have sparked more jokes. Without the usual cliché of special effects, Carter Smith presents a chilling picture of ghost appearances. Don’t look for pop-ups, fades, or objects moving on their own.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Bright Star, Muse to Amuse Keats

DATELINE: Campion as Keats Champion

Whishaw as Keats Ill-tailored poet.

Ben Whishaw is John Keats in this sumptuous movie by Jane Campion. If you want a sense of what living in 1818 was like, this film will provide it—from drafty houses to ill-fitting clothes.

Director Jane Campion ended her feature-length movie association with this effort called Bright Star. She felt there was no room in movie universe nowadays for real literary films with the domination of cartoon heroes stealing all box-office receipts.

Keats is a Romantic poet, but that does not mean he should be presented as a Hallmark cable channel character. Romance is a 19th century philosophy, not a sentimental love story.

Campion illustrates the quaint conceits of another era when bohemian poets hit the wall of standard social norms.

This is a costume drama where the costumes are shabby because there really was no haute fashion when poet John Keats was putting ink to paper—with grubby ink-stained fingers.

Though Abbie Cornish is delightful as the “bright star,” in Keats’ life, she is maddeningly and alternately feminist and fading flower. It makes the movie almost guaranteed to please nobody. This film likely impressed Madonna enough to give Cornish the lead in her film of the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in W./E. the following year.

Campion, as director, is an artist true to herself, like Keats, and she walks a fine line with her saucy seamstress as muse.

After playing Sebastian in Brideshead, Ben Whishaw had cornered the market on sensitive/effete men for a few years, and his Keats may be poetic, but we don’t have a sense of his “consumptive” doom within a few years. It may be a shock to those who don’t know the biographic facts. Marriage is not within his power because of debt, not illness.

This may seem a frivolous love story on some levels, but director Campion has eschewed directing films ever since—to our great detriment as followers of intelligent character study.