Space Cowboys Ride Into the Sunset

DATELINE:  Elder Stars Shine

  Maverick and Rowdy Yates with Tommy Lee!

How did we miss this action comedy directed by Clint Eastwood with an assemblage of geriatric stars?

Space Cowboysfrom 2000 unites a few genuine TV and movie cowboys (Eastwood and James Garner), but there are ringers in the bunch:  Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland. It does not matter: it is pure golden agers.

They were old then, but it was almost twenty years ago. Yet, only one has passed away since–James Garner.

Starting with a black and white prologue, you have the distinctive voices of the stars superimposed on younger, lookalike actors, which is effective. In the pre-NASA days, they are washed out of the space program and replaced by a monkey (not a first for Clint).

Even a dated late-night show host (Jay Leno) makes an appearance.

What is ineffective is the screenplay, all rather formulaic. Clint also does the story by the numbers: there are some old feuds and fights. He must reunite the old team.

And then in a plot twist that is cruel and nasty, the NASA honchos try to wash out the oldsters by killing them with physical training. Meant to be funny, it is simply unpleasant to watch. The charm of the actors is sorely challenged by the script. But, Clint as director is, as always, pure no-nonsense.

The enemies include William Devane and James Cromwell, which is not exactly chopped liver. This is an actors’ delight. Yet, the actual space trip in the shuttle is almost anti-climactic, and also rekindles the old Cold War.

Old, broken down space shuttles never die.

 

 

 

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.

Twilight of the Hollywood Gods

 DATELINE: Gemstone Ignored?

twilight

It was 20 years ago that Paul Newman played one of his last tired, cynical, lethargic private detectives up to his eyeballs in corruption. The movie was Twilight, and it was so laden with talent that it apparently sank into oblivion.

On the other hand, there are dozens of movies with Twilight in the title, and most are forgettable.

This ignored classic is out there for those who want to stream through it. Thank heavens we found it. And, it is well-worth the time. This is high-quality, high-level movie-making. Every scene is gripping and intriguing.

When you look at the stars in the twilight of their careers from this picture, you wonder if there is a double meaning:  Gene Hackman, James Garner, and director Robert Benton, join Newman at journey’s end. The fictional stars are on their last legs too.

Playing at a coverup of corrupt Hollywood stars in the murder for pleasure motive, Newman plays a former cop and private eye who does the cleanup for big stars. The plot centers on some dirty blackmail scheme, but by whom and why?

Your second generation of stars include Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon as the daughter of the stars and her dubious boyfriend played by Liev Schreiber. An honorable mention goes to Margo Martindale as the zaftig rinse-bottle blonde.

As you may guess, this is first-class travel all the way—and makes us wonder why it fell through the cracks 20 years ago. It was likely just too familiar ground for Newman whose posturing resembles a teenage boy, not a man in his 70s.

By today’s dubious film standards, this movie is a sheer delight of crime melodrama.