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.




Fugitive 25 Years Later

DATELINE:  TV Classic Into Movie Classic

Taken in

A recent homage to the Harrison Ford/Tommy Lee Jones thriller, The Fugitive, never mentioned that it was based on the David Janssen, Quinn/Martin tv series.

Janssen died before age 50 in 1990, shortly before this big-screen version.

If this high-flying, high octaine movie had been a tv show, it would likely have been a two-parter on the small screen.

The film has big written all over it. Big effects and big budget.

We were most amused to see limping Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble jumping around like a superhero with super-strength, instead of a cardiologist in middle age. His jump off a dam would kill most, or break every bone. Not for Harrison Ford, he just limps away (actually having torn ligaments).

It seems there wasn’t a water hazard the producers and director Andrew Davis couldn’t let pass. Throw Ford into it. And, then, they looked for every staircase in Chicago and make Tommy Lee Jones run up and down.

Apart from that unusual quality, the film also features only three run-ins between the stars: Jones is a US Marshall (again and again in movies) who is relentless in chasing Ford. Their first encounter is 40 minutes into the movie in which Gerard (Jones) admits he does not care whether Dr. Kimble (Ford) is innocent.

These are two arrogant, type A personalities who will let nothing stop them, and therein is a hilarious adventure thriller. Billed nowadays as a thinking man’s version of Deathwish or Taken or even any Bruce Willis adventure, this lives up to its excitement.

Why Dr. Kimble returns to familiar haunts, like his hospital, to find the one-armed killer is beyond sanity. Filmed in Chicago and its St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it is atmospheric of the Windy City.

Everyone admits Dr. Kimble is smarter than the police, but not smarter than Tommy Lee’s laconic character with his snippy attitude.

Twenty-five years have not dampened this movie. It holds up on every level. It is worth your attention, with Big Pharma still the villain.

Home, Home, Homesman on the Range

DATELINE: Insane Women Out West

Homely Homesman 

The Homesman restores some faith in the Western after several so-so recent efforts. The reason probably has to do with the tale coming from Glendon Swarthout whose heyday of classic novels into movies was back in the ‘60s.


You could also credit Tommy Lee Jones for bringing the story to film as star, writer, and director. Swarthout, once again, was way ahead of his time with a feminist Western. But, this isn’t one of those women shooting guns and wearing badges fantasy.

This film takes the concept of that old silent Lillian Gish movie, The Wind, about pioneer women living on the prairie—driven mad by the loneliness, insensitive husbands, and the oppressive culture.

Hilary Swank plays a plain Jane spinster desperate to find a man to help her. She wants a business partner but proposes marriage all too often. Though every man thinks she is too homely, she is better looking than all the other options. So, that had us scratching our head.

She is headstrong and takes on a role no men will perform by taking three insane women eastward to escape their plight. She provides comfort and strength to these pathetic victims of a cruel west.

Yes, Swank is to behold. When she puts the make on old Tommy, we weren’t sure where this was going—but it went where we never suspected.

The film has more than a few surprising and delightful cameos—from John Lithgow as a minister to James Spader as a hotelier in the middle of nowhere to Meryl Streep as an angelic humanitarian.

These great actors are a bit wasted in the roles they play for five minutes. But, they add gravitas to the surroundings, though we cannot look at Spader as anything other than Red Reddington with his blacklist. Indeed, he seems most anachronistic hereabouts.

It’s a small quirky Western, set in the days when the West was on the other side of the Mississippi River. But, as friends often point out, if it has horses, it’s a Western.




Mac Arthur Returns

Tommy Lee as Douglas


DATELINE: Movie Mashup


When Tommy Lee Jones decides to play General Douglas MacArthur, you know you are in for more than a walk in MacArthur’s Park. If you need something larger than life, you have a character in the American general before he faded away.

Emperor turns out to be two movies in one. The first seems to tell us the tale behind a photograph of Japan’s godly emperor with Gen. MacArthur when the post-war rebuilding starts. It’s fascinating.

The other, more insipid story is about one of the general officers on MacArthur’s staff. Gen. Bonner Fellers spent time in Japan before the war and fell in love with a Japanese school teacher. The movie moves back and forth between dynamic scenes of Tommy Lee Jones chewing up the scenery, and Matthew Fox as Fellers with Eriko Hatsune as his paramour. It’s less than scintillating.

With MacArthur’s ambitions to become President of the United States, he saw the Japanese Emperor as a chip in his own glorious ascent to godlike status. So, every scene with Jones is scrumptious and a delight as he wheedles and pontificates, leading up to the famous photo-op orchestrated by General MacArthur.

Some years ago Gregory Peck tried to play MacArthur, but he was too wooden. Jones has the right amount of arrogance and bravado in counterbalance. He seems all too comfortable as a megalomaniac.

Matthew Fox is too stalwart and, probably too young as Fellers.

The movie tries to find reason to exonerate the Emperor as nothing more than a figurehead who escaped blame and responsibility because it was expedient for an American with political ambitions. True or not, it makes for a dramatic film.

Directed in 2012 by Peter Webber, Emperor is another in a line of historical tales well-produced and casting shadows on the reality of truth.

Those Black Suited Men Again



To jump feet first into the third movie in a series is being a daredevil behind the eightball. So, with some trepidation, we took in Men in Black 3 without ever having seen the earlier two movies. It did not tax our film watching abilities.

These popular films have been around long enough that we have some sense of the general plot and characters. Two secret government agents in black suits go around the world covering up all the alien life forms that inject themselves into society.

The public sees outlandish events and is given amnesia by the government to keep the secret.

The movie filled my expectations as being frenetic, noisy, and overwhelmed with special effects. Indeed, we speculate that the computer-generated scenes occur within every thirty seconds.

This is the slime school of movie making, holding over from puerile kid shows on TV. Disgusting vomit and gizzards fly everywhere. Let’s face it: we are not exactly fans of the style, but we can on occasion watch something akin to the Austin Powers movies without losing our dinner.

This sequel entails Will Smith forced to time travel into 1969 to find the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones, his laconic partner. The role of young Tommy Lee is perfectly limned by Josh Brolin in a masterful impersonation down to the tiniest details of Jones’s experessions.

For that reason alone, the film is worth appreciating. There were a few hints of wit and whimsy about the sixties, but a steady diet of movies like this will send us to the Moon faster than Ralph Kramden.

Everyone seems to be an alien in an ultimate conspiracy, and those of us who are not must be fairly dumb to not see it. There’s nothing like fans smitten with a movie series that seriously discounts their intelligence.

This is a P.T. Barnum kind of movie—and no one associated with the franchise has gone broke—excepting those who paid to see this space junk.

Read some of the best movie insights in MOVIE MASHUP or MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE, two books now available on in softcover or e-book formats.