Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)   1 comment


Above:  James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson from Five Minutes of Heaven

A screen capture which I found in several places on the Internet, including:



Liam Neeson as Alistair Little (2008)

James Nesbitt as Joe Griffin (2008)

Mark Ryder as Alistair Little (1975)

Kevin O’Neill as Joe Griffin (1975)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Rated R

Five Minutes of Heaven is a character movie and a thought provoking story of guilt, forgiveness, and reconciliation set in Northern Ireland.  It is really a two-man drama with supporting characters.  The actors play their roles so well that words are frequently unnecessary to convey the characters’ thoughts; a look into the eyes suffices.

The first part of the movie occurs in 1975.  Alistair Little, a radicalized seventeen-year-old Protestant, wants to kill a Roman Catholic.  It is the thing which his friends and peers tell him is right to do.  Are not Catholics killing Protestants, after all?  So he shoots one James Griffin while the victim watches television at home.  Little does this in front of Griffin’s eleven-year-old brother, Joe, whom the grief-stricken mother blames for not preventing the shooting.

Then the movie skips to 2008, a quieter time in Northern Ireland.  Little, who served a twelve-year prison sentence, has reformed.  He lives alone in a Belfast flat and travels the world to promote nonviolence.  Someone must tell people, he says, that it is not right to kill people because they are different.  Someone should have told him that when he was a young man, he says.  Little, a broken and guilt-racked man, carries the face of the eleven-year-old Joe Griffin with him mentally.  It has been with him every day for thirty-three years.  The burden of it has become almost too heavy to continue to bear.

Griffin, who works in an egg carton factory, is married with two daughters.  As much as Little wants to let go of the events of 1975 and their consequences, Griffin clings to them.  His attitude poisons his family life.  So he is apprehensive and vengeful when the crew of a reality television series asks him to meet Little, who is concerned that this will be too difficult and painful for Griffin.  It is.

I choose not to reveal the entire plot of the movie or its ending, for a good film review should leave much for the viewer to discover firsthand.   But I do choose to focus on the spiritual side of the movie’s content:  the necessity to forgive–at least for one’s own sake–and, if possible, to reconcile.  Friendship might remain impossible after the offense, but the dropping of grudges is crucial.  Also, violence harms not only its intended victim(s) but its perpetrator(s).  What we do to others we do also to ourselves.  Therefore, if we do not act compassionately, we might wind up like Little and Griffin, two emotionally and spiritually scarred men facing the common past which entraps them as they struggle together in the ruins of the scene of a thirty-three-year-old crime.








Published originally at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


True Grit (2010)   3 comments

Above:  A Screen Capture of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn

TRUE GRIT (2010)


Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn

Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf

Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross

Based on the novel by Charles Portis

Music by Carter Burwell

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13


True Grit is a powerful tale of justice, revenge, and mercy, and of the high cost the quest for vengeance exacts on the one who undertakes it.  Along the way the viewer encounters disturbing and unglamourous acts of violence (with the consequences being obvious), a dark cinematographic palate, excellent acting, a soundtrack replete with hymn tunes, and formal and intriguing dialogue almost entirely lacking in contractions.

Mattie Ross, the fourteen-year-old female protagonist, seeks revenge against Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father and fled Arkansas.  Steeped in the Bible and “an eye for an eye” notions of justice, she believes that one must pay for everything in this world; the only free thing is grace.  Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn, a frequently drunk U.S. Marshal known for being mean, to pursue Chaney.  That much constitutes seeking justice through legal means.  But Mattie really seeks revenge.  Convinced that God is looking out for her and noting that she has “a good horse,” Mattie dons her father’s coat and hat, carries his gun, and joins Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, on the manhunt.  The lawmen try to dissuade her, but Mattie’s true grit convinces them otherwise and wins their respect for her.

Mattie does not know, however, that her bloodlust will cost her a forearm, alter her personality, and transform her into a cranky spinster.  The decisions we make matter.  Mattie would have done well to leave law enforcement to legal officials.  And she should have left revenge to God.  That is also in the Old Testament.

The actors are wonderful.  Jeff Bridges portrays Cogburn as a gruff yet caring man, the individual who risks all to save Mattie’s life, if not her arm and personality.  Matt Damon’s preening Texas Ranger is the perfect foil to the frequently inarticulate Cogburn.  And Hailee Steinfeld, thirteen years old at the time of filming, spouts complex dialogue convincingly and makes her character the most formidable of all these three.

Carter Burwell’s score quotes old hymns, including “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  This is especially appropriate for the movie, given that the arms of Rooster Cogburn save her life.  Yet there is more to it than that.  Justice and mercy balance each other.  Mattie’s problem is that she does not understand mercy.  So she acts in such a way that she loses an arm.  In a sense, she had only one arm all along.

I recommend True Grit as a worthwhile meditation on the high cost of violence and revenge.






Of Gods and Men (2010)   3 comments

The Algerian Helicopter Gunship and the Monastic Chapel

(All images in this post are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program and a rented disc.)



Lambert Wilson as Christian

Michael Lonsdale as Luc

Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe

Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin

Jacques Herlin as Amedee

Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre

Xavier Maly as Michel

Jean-Marie Frin as Paul

Olivier Perrier as Bruno

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

French with English Subtitles

Rated PG-13 in the United States

2 hours, 2 minutes long


In 1996, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists kidnapped a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria.  The precise circumstances of these men’s death remains uncertain, but their demise apparently involved beheading.  The terrorists did not abduct all members of the religious community.  This fact, I presume, explains how we know what happened until the kidnapping.  Of Gods and Men is the story of the Trappist monks.

Early Morning Prayer

The movie opens in 1995.  The monks form a community in and of themselves.  They support each other, pray and worship together, and even argue among themselves.  But they do more than pray and garden, not that those are bad activities.

Brother Luc, the Doctor

Brother Luc, a doctor, tends to patients most days.  Some days, he sees up to 150 people from the adjacent village, in fact.  He cannot get out much, due to physical infirmity, so the patients come to him.

Brother Luc, the Counselor

Luc also functions as a counselor.

Community Counseling

The monks’ Muslim neighbors turn to them for prayer and advice, which the gentle monks are glad to offer.  Militant, violent fundamentalists have become active in the area, much to the disapproval of the villagers.  The monks are, in fact, integral to the village, for they also attend family functions and other social events there.   Here we see Brother Christian, abbot of the monastery, and a fellow monk speaking with some village elders.

Turning to God and Each Other

The monks are in great danger from both the terrorists and the Algerian military.  The monastics have a way out, for they can transfer to another monastery.  But, if they do this, what will become of the impoverished villagers next door? And, if they stay, the monks risk martyrdom.

Inner Peace

We already know how the story ends.  So the real drama lies in the journey.  How do the monks make peace with the real possibility of violent death for their faith?  And by which paths do those who initially supported leaving come to agree to remain in harm’s way?

The journey of faith can be a difficult one, depending on circumstances.  One IMDb reviewer, while praising the movie, wrote that the monks were not saints, as if saints are perfect.  I propose that the monks were saints, warts and all.  They struggled, some more than others, but concluded that, if the path of following Christ leads to their martyrdom, so be it.  I harbor serious doubts whether I would have made the same decision.

Brother Christian, who died, left behind a written final testimony.  Here is the English translation:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

I invite you, O reader, to spend two quality hours with this movie.  May it deepen your faith, or perhaps help you find it.




Posted July 9, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Reviews, Saints of 1990-1999

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Passion Fish (1992)   1 comment

Two Friends in a Boat

All images are screen captures I took via PowerDVD.



Mary McDonnell as May-Alice Culhane

Alfre Woodard as Chantelle

David Straitharn as Rennie

Directed by John Sayles

2 hours, 15 minutes long

Rated R


A really good movie is a great joy.  Passion Fish is such a film, one, true to my standard method in these movie review posts, I will not summarize plot point by plot point.  My goal, rather, is to interest people enough to watch it.

May-Alice, Waking Up Paralyzed

May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera actress.  One day, however, she was stepping out of a New York City taxi cab when another cab hit her, paralyzing her below the waist.  It was a freak accident.  Now May-Alice is embittered, screaming curse words at the television set in her hospital room.

Her acting career over, May-Alice returns to Louisiana, her home state, where she has an old family house located near a bayou.  There she feels sorry for herself, drinks too much, and drives away nurse after nurse.  Her reputation at the agency is as a “bitch on wheels.”


Then Chantelle, who is at least as damaged and vulnerable as May-Alice, comes along.  Chantelle needs this job. She has even lied on a job application, hiding the fact that, until a month previously, she had a daily cocaine habit.  She is clean now, but she has to resist the urge to use the drug every day.  It is hard, but she succeeds.  And so Chantelle is the perfect person to confront May-Alice, who drowns her sorrows with alcohol.

Chantelle has other issues, too, but I leave them to you, O reader, to discover by watching the movie.

These two women help each other heal emotionally and find second chances.  And Chantelle, through her tough love, helps May-Alice physically.


Also helping May-Alice is Rennie, whom she knew as a child.  Rennie, a carpenter, builds a ramp for the old family house.  He also knows how to repair boat engines and takes May-Alice and Chantelle out for trips on the bayou.  He is the apostate, relatively speaking, in his family.  His wife and children are fun-damn-mentalists who won’t watch television or listen to the radio, and who sing only religious songs.  (Zydeco is the Devil’s music, they think.)  They pray for him a lot, he says.  He is a good and kind man, as his actions prove.

Ti-Marie and Precious

There are also some light moments.  For example, Ti-Marie and Precious, who knew May-Alice in school, visit, much to May-Alice’s irritation.  These are the most annoying and over-the-top people in the movie. They are also racists, for they complain about the perceived changes in attitudes (no longer subservient) among local African Americans since the Civil Rights Movement.  When not making racist comments, they reminisce with May-Alice and insult each other’s choice in husbands.

There is also a hilarious scene in which some soap opera actresses visit.  One of these actresses has taken over May-Alice’s role, Scarlet.  Despite the fact that the character had a hysterectomy some years previously, she is now pregnant by a space alien named Zondar, played by May-Alice’s former husband.  That could happen in a soap opera.

Passion Fish is a life-affirming story about discovering that, despite how bad events may seem or be, good can come out of them.  Beyond that, this good may be better than one’s former life.  Mary McDonnell deserved her 1992 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing the Oscar to Emma Thompson, for Howard’s End.



Posted July 2, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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Farewell to Harry (2004)   1 comment

Lysette Anthony Demonstrates Why More Women Should Wear Hats



William Hall, Jr., as Harry Wyle

Joe Flanigan as Nick Sennet

Lysette Anthony as Louie Sinclair

Directed by Garrett Bennett

98 Minutes Long

Not Rated


I like movies about people.  Whatever the flaws with some of favorite people films are, the concentration on certain characters more than makes up for these inadequacies.  And, after an hour and half or two hours or so, I come away with the knowledge that I have spent my time well.

Farewell to Harry is such a movie.  Consistent with my recent custom of writing mostly impressionistic film reviews, I choose to leave most of the plot and characterization for a viewer to discover.  So, before I begin, I assure you, O reader, that if you like old things, such as nice hats, vintage vehicles, and manual typewriters, you stand a very good chance of enjoying this movie.  I have found no rating on the movie, although I did notice (only) a few brief mute spots on my DVD where I presume a curse word was supposed to be.  Really, I am not that delicate, but at least the screenwriter focused on the story, not expletives, which, when too numerous, become verbal wallpaper devoid of power beyond that to annoy.

Ghosts of the Past

The movie is set in the small island town of Winslow, across the water from an unnamed city somewhere in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  The filming location being Bainbridge Island, Washington, the island across the waves looks remarkably like Seattle.  The decaying hulk of the old Hoffstetter hat factory is there, a reminder of a more elegant time.

Harry Wyle

Harry Wyle is the current owner of the old factory, which has been his world for his whole life.  He dreams about reopening the old place, but mostly he drinks too much and dances with beautiful women.  Dancing with beautiful women sounds like fun, at least.

Nick Sennet

Nick Sennet has returned to Winslow, where he grew up.  Nick left years ago, with dreams of becoming a great and famous writer.  But he found writer’s block instead.  Now he is back, working as a projectionist at the local movie theater and trying to cheer up Harry.  Nick’s Jimmy Stewart impression is quite impressive, if I do say so.

Louie Sinclair

Louie Sinclair, played by Lysette Anthony, complete with her British accent, is one of Harry’s former loves.  She is still rather fond of him, as he is of her.  And why not?  Nick enlists her aid in his plans to help Harry.

Both Harry and Nick are stuck, and they need each other to become unstuck and to move on with their lives.  This is a beautiful, human story of the power of friendship.

As for the rest, I recommend watching the movie.  It will be 98 minutes well spent.  I do want to say something more, however.  As vocalist Tom Dew sings in the song which plays over the end credits,

And I think and I know it’s a wonderful day.

There is a future.  It does not look like the faded past, but there is a future.  And the choices we make will contribute greatly to its shape.  May we make it a good one.  That is the ultimate message of the movie.

I have decided to begin to play a new game, Six Degrees of Separation from Tanya Allen.  Given that I have devoted an entire category to some of her filmed works, why not?  So, with a little help from IMDb, here it goes:

  1. Joe Flanigan so-starred in Stargate: Atlantis with…
  2. Torri Higginson, who appeared in The English Patient (It was boring and much too long, I know.) with…
  3. Colin Firth, who co-starred in Where the Truth Lies (one of Egoyan’s lesser efforts) with…
  4. Kevin Bacon (I could not have done this without him.), directed by…
  5. Atom Egoyan, who directed…
  6. Sarah Polley in Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter (two of Egoyan’s greater efforts).  Polley, of course, co-starred with Tanya Allen in White Lies (

An alternate route after #5:  Atom Egoyan played himself in Escape from the Newsroom, in which Tanya Allen appeared via archived footage from The Newsroom (1996-1997).

So there are no more than  two degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and Tanya Allen!

Not bad, huh?



All images are screen captures I obtained via the PowerDVD program and a legal DVD I bought at the Dublin, Georgia, Big Lots store in 2005.

Dark City (1998)   1 comment



Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch

William Hurt as Inspector Frank Bumstead

Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Daniel P. Schreber

Jennifer Connelly as Emma Murdoch

Colin Friels as Detective Eddie Walenski

Directed by Alex Proyas

Rated R

What makes us human?

That is the question which animates this imaginative movie rich with homages to Metropolis (1927), 1940s film noir classics, and German expressionistic silent films.  Watch The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) then Dark City, and notice certain stylistic similarities.

Let us begin.

Dark City is set in a perpetually sunless city replete with anachronisms.  People dress and speak like characters out of 1940s movies yet automotive and architectural styles span several decades.  Something is amiss here, and almost no human characters grasp this fact.  Instead they go their daily lives as if under outside control, which they are.

The puppet masters are the Strangers, parasitic aliens who inhabit human corpses, which look really creepy.  The Strangers have one goal in mind:  to discover what makes humans tick, and therefore to learn this lesson and save their dying species.  The Strangers have the power to “tune,” or alter physical reality with their minds, and to change the identities of the captive people by implanting memories whenever they want.  This plan depends on the humans remaining oblivious to reality, however.

Detective Eddie Walenski has discovered some of the truth.  He knows that there is no way out of the city, and that the woman everyone thinks is his wife no not really his wife; he does not know who she is, or, for that matter, who he is.  These facts cause him great emotional distress, and most other people consider him to be crazy.

Dr. Daniel P. Schreber, Psychiatrist, knows what is going on, for he is the Strangers’ accomplice.  Yet Schreber is uncomfortable with the aliens.  His character is pivotal in the movie.

Our hero, however, is John Murdoch.  He wakes up in a bathtub, uncertain about who he is or why there is a dead woman lying on the floor.  Yet Murdoch does not have the soul of a murderer, for he takes the time to save the life of a fish.  Murdoch has woken up before the Strangers could complete their reprogramming of him as a serial killer of prostitutes.  Schreber, who is somewhat on the side of the humans, calls Murdoch to tell him to flee while he can.  So Murdoch gets out just in time to evade the Strangers.

John Murdoch finds his wife, Emma, who recalls that she has not seen him since an argument three weeks ago.   She expresses regret over an extramarital affair.  None of this happened, of course, for these are fabricated memories.

Emma Murdoch, as a character, begins with little depth, for she exists (as a personality) only because the Strangers created her recently.  The same statement is true of Inspector Frank Bumstead, pictured below:

As Bumstead investigates the murders of prostitutes (Did the murders really happen?, the audience wonders.), he begins to notice the artificiality of the city and the superficiality of his memories.  So he teams up with Murdoch and Schreber to uncover the truth.

Murdoch has “childhood” memories of an idyllic, happy, and sunny place called Shell Beach.  But neither he nor anyone else can recall how to get there.  The search for Shell Beach propels the action of the movie.  Along the way, Murdoch and Bumstead learn far more than they thought possible.

John Murdoch has developed the power to tune, so he has become a rival to the Strangers.  So, of course, he is one of two humans (the other one being Dr. Schreber) who watches the daily retuning of the city, along with buildings arising out of the ground.

I do not want to reveal too much here, for a satisfactory first-time viewing of Dark City depends on not knowing everything.  So I leave much to the imagination.

Consider these questions:  What makes us human?  What makes who we are as individuals, if not our memories?  And if our memories change, do we become different people too?  In other words, what defines the human soul?  Dark City explores these issues intelligently.

Roger Ebert has heaped praise upon this movie and recorded commentary tracks for the original and director’s cut releases.  Watching Dark City without a commentary track is a rewarding artistic experience, but viewing it while listening to Ebert (who no longer has that voice, of course) is informative.  He comments on camera angles, movie pacing, and other details only an expert film reviewer would notice.

To watch Dark City is to spend time well.  I invite you, O reader, to do this many times.



All images are screen captures I obtained via the Power DVD technology installed on my computer.

Posted November 20, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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The Brothers O’Toole (1973)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Title Card for The Brothers O’Toole

The Brothers O’Toole (1973)


John Astin as Michael O’Toole and “Desperate” Ambrose Littleberry

Jesse White as Mayor

Steve Carlson as Timothy O’Toole

Lee Meriwether as Paloma Littleberry

Directed by Richard Erdman

Rated G


I recall seeing The Brothers O’Toole on Turner Broadcasting (WTBS) one Summer weekday afternoon in the middle 1980s.  This was a pleasant memory, based mostly on the bravura performance of John Astin and his character’s humorous eloquence.  Years later I sought out the movie on DVD after finding its title on IMDB, and the seeds for this review had begun to germinate.

Molybdenum is a dusty, small, and poor town outside a mine containing…guess…molybdenum, a substance most residents consider worthless.  They own mine stock, but think the shares are worthless.  The corrupt mayor, whom major corporations pay to keep the true worth of the mine secret, is the only one in town with much money.  And “Desperate” Ambrose Littleberry, a bandit, keeps the town poor, as well.  But Ambrose is not beyond redemption, as his lady love, Paloma, finds out.

Into this town rides Michael O’Toole, a well-educated and eloquent confidence man who looks very much like “Desperate Ambrose.”  So the local authorities, such as they are, arrest him, setting in motion a series of events which change the small town forever.

A few jokes recur in the movie.  One is the variety of ways to pronounce the town’s name.  Some characters stumble over the syllables, giving up after one try.  Others prefer “Molly-Be-Damn,” but the ultra prudish think that “Molly-Be-D” or “Molly-Be-Dern” is appropriate.  Another recurring joke is Michael O’Toole’s expansive vocabulary and how it confuses the locals.  Toward of the end of the movie the mayor presides over a spitting, belching, and cussing contest.  After witnessing his brother Timothy win the belching part of the contest, Michael launches into the following tirade:

I have, in my time, visited three political conventions, four sessions of congress, and two homes for the criminally insane. I have known army generals, steam doctors, vegetarians, prohibitionists, and a female suffragette. But never, even in an Orangeman’s Day parade, have I seen such pure and stainless brainlessness as I now behold in you. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given the worm enough sense to turn with, and the barnacle can grasp whatever happens to be standing by. But you are equipped with a mental capacity smaller than you were born with. Here we are, benighted in the middle of a nowhere named Molly-Be-Damn – a dreary little rookery, Timothy, a squalid sty, a festering pustule on the face of the western slope. Bless the town and bless the people! Look at them – the rabble of this cantankerous community! Knaves and fools, louts and lardheads, the least of all God’s creatures, without enough push to pick the fleas off each other, abiding in putrefaction and inertia, curled up comfy in it like hogs in a mud hole! And while I, of all people, fret and sweat for a way to pull these Simple Simons out of the bog, you stand around making flatulent noises for the titillation of the vulgar mob. And while he’s bubbling himself, what are you doing, you pusillanimous pack of popcorn pickers? You clattered clutch of clucks? The town dilapidating around you, coasting downhill in a handcart to Hell while you stand about gaping for flies and going patty-cake with your hands!…All right, all right, all right! Fine! Keep it, and treasure it the way it is! For when all this trash has collapsed into one pile, and the howling wilderness has claimed its own again, I want you hicks to be happy, belching and spitting, laughing and singing, swinging from tree to tree, with your friend Soapy Sam here, the Uriah Heep of the hookworm belt, standing around below waiting to steal anything that falls to the ground. If a nut should drop and fall – leave it lying there. It’s probably my little brother Timothy.

He wins the prize for best cussing.

Below:  Michael O’Toole watching the Belching Contest

I recommend this movie highly, with no reservations.



Posted June 9, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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H2O (2004) and The Trojan Horse (2008)   Leave a comment

Above:  Paul Gross as Tom McLaughlin

H2O (2004) and The Trojan Horse (2008)


Paul Gross as Prime Minister/President-Elect Thomas David McLaughlin

Guy Nadon as Deputy Prime Minister/Prime Minister/Solicitor General Marc Lavigne

Leslie Hope as Sergeant Leah Collins, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Martha Henry as Julia McLaughlin

Philip Akin as President Monroe

Kenneth Welsh as Randall Spear

Callum Keith Rennie as Daniel Holt

Greta Scaachi as Helen Madigan

Martha Burns as Senator/Vice President-Elect Mary Miller

Tom Skerritt as President William Stanfield

Clark Johnson as John Neelon

Saul Rubinek as White House Chief of Staff Rafe Kott

Rachael Crawford as National Security Advisor Colleen Howell

3 hours per miniseries on DVD

The fragility of civil liberties and national sovereignty constitute the backbone of H2O and its sequel, The Trojan Horse, both excellent Canadian miniseries.

It is 2004, and Canadian Prime Minister Matthew McLaughlin dies during a canoeing trip.  This is an assassination, not an accident.  In the immediate aftermath of this death, Deputy Prime Minister Marc Lavigne, a conscientious man, assumes the nation’s helm.  Within a few weeks, however, the late Prime Minister’s son, Tom, wins leadership of the party (which, although not named, is presumably the Conservative Party), becoming Prime Minister in his father’s place.

Tom McLaughlin, who has dictatorial tendencies and contempt for the concept of the nation-state, is the beneficiary of an international corporate conspiracy to assassinate his father and to install him in high office.  McLaughlin the younger, who learns the identity of those who plotted his father’s murder, protects them and blames Islamic terrorists, transforms Canada into a police state, and seeks to compromise Canadian sovereignty.  Tom, who creates disorder in order to increase his power, dangles a carrot in front of the United States government in exchange for U.S. help to restore order in Canada.  That carrot is water, which Canada has in abundance, and which the United States needs desperately.  The sale of this water will line the pockets of those who conspired to assassinate McLaughlin the elder and to install his son.

And so Canada descends into chaos as patriots resist their Prime Minister and his administration.  McLaughlin frames innocent people and plots the murder of inconvenient persons.  The U.S. President, concerned about the “Canadian Crisis,” sends in the military, takes over Canada, and transforms McLaughlin into a puppet.

Two years later, in 2006, after his term as Prime Minister, McLaughlin and Lavigne watch television coverage of a Canadian referendum about whether to convert Canada into six U.S. states.  The vote is 51% to 49% in favor of annexation, and Republican President William Stanfield celebrates with his aides.  The resentful McLaughlin, however, conspires with international corporate leaders, spy masters, and heads of government to defeat Stanfield, who is up for re-election in 2008.  Presumably, President Tom McLaughlin will do their bidding, thereby selling the United States down the river intentionally.  Indeed, McLaughlin says privately that he will take the U.S. away from the Americans because they took Canada away from him.  Yet this fact does not mean that he is anybody’s pawn.

President Stanfield is a true believer in the neoconservative cause.  Secretary of Defense during the Canadian Crisis, Stanfield regards the annexation of Canada as a great achievement, for he believes in asserting American power, not in practicing international diplomacy.  Those who conspire with McLaughlin to make him President regard Stanfield as a bully, and they are correct in that assessment.  Yet they are amoral, as is McLaughlin, whom they regard mistakenly as a would-be puppet.

In 2008 a seemingly random shooting at a London law firm sets events into motion.  Among the dead attorneys is the son of skilled investigative reporter Helen Madigan, responsible a few years previously for breaking the story about yellow cake nuclear material from Niger.  Her maternal grief in hand, Madigan begins to investigate the causes behind her son, and the London C.I.A. station chief, who is in league with McLaughlin and his conspirators, sends John Neelon, one of his professional assassins, to murder Madigan.  However, Neelon, who has no moral qualms about killing avowed threats to the United States, discovers that the order to kill Madigan did not come from Langley.  So he protects and assists her instead.

The main international backstory in The Trojan Horse concerns Saudi Arabia.  The People’s Republic of China is attempting to destabilize the kingdom and to control the Saudi Arabian oil supply, a fact which would, if successful, hurt the United States greatly.  President Stanfield perceives the need to secure Saudi Arabia much the way the U.S. secured Canada in 2004, but McLaughlin and other international players deny him a pretense on which to invade.  Stanfield, who speaks of righteousness in public and in private, confides in his amoral Chief of Staff, Rafe Kott, who conspires without Stanfield’s knowledge to create a pretense for an invasion, which might lead to what Stanfield would consider the greater good.  The fact that innocent, Christian children might suffer and/or die in the name of the “greater good” does not concern Kott.

Meanwhile, McLaughlin plots to win the White House honestly before selling out the United States.  Apparently, the purpose of the murder in London had been to cover up the existence of a computer program intended to rig the results of the 2008 Presidential Election for McLaughlin (without his knowledge) by altering results in voting machines.  The last Canadian Prime Minister stages an assassination attempt, fakes a coma, pretends to have a religious conversion, and remarries his former wife, Texas Republican Senator Mary Miller, whom he convinces to run for Vice President with him on an independent ticket.  He campaigns on the “Spirit of Independence,” which, coming from him, is a lie, of course.

After watching both miniseries I conclude that sympathetic characters are difficult to find.  Tom McLaughlin’s battle axe mother, Julia, comes to mind, as does Leah Collins, the intrepid Canadian federal agent from H2O.  Marc Lavigne is an honest broker in both miniseries, and one cannot help but side with grieving mother Helen Madigan in The Trojan Horse.  Furthermore, Senator Mary Miller, the manipulated wife, Senator, and running mate from the second miniseries, is a sympathetic character.  Most characters, however, seem to be either amoral or immoral.  And, at the end, it falls to Senator Miller to set in motion the necessary, if not pretty, salvific deed.

These riveting miniseries are skillfully acted, shot, directed, and edited political thrillers one will enjoy watching.  The violence is neither gory nor gratuitous, the occasionally strong language does not detract from the plot (indeed, it seems like what the characters would say), and the story carries the viewer along well.  Everything in these cautionary tales seems plausible, and therein resides their scariness.  And if the plot feels far-fetched, let us remember that odder events have unfolded in history.  Samuel Clemens commented once that the difference between fiction and non-fiction is the former has to make sense.


Posted May 21, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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Police Squad! (1982)   Leave a comment

Police Squad! (1982)

Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin

Alan North as Captain Ed Hocken

Ed Williams as Mr. Olson

William Duell as Johnny

Peter Lupus as Norberg

The same brains behind Airplane! (1980) made this short-lived (six episodes) series.  Police Squad! was a satire on 1970s Quinn Martin crime series.  Leslie Nielsen played the square-jawed Detective Frank Drebin, who was usually oblivious to what happened around him.  Rex Hamilton played Abraham Lincoln (shooting back) in the opening credits.  Also, each week’s guest star died in the opening credits.  In addition, Ed Williams played Mr. Olson, the police lab scientist who conducted dubious experiments (such as fun things to do with discarded swimwear) and had unusual forensic science techniques (such as shooting bullets through video tapes of Barbara Walters interviews). Another fun feature of each episode was the fact that the title the announcer read did not match the title on screen.  And there were many visual gags (such as an Egyptian-style human form next to a chalk outline of where a body fell).   Each half-hour episode was a comedy gem without a laugh track.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider the following dialogue from the first episode.  Ralph Twice, a man just laid off from a tire factory, cashed a check at a credit union.  Sally Decker, the cashier (in need of money to pay off her orthodontist) shot Ralph Twice then the teller, Jim Johnson.  Next she stole the money from Twice’s check and created a lie to tell the police.  She claimed that Twice had held up and shot the teller, and that she shot Twice in self-defense.

Frank: Do you feel up to any questions?

Sally: I’ll try.

Frank:  Where were you when all this happened?

Sally:  I was right here at my desk, working.

Frank:  When was the first time you noticed something was wrong?

Sally:  Well, when I first heard the shot, then, as I turned, Jim fell.

Ed:  He’s the teller, Frank.

Frank:  Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally:  No, Jim Johnson.

Frank:  Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed:  He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally:  He had the flu, so Jim filled in.

Frank:  Phil who?

Ed:  Phil Din.  He’s the night watchman.

Frank:  Now, wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.  Twice came in and shot the teller, and Jim Fell.

Sally:  No, he only shot the teller, Jim Johnson; Fell is ill.

Frank:  Okay, then.  After he shot the teller, you shot twice.

Sally:  No, I only shot once.

Ed:  Twice is the hold-up man.

Sally:  Then I guess I did shoot Twice.

Frank:  So now you’re changing your story?

Sally:  No, I shot Twice after Jim fell.

Frank:  You shot twice and Jim fell?

Sally:  Jim fell first then I shot Twice once.

Frank:  Who fired twice?

Sally:  Once.

Ed:  He’s the owner of the tire company, Frank.

Frank:  Okay, now Once is the name of the tire company, and he fired Twice.  Then Twice shot the teller once.

Sally:  Twice.

Frank:  And Jim fell, then you fired twice.

Sally:  Once.

Frank:  Okay.  Alright, that’ll be all for now, Ms. Decker.

Ed:  We’ll need you to make a formal statement down at the station.

Sally:  O, of course.

Frank: You’ve been very helpful.  We think we know how he did it.

Sally:  O, Howie couldn’t have done it.  He hasn’t been in for weeks.

Frank:  Well, thank you again, Ms. Decker.

(Frank walks toward Ed, and they move toward the exit.)

Frank:  Weeks?

Ed: Saul Weeks.  He’s the comptroller, Frank.

Fortunately, the series is available on DVD, as are the three Naked Gun movies based on this series.  The show is better, though.


Posted January 30, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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