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Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk with you tonight, because as the song says, “Let us not talk falsely now, because the hour is getting late.”

Can we turn the lights down please?  I would rather that those who are watching have more reason to concentrate on my words, rather than the size of my pores which are being illuminated with the light of multiple suns.  Ahh, thank you.

*walks to the front of the stage, sits down on the edge with legs dangling off the side*

That’s better.

By now, I’m sure that you have all come to understand that an organization that calls itself “Islamic State” has declared war on the West, which includes US.  I know that there are no shortage of voices who will trip over each other in their hurry to tell you that IS represents an “extreme” or “militant” version of Islam, and still others who are just as eager to tell you that they don’t represent Islam at all.  Frankly, I’m going to leave it up to each one of you to make your own determination as to whether any of these voices are correct.  I’ve done my research.  I’ve noted certain patterns, and methods of operation.  But you, each of you, deserves the right and luxury of being able to make your own investigations, and draw your own conclusions, without the constant drumbeat of people who either don’t trust you to come to the correct conclusions, or cannot fathom of conclusions differing from their own without condemning them as some form of “-ism”, “bigotry”, or other object of “offense”, not worthy of consideration, and totally devoid of merit.

Tonight, and in the coming days of this election, you will hear candidates of all leanings, from both of the major parties who will tell you that if you will only elect them, they “will keep the Homeland safe.”

This is a lie.

The fact is that they can’t “keep us safe”.  The reason is two-fold.

First, too many of our nation’s resources have their gaze, and their suspicion fixed on American citizens, as part of an institutional culture that routinely rejects the sovereignty of individual Americans and regards the exercise of their sovereign rights as threats to the state…a state which is being morphed into an end of its own, rather than an expression of an ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  This is why you will increasingly refer to “the Homeland”, rather than “America”, despite the fact that Americans need no “reminder”, subtle, or otherwise, that America is our home.  At the same time, we have trained those who are supposed to be looking out for our nation that we cannot possibly act in a prudent fashion to secure ourselves from external threats, or keep from transforming these external threats into internal ones.

Secondly, we face a foe which loves death more than they love life.  They are ruthless.  They are determined.  And they are patient.  This means that even if all of the government’s considerable resources were trained in the right direction, the odds are still against us, and successful attacks will succeed.

If we are to rely on only our own agency to combat this, then the only path to victory is a terrible resolve, to either make the death they love so horrifying, so terrible, that they will chose life in the alternative, or to fight this evil to every last man, woman, and yes, child, because they have enlisted even their own children in this conflict.

We are in a moment of decision, when we need to have clarity in our deliberation, and the wisdom to understand that leaders take responsibility not only for the successes of their subordinates, but for their failures as well.  While it is apparent to me that this should disqualify many of the candidates running for office, I understand the temptation to want to believe that a specific candidate who talks tough can be a savior.  The best leaders lead by example, and first, we need to actually elect a leader who believes in the American people, and who can remind them of their own genius, and their goodness, and inspire them to live them, rather than deferring to a government that is poorly equipped to assume a moral responsibility that runs contrary to too many of its own purposes.  For too long, we have compromised with evil, and clothed it in the mundane as we have made it part and parcel of our daily life.  This will lead some among us to believe that compromise is a laudatory and worthy goal, and will seek to make it happen.  The best outcome we can hope for with this is a temporary peace, and an arrogant complacency which will make us subject to an eventual defeat.

The election season is one that demands, and receives, a degree of suspension of disbelief that would be unthinkable in any other aspect of our lives.  We would never accept the brazen lies told to us by politicians from friends, co-workers, lovers, or family, and yet we expect it, hell, we want it from people who have continually demonstrated that they are utterly unworthy of our trust, which we freely give every time, like Charlie Brown expecting Lucy to not pull away the football.

We don’t need the puffery, the exaggerations, and the flat-out lies.
We don’t need someone who doesn’t like us to wag his finger and tell us who we are and who we aren’t, when he’s only interested in who he wants us to be.  We know who we are.  And we need a leader who is one of us, not someone who has contempt for who we are, and who cynically seeks to exploit us because that is who they are.  We just have to decide if we are going to chose a leader who represents our qualities, and if we want to win the conflict that is being brought to us, or if we will be “fundamentally transformed”, and chose to be the last ones eaten by the alligator.

Good night.

*fade to black*

 

In the growing twilight, Rick could see the trace of a frown pass over Cooper Wilson’s face.  He looked to see if Lise had picked up on it, but if she did, she gave no indication.  She leaned forward, and put her hand to his chest, but before she could nudge him, his eyes snapped open, and he sat upright.

Startled, she stepped back, as Cooper looked around, blinking in the growing darkness.  When he recovered, he acknowledged the presence of his old friend, and asked “What time is it?”

Rick smiled and said “5:30.  I must be in the wrong outfit.  I don’t get to take naps.”

Cooper smiled and said “I hadn’t really intended to take this one.”  He then turned to Lise, and asked, “Where’s Jake?  I’m surprised he hasn’t asked about dinner yet.”  Wondering at his reaction, she smiled and said “He’s still in the basement.  That train set simply makes the hours melt away.”

The trio went inside, and shortly had dinner.  Cooper half listened to Rick’s story of his latest trip south, and smiled when Jake told him again about the engines of the train set with the exact same enthusiasm he’d told him about them on the two previous evenings.  After dinner, he’d reviewed reports while the others relaxed with their own activities, but time seemed to be running away from him as he realized that he had just finished reading the same page for the fifth time.  Jake came in to give him a hug, and say good night, before exiting the room with the Major following behind.

A whiskey glass clunked down in the desk in front of him, two fingers of light brown liquid, swirling in the glass.  “I know you’ve always had a taste for this stuff, Hoss, but I’d pay real money for some decent tequilia.” said Rick, as he sat down in the chair in front of Cooper, raising his own glass to his lips.  “It is one of the perks of being here.” Cooper said, smiling as he took a slow pull from his glass.

“You were having a dream about her, weren’t you?”, Rick asked Cooper.

“Nightmare is more like it.”  replied Cooper.  “Still, if that’s the worst I’m seeing when I close my eyes now, I guess I’ve got it pretty good now.”

Rick sat silently for a minute, appraising his friend’s mood.  Finally, he said “You couldn’t have saved her, you know.  When they decided to come for those they’d targeted, there was nothing that could be done.”

Cooper took another pull on the rye, savoring the burn as it went down his throat.  “It wasn’t that she was killed.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do anything about it.  It was how we left things…things weren’t good.”

“Hell.  I know that.”

“Yeah, but…”  Cooper’s voice trailed off.

The two sat in silence, sipping the whiskey.

Outside the study, Lise considered what she’d just heard, and wondered if Cooper’s ghosts would ever let him rest.  As she thought about how much informati0n wasn’t in the profile on Cooper, Rick stepped out of the study, and passed her on his way to his bedroom in the residence.  “Go easy on him.  If you’re going to be there, then be there, but don’t go adding to the voices that he hears every time he closes his eyes.”

Lise looked in, and saw Cooper putting the glasses onto the credenza, his back to her and the door.  Quietly, she stepped in, and up behind him as he regarded the books on the shelf in front of him.  “Cooper…” she half-whispered.  He turned to face her, his eyes betraying the fatigue and sadness he felt.  “Major.  Shouldn’t one of us be in bed now?  I’m sure we have a busy day scheduled tomorrow.”

She smiled, and replied “I’m sure that both of us should be, but I somehow doubt that you’re going to sleep, and I should probably be trying to figure out how to fix that.”

“I slept this afternoon.  And I’m not some puzzle to be solved.”

“The hell you aren’t”, thought Lise, but instead of saying anything, she reached out, and took his hand.  Cooper flinched, and looked down at her hand, then back up at her face, a look of confusion clouding his features.  “Lise….I…can’t…”

She masked her surprise while wondering at his reaction to her touch, and said “You’re alone, Cooper Wilson, but you don’t have to be.  And you shouldn’t be.” as she leaned forward to kiss him on the lips.

10

Cooper Wilson reclined in the Adirondack chair, his face to the breeze and the slowly settling sun as he listened to the dry leaves being blown over the concrete on which he sat. There was a definite edge to the cooling air, which no longer carried the fragrances of summer, but rather seemed devoid of anything other than the smell of decay and hints at the emptiness that was coming with the approaching winter.

Now that he was back in the midwest, the trees all around had exploded into their annual flames of color, but he had long ago stopped looking forward to this time of year. They had seen to that. He remained unsure if time healed all wounds, or simply allowed them to subside to a dull ache. He actually no longer dreaded this seasonal reminder, and found that he could actually stop and think of them without it feeling like an open wound…like he had been gutted and trussed up for the world to see. As the wind washed over him, wondered at that the lack of urgency in his memory, and decided that he didn’t really know how he felt about not feeling their loss as keenly as he used to. Thoughts burst up in his mind. Thoughts of thanksgiving that the pain had dulled dueled with thoughts of guilt for still being alive. A ghost of a smile passed over his face as he thought that this would undoubtedly be fascinating to Lise. A puzzle to study. A riddle to analyze. The slight smile faded as his thoughts circled back to the woman. For a time, Cooper believed that she was unusually dedicated to the study of both he and Jake. She always seemed to be present, foreground or background. He wasn’t sure when, or if, she actually slept. But the more he observed her, then more he came to conclude that she actually cared for Jake, and was interested in his well-being. Cooper had almost unconsciously come to rely on her counsel, and her care of the young man, as he found himself busy about the work that had been assigned to him. It came across as more than trust. It felt like rapport. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time either. “Another betrayal.”, whispered another voice in his mind, which sounded suspiciously like his own, as fatigue overtook the inner dialogue in his head, and sleep overtook him, as the sun sank a little lower on the horizon, darkening the yellow light bathing his face.

Inside, watching him from the kitchen, Lise regarded the man on the patio. Clad in the same jeans, shirt, and jacket he wore when they had taken him in to custody months before, the now-slumbering man looked as relaxed as she’d seen him in that entire time. No fits and starts. No restless turning and crying out. For a just a second, she could swear that she’d seen him smile, but given the feelings that she had unexpectedly developed for the man, feelings which she had only just recently admitted to herself, she couldn’t be sure she’d actually seen anything. She still wasn’t sure how she’d arrived at those feelings, and was upset with herself that she couldn’t seem to figure out exactly how that had happened in the first place. Technically he was a patient, and she had a great deal of experience in evaluating and dealing with troubled patients. He was also an assignment, one upon which much was riding. He wasn’t much to look at. Sure he was tall, but the 50-odd years he’d lived seemed more evident on him then they might otherwise have. The gray at his temples seemed very pronounced. The little lines at the corners of his eyes were still little, but very deeply etched. But the eyes. The eyes contained a light which had only seemed to get brighter, starting with the return of his Bible. The dossier had hinted that he knew much of the book remarkably well, and that he could quote much of it from memory. But when it had been returned to him, he still managed to find a half hour or so a day to read it. And while the outside appearance of her patient was nondescript, he had a personality and wit which were quick and engaging, and had proven to be even more so in private. The security detail reports indicated that many of the detail had developed a genuine affinity for the man. Even the infamous Agent Roy admitted privately that he’d had a few conversations with Cooper that left him with the impression that although he was humble, he was also much more than he seemed. “Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to him,” she thought to herself, taking a sip of cooling coffee from a blue mug, “maybe because he is more than he seems.”

“I gotta hand it to you. You’ve done well with him.” A voice from behind startled her out of her reverie.

“Col. Gearhart. I hadn’t heard you were back.” She responded flatly.

“Yeah, well, I may have been seconded to you folks for awhile, but that doesn’t mean that you all know about my comings and goings.”

The two watched the sleeping Cooper as the wind blew harder, bringing more leaves down out of the trees.

Lise finished the last swallow of her now cold coffee. It was a miracle that she had gotten Cooper to sit still for a few minutes, and suppress his concern about Jake long enough to simply relax, and that had only been possible because Jake was in the fortified basement of the residence, playing with an electric train set which she had “requisitioned” as part of his treatment, under the watchful eyes of Agent Roy.

“It’s getting cold…and dark. We should probably go bring him in, although you probably had a difficult time getting him to do it in the first place. Well, maybe not quite so difficult.”

Lise cocked her head as she turned backwards to face Rick Gearhart, and asked “What does that mean?”

Rick looked at her for a moment, his eyes barely concealing an amusement that had yet to leak out on to the rest of his face, then said “He’s falling for you. He’d never say it, but I knew him when…well, let’s just say I knew him the last time he had feelings for a woman. He’d probably never say it, most likely because he’s been through so much, but I see it when he talks to you.”

Lise’s heart felt like it skipped a beat, then started hammering away like a jackrabbit. She was embarrassed at her reaction, and hoped that her face wasn’t flushing like it felt like it was doing. There were so many reasons, both professional and personal, to not want to feel like a love struck girl, and mentally, she was frantically searching for something to say, and the correct tone of voice to not betray her unexpected feelings to this man with whom she had argued so often and so vehemently. Before her thoughts could coalesce into the mass she needed them to be, he added “Look, I know we don’t see eye to eye on just about anything, Major, and I have no idea what the rules are on fraternization in the service of the King, but I know that you care for him, and that he cares for you, and if there is one thing that I think my friend is entitled to before he dies, it’s having a relationship again with someone who shares his feelings.”

Lise’s mouth opened, then shut, then opened as the words cut through the swirling emotions, ideas, and responses weaving through her mind. A full minute passed before the look of shock and confusion on her face gave way to a more settled expression, and she managed to say “Thank you.”

“Of course, I’m still not terribly fond you, and if you were to hurt him, I’d dedicate some time to making you as miserable as I possibly could.” said the Col., the smile having escaped the prison in his eyes to come out through the smile on his face.

“Good.” she replied.

“Good?” he asked.

“Good.” she affirmed.

It was his turn for confusion to cloud his expression.

“I don’t understand.” he said.

“Well,” she began, “It felt like we were having a moment there, and that would be so far out of character for you, that I was thinking I might have to order a psych evaluation to determine what was wrong with you.”

A low chuckle escaped his throat as the smile returned, powered by the twinkle in his eye.
“Oh. That. I wouldn’t fret any about it. It wasn’t bound to last, even if I did mean every word of it.”

Her gaze returned to Cooper, who was still asleep in the chair on the patio. The sun seemed to be touching the horizon, allowing the cool of night to rush in to fill the growing vacancy. She shivered, almost involuntarily, and said “Let’s go get him up. I know he will be glad for the chance to talk to you about what you were up to the last week or so.”

Cooper sat on the end of the front pew and listened to the growing silence as the last of the attendees made their way out of the cathedral’s massive front doors.  Now that no one was around, he loosened his tie, and undid the top button of his shirt.  He felt tired.  Not the blind fatigue that marked the last three months, but the kind of tired that comes from an honest day’s work.  He knew he’d sleep well tonight.  He smiled as he bent over to pick up the program that someone had carelessly dropped to the floor.  His name wasn’t the only one on it, but he chuckled softly as he read his name, unable to concentrate on any of the others.  He’d reflected on the fickleness of fate, and how it would take an outcast and a refugee, who no longer had a country, and elevate him to the position he currently occupied.

“Sir?  Sir?”

Cooper was jerked out of his reverie, and silently cursed himself for not hearing the approach of the sergeant standing in front of him.  “I’m sorry, sergeant.  I’m afraid I was so lost in thought that I didn’t hear you approach.  How can I help?”

“I’m not sure, sir.  I heard the sermon.  I listened all the way through, which surprised me.”

“It’s ok.  I’m still surprised at the idea of giving one.”

“Yes, well…I guess that’s what I wanted to ask you about.  I found that part interesting.  The part about how you weren’t always a believer.  I was wondering…”

“How that changed?”

“Well, yes, sir.”

“I grew up with it in my family, so it wasn’t something I was unfamiliar with, but I guess I’d have to say that it wasn’t until I started reading that,” his hand reached out to the small, snap cover leather-bound Bible in the sergeant’s hand “that I started to look at things I was already seeing in a different light.  I suppose it is a cliché, but I don’t think a genuine belief is something I could lead someone else to.  They have to find it for themselves.  The best advice I can give you, sergeant, is to read it on your own.  Try to read three chapters a day, and then spend some time thinking about what you read.  If you can make the time, and you dedicate the effort necessary, I think that you won’t be able to help from coming to a genuine and sincere belief on your own.”

The sergeant was quiet for a moment.  Then he collected himself, and said “Thank you, Commander.  I’ve taken enough of your time.”

Cooper looked at the sergeant, and said “Not at all, sergeant.  I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I’m here, and I’m always a little surprised that this is the work my sovereign has me doing.  Everyone seems to be helped by it, no matter how inadequate I feel about it.”

The sergeant looked at him for a moment, his expression unchanging, even as a smile as big as the sun started shining in his eyes.  “Well, then, if that’s the case…”

Cooper allowed a trace of a smile to cross his lips in response.  “Yes?”:

“Sir, the only reason I came today is because some of my men wanted to come, and they asked me to come with them until I said yes.  But I stayed…I stayed because something you said resonated with me.  Our unit leaves tomorrow.  I was wondering if you could come by and counsel some of them.  It would mean a lot.  They won’t tell us where we are going, and in my experience, that usually isn’t good.”

Cooper looked at the sergeant’s unit patch, and realized that he knew where the sergeant was going, and that it wasn’t good.  “Of course I will, sergeant.  In fact, Lt. Col. Gearhart, and I have to drive by there on our way back to where we’re staying.  Why don’t you ride with us?”

Cooper and the sergeant started down the long aisle to the doors, with Rick and Lise in tow.  Rick asked Lise “I guess this means that we’re not getting back to the residence for a awhile?”

Lise, who had been smiling, said “Shhhh!” before saying “I think sleepless nights are about to take on a brand new meaning, Col. Gearhart.

Over the last few years, Hollywood has been slowly building a library of space disaster movies.  And I have ended up watching most of them.  While some tell the story through telemetry (Europa Report, Apollo 18), the others have used first person/third person  “as-it-happens” narratives (Last Days On Mars/Interstellar/Gravity).  I think that the telemetry story telling is more difficult, but I also think that it has a greater potential that the films using it haven’t quite managed to use to full effect.  However, I like the fact that some in Hollywood have decided to embrace exploration as a theme again, rather than simply using it as a vehicle for other messages, even if in most of these films, it comes down to traveling a long way to meet a sudden and horrible death.  While it is always a possibility, it isn’t the reason for making the trip.  We make the trip because we want to go somewhere where very few others, or no one has been before.  We make the trip because going is the challenge.  We make the trip because there is always something to learn, even if it is just about ourselves.  We make the trip because making the trip helps us to grow.

Apollo 18

I wanted to enjoy this movie.  I think NASA lost something when it stopped manned missions to other planets, and I think we are poorer as a society for them stopping.  The start of this movie made me feel a nostalgia for a time I never really knew, as I would have only been two when this mission was to have taken place in 1974.  But watching it, I could feel the cultural schism that still gripped the country.  It was a time when nerds with slide rules and pencils teamed up with clean-cut, square-jawed men who were much smarter than their outward all-american jock exteriors would lead a casual observer to believe, and braver than counter-cultural footsoldiers who preached a gospel of excess, self-gratification, and navel-gazing that birthed the whiny, entitled, self-serving attitude so prevalent in our society today, to actually DO something of consequence, and inspire those paying attention to achieve and do more themselves.

I watched, as the three-man crew trained for a mission that wasn’t going to get the glory and headlines of previous missions, due to the clandestine nature of the tasks they were being sent to perform, and I marveled at their willingness to strap themselves on to flying bombs, with large computers that have less power than what is contained in a modern car’s emissions control system, or a smart phone.

Of course, it soon becomes clear that the people who sent them failed to tell them everything, and that’s when the movie started to fall apart for me.  These men were career military officers.  And yet they let their emotions override their training, which was fatal for all of them.  It made what started as a solid B+ slide to a C.

Interstellar

I liked that this movie explored the wonder and curiosity implicit in the act of exploration.  I loved the fact that it examined humanity, with all its faults and blemishes, alongside of its best examples of courage, sacrifice, and resolve.

But throughout, I found myself wanting to know more about what happened to make it necessary to leave Earth in the first place.  The film offered some tantalizing clues, but never comes out and describes the events that changed everything.

In the end, it was a breakthrough not in science itself, but our understanding of forces and phenomena that we’ve been aware of forever that allowed humanity to find a new home among the stars.

My initial reaction to the ending was “That’s It?”, but the longer I thought about it, the more I thought it was actually correct.  That said, it isn’t a film I think I’ll be watching again anytime soon.

Gravity

Out of the three films reviewed in this article, I actually liked this one the best.  The visual elements were stunning and convincing.  And I enjoyed the transformation of a scientist who was dead inside into a human being who WANTED to live.

If you can only see one, and want to take in the best story of the three, get Gravity.

When I was much younger, my friends and I regularly spent a summer evening watching movies.  We all had jobs, and various places offered specials that made it possible to rent 3 VHS tapes for dirt cheap.  Our plan was simple:  We would rent one “good one” (usually a blockbuster or a vanity project for some well-known star), and two “bad ones”, which were films we’d either seen or read were terrible, or decided from the description, must be craptastic to some varying degree.  It was a fun way to pass an evening, and even as most memories of that time take on a more static and incomplete quality in my reflection, I can smile and reflect on four memories which I still carry and hold dear from that time:  The Blue Monkey quarantine, which is the worst in cinematic history; the Millennium paradox, about which one of my oldest friends and I still argue; The worst script ever, Interface, which I remain convinced to this day that they never finished filming (it was so awful we actually turned it OFF), and that you can sleep with a friend’s wife, and he’ll naturally try to kill you, but when he responds by killing your dog, it’s on like Donkey Kong (Revenge).  When I watched John Wick the other night, I recognized one of the bad guy’s errors for what it was: FATAL.  Never, ever kill a man’s dog, and expect mercy.

John Wick opens with a look at a man consumed by an incalculable grief.  He is obviously a man of means, living in an upscale, tidy home, who appears to be controlled, yet rudderless at the same time.  As the movie starts rolling, it is clear that his aimlessness is the result of his wife’s recent death.  The flashbacks tell us little about Wick himself, but make it clear that he adored his now dead wife, who looks to have passed away from cancer.  The only hint we get that there is something out of the ordinary about him is the exchange he has at the cemetery after the funeral, in which he and Marcus, played by Willem Dafoe, exchange emotionless pleasantries before Wick goes back to his home, which is filled with mourners.

As he picks up after they depart, the doorbell rings.  A delivery driver drops off a puppy, with a card from his wife, explaining that the puppy is there to give him something to love in her absence.  Never succumbing to any show of affection, Wick nonetheless makes the puppy his companion, and clearly carves out a place in his life for the small dog, who accompanies him everywhere.

It is on one of these outings where Wick crosses paths with flashy russian thugs at a local gas station, where one becomes attracted to Wick’s car, a ’69 Boss Mustang, and crudely offers to buy it from the circumspect Wick.  Wick informs him that it isn’t for sale, prompting the thug to fall back on his thuggishness, and attempt to intimidate Wick, only to learn that the quiet man speaks Russian quite well, and wasn’t intimidated at all.

The Russians are not deterred, and later break into Wick’s home, brutally beat him, kill his dog, and steal his car.  They take it to a chop shop, and tell the alarmed owner that they would like new vins and clean papers.  The owner, played by John Leguizamo, recognizes the car, and decides he would rather face the wrath of the thug leader’s father than the owner of the Mustang.  When word gets back to the father, he places a call to Leguizamo, who informs him that his son just beat up John Wick, killed his dog, and stole his car.  The father, realizing just what a grevious error this was, simply said “Oh.”, and hung up the phone.

Meanwhile, Wick is making preparations, and we start to get a sense that his aimlessness is gone, only to be replaced by a bloody and single-minded resolve.  Meanwhile, the father, accompanied by his consigliere, played by Dean Winters (Mayhem), confronts his son, and lets him know the gravity of his offense, and the inevitability of a permanent penalty.

That fucking nobody is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him Baba Yaga. Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman, he was the one you send to kill the fucking Boogeyman. John is a man of focus, commitment and sheer will. I once saw him kill three men in a bar, with a pencil. With a fucking… pencil. Suddenly one day he asked to leave, over a woman of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day lay the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog. John will come for you and you will do nothing because you can do nothing.

The rest of the movie is a tale of a father trying to save his son, while knowing it is an impossible task, and a man so focused on revenge that he steps back into a world he was fortunate enough to walk away from years before.  The body count was otherworldly, and the way in which Wick dispatched those between him and his objective was brutal, but it was done in a way that didn’t come across as gratuitous or pointless, which made watching the movie much easier than it could have been.  But the other thing that made this movie enjoyable was the fact that there was a code of conduct for the assassins, and when one of their number did not observe that code, and decided to “break the rules” to take the chance of getting the huge bounty placed on Wick’s head, the others didn’t remain on the sidelines, wagging their fingers.  They acted to enforce that code, because in the end, they too needed a place to take shelter, and have one place where they didn’t have to look over their shoulders.  In the end, the only time where Wick showed any emotion other than an appetite for revenge was in a scene where he answered the one question on everyone’s lips.  I won’t spoil that for you, but I will tell you that in the end, he walks off with another dog.  Maybe it is from dealing with autistic people, maybe it’s from having it myself to a degree, but in that scene, I thought he showed a glimmer of hope that he could still “get out”, and find a measure of peace.

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Black Sea

Captain Robinson has a problem.

The movie opens with the veteran submarine captain being informed by a desk jockey that his employment with the salvage company he works for has come to an end.  Robinson’s reaction is a mix of shock and anger, as he realizes that the career he has lost his family to has discarded him like so much refuse.

However, a conversation with other unemployed salvers in a pub offers the hope of a privately finance salvage job in the Black Sea…one that would allow him to retire richer than he could ever imagine, so he could attempt to rekindle his relationship with his 12 year-old son, who is being raised by his ex-wife and her new husband.  Soon he and his fellow conspirators hatch a plan to reach a Nazi U-boat, which supposedly disappeared in 1940 after taking on a cargo of gold paid to the Nazis by Stalin in a desperate attempt to buy peace with Germany at the outset of the Second World War.

He is soon introduced to a mysterious individual, who offers to provide the necessary financial backing in exchange for 40% of any gold found up to $40,000,000.00, and 20% of any gold above that amount the salvers recover.  From there, Robinson, and his friends hatch a plan to buy an old Soviet diesel submarine to use in their attempts to salvage the gold without either the Georgian or the Soviet navies learning of their efforts.  In order to keep the costs down, they decide on a half British, half Russian skeleton crew of misfits and psychopaths, and travel to Sevastopol to purchase a floating wreck which is no longer adequate to be repurposed into razor blades, and set to refitting and provisioning for the trip.

You can guess that this is a recipe for disaster, and you would be right, but Jude Law’s performance as the haggard captain convincingly portrays the kind of desperation that would push a man who should know better to seal himself in a tin can with a small crew of people who don’t like or trust their own countrymen, and mix them with an equal number of foreigners who they despise even more.  Once the predictable series of events and disasters start to unfold, the good captain becomes even more desperate, and ends up compounding the problem, returning to balance only when he discovers that he and his shrinking crew have been set up by their former employer, and weren’t ever going to be able to keep the tons of gold they sacrificed so much to retrieve, because the corporation and the Georgian government had already divided it among themselves.  At this point, the clichéd reimagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” ended, as the captain ended up sacrificing himself to save the only two characters who weren’t modern-day pirates.

Black Sea

While there were some “liberties” taken with the script in terms of the science involved in undersea adventures, there was really only one that managed to pull my attention from the story to the gaff and make me say “oh, c’mon…”.   I was also put off a bit by the language, but it would be foolish to expect a movie about sailors to feature sailors who didn’t talk like sailors.

Overall, it was an ok story, and a decent diversion for a short time, but it isn’t one that I would be looking to purchase for my collection.

The Equalizer

When this movie first came out, I made some jokes about how Hollywood had to put some old white male actor out of work in this “reimagining” of the 80’s television character, and how disappointed I was that some social justice warrior wasn’t starting a hashtag campaign in protest.  I confess that while I did so as a joke, I do suffer from a certain annoyance with Hollywood’s proclivity to “reimagine” my childhood, and often cast it in a darker light, rather than simply telling a new story, and that is why I took so long to get around to watching this movie.

My original memories of the show are somewhat vague, as I was still fairly young, and it originally aired at 10 pm on Saturdays, a time when I was normally in bed.  I recently borrowed the first season from my local library, and found that the Joel Surnow produced show was fairly well written and acted.  It featured Edward Woodward as the “retired” spy who set up shop in New York City after an operation was botched badly by a jittery agent who prevented Robert McCall from keeping his word to the subject of the operation.  Because he still had some highly placed friends in the Agency, because he knew where the bodies were buried, and because he agreed to make himself available for certain ops that required his expertise and skill set, the Agency unofficially agreed to look the other way, and not bring him in from the cold.  As I watched the episodes in order, I found myself reasonably impressed by the tradecraft written into the series, although some of the technology seems horribly dated in this day and age.  However, I believe that one of the things that the original series got absolutely correct was that its main character carried himself like a successful operative would, which is anything but what we see James Bond do in film after film.  Woodward’s McCall is an older man, without any distinguishing features that would make him stick out in the average person’s memory.  Yes, he had an English accent.  Yes, he drove a Jaguar, which was much less common on the nation’s roadways at that time than today.  But he also knew how to blend into the crowd.  He could, and often did observe without drawing any attention to himself, and if you ran into him on the street, there was nothing about him that would raise your awareness or pique your curiosity unless he wanted it to.  That’s why the character worked for several seasons.  And that’s why I found it easier to believe he was who he was supposed to be than Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall.

The movie opens quietly, and it doesn’t take long to see that McCall is a man who is hiding, and it isn’t until fifteen minutes or so into the movie that you start to get a glimmer of what it is…who it is…he is hiding from.  But it is obvious from the  introduction that while he lives a quiet life, it is not who he is.  His apartment is spartan, and spotless.  Nothing is out-of-place.  His bed is made so tightly that quarter could bounce on it.  He’s clearly been up since well before dawn.  His morning routine shows a rigid discipline, and his own personal maintenance, appearance and demeanor is too focused, too ordered, too strack for him to be the quiet widower working for a home improvement warehouse that he appears to be.

It is his routine that guides him into the conflict, and the confrontation with himself that drives the story, however, as his middle-of-the-night trips to his local 24-hour diner draw him into a friendship with a much younger prostitute working for the local Russian mob.  When she makes the mistake of believing that she could be something more, the local mob boss puts her in her place with a brutal beating that sends her to the local ICU, and McCall finds himself, almost absent-mindedly using his formidable skills against the gangsters, and the local cops who are on their payroll.  This brings him into conflict with the crime family’s enforcer, “Teddy” (brilliantly portrayed by Marton Csokas), a former Spetznaz member who is unburdened by emotion or sentiment, and who shows a singular determination to find the party responsible for upsetting the enterprise’s apple cart, and make an example of him.

McCall and Friend
When McCall realizes that his own message has invited a much larger response, he makes a trip to visit his former boss, who still has connections with the Agency, to get intelligence about his new and lethal adversary.  She, and her husband are both pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that McCall is still alive, after having apparently faked his death shortly after his wife passed away.  This lead to one of what I felt were the two most telling sequences in the film, where in a moment of candor, his former boss tells McCall that it is time for him to go be who he is.  After he left, her husband asked “Is everything alright? Were you able to help him?”, and she sagely responded “He didn’t come for help. He came for permission.”
This permission wasn’t just official sanction, it was permission to be the person who he promised his dead wife that he would never be again, because that was the person who the world needed him to be.  This was the part of the story that the movie got absolutely correct, and because of it, this was the story that I had vainly hoped to see when I watched Harry Brown.  Washington’s McCall was the man I expected from Caine’s Brown.  A man who could afford to be quiet, because everything about him screamed the motto “Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The movie’s other telling moment came after Teddy, who is impersonating one of the dirty cops on his employer’s payroll, confronts McCall, because he doesn’t believe that the intelligence the police have gathered on McCall is correct.  While each knew who the other was, neither stepped away from the charade that they had decided to play.  McCall played the sort-of-informed citizen, who just happened to be at the restaurant where the mobsters were rapidly and efficiently dispatched, a bystander who wanted to help, but hadn’t seen a thing, and Teddy the detective, just trying to follow up with all potential witnesses.  However, McCall’s body language and actions didn’t match those of a harmless and ineffectual widower, and instead sent a very different message than his words.  The encounter ended on an awkward note, when McCall’s average citizen asked a provocative question, leaving Teddy to make a poor excuse as he retreated to the waiting SUV driven by one of the dirty cops, who had listened to the exchange without any idea of the conversation the two had physically carried on with each other, leaving Teddy to utter the one truth about Washington’s portrayal of the former spook that was obvious about him from the opening of the movie: “Everything about the man is wrong.”

It isn’t often when there is such an obvious disconnect in a film, and I end up liking it anyway, but this is the case with “The Equalizer”.   This might only be because I concluded that Washington’s McCall was never a spy so much as he was a fixer.  He wasn’t a man who could be inconspicuous unless he chose to be very conspicuous.  He was a man who would be sent to deal with problems in a very permanent fashion, and that would be what would allow him to be the Equalizer in today’s society, in which reason is much discussed, but rarely practiced, and in which the veneer of civilization is polished much more brightly in order to hide just how thin it has come to be.

This is a film I would watch again, because it reflects the world we live in.

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