Category Archives: Book and Film Reviews

A Book We Won’t Be Buying… Even Though We Want It

Think about that for a moment. Why not buy something, if you want it? We have been fortunate in life and can often just buy what we want, within reason. Of course, if we exercised no judgment about what to buy, that capability would erase itself in due course. One need only think of the football player (and this comparison works with real American football, which for the rest of the world is more like armored rugby, and just as well with rest-of-planet football, which involves kicking a ball and lots of 0-0 tied games) who is paid handsomely after rising to the top of his craft, only to be illiquid two years after his last championship season. Don’t Be That Guy, eh.

So for us, the most common reason for not buying something (inability to afford it), is not at play here. It is something we love (a book) about something we’re passionate about (martial history and art), and is a relatively rare opportunity. We’ve certainly spent greater sums than this without blinking, and we may have books that, by virtue of their rarity, approach this one in value.


But… but… it’s $750 for a book. No, wait, wait, we’re wrong, it’s £750 for a book, which is rather largely more. Even with the pound having taken it in the neck lately, it’s still about $1.25 today, making the book almost a thousand dollars.

Ah, but what a book!

The Royal Armouries have teamed up with specialist publishers of military manuscripts Extraordinary Editions to produce a limited edition full-size facsimile of the oldest and most precious book in the Royal Armouries collection, the manuscript I.33. Click here to learn how to order your copy.

The manuscript itself has a remarkable history. Dating from around 1310 the text is the earliest known surviving European Fechtbuch (combat manual). It was first recognised as an ancient source in Heinrich von Gunterrodt’s 1579 book titled De veris principiis artis dimicatoridae (On the True Foundations of the Art of Combat) which gave some insight into the manuscripts history.

The MS I.33, also known as the ‘Walpurgis’ or ‘Tower’ manuscript is thought to have been discovered in a Franconian monastery, passing through several hands and featuring in descriptions of the Saxe-Gotha Ducal holdings in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries before disappearing during the second world war. The manuscript resurfaced and was purchased by the Royal Armouries at Sotheby’s Auction house in 1950.

Comprising of 32 parchment leaves of approximately 30x23cm each, the manuscript is richly illustrated depicting a priest and scholar demonstrating a step by step account of thirty eight combat sequences using a sword and buckler. The illustrations are accompanied by Latin verse describing these combat encounters, with some technical terms in German.

A book of swordsmanship from the turn of the century — the 14th Century. Reproduced in almost unbelievable quality. To support, in part, the Royal Armouries.


The manuscript was conserved and rebound in 2012 in preparation for an exhibition at the Wallace collection in London. This provided the opportunity for the manuscript to be photographed which enabled the production of this beautiful high quality facsimile volume.
Each image was subject to a rigorous digital examination to ensure a highly accurate reproduction of the original was created. The reprographics and printing was completed at the fine art department of Senecio Press and it was trimmed and bound at Ludlow bookbinders.

But then you get to that number:

Royal Armouries Edition – £750
The Royal Armouries Edition is limited to 600 numbered copies, each copy is fully leather bound by hand in a superior weight Nigerian goat skin, with raised bands over wood composite boards. The boards are specially created to replicate traditional binding without the associated problem of warping. The cover is embossed in gold with a figure from the manuscript; the spine is embossed with I.33 and the Royal Armouries and Extraordinary Editions logos.

And, we didn’t mention this, because we were still in atrial fibrillation over the 750 quid price, but that’s the bargain edition. You can spend more.

Exemplary Edition – £1500
There are just 26 lettered copies of the Exemplary edition available, the ideal choice for collectors and bibliophiles. The Exemplary edition is bound in a cover of folded veined vellum over quarter sawn oak boards. The boards have been sourced from 300 year old untouched oak. These stunning materials have been left unadorned in a binding of monastic simplicity suited to the provenance of the original. Inspired by illustrations of the period the Exemplary edition and companion volume are presented together in a bespoke handmade leather folder held by an oak peg.

Now here’s something that makes this cool:

Each copy of the manuscript comes with a companion volume containing a full transcription and translation of each page with an introduction written by Dr Jeffrey L. Forgeng curator at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts who after discovering the manuscript in the Royal Armouries library at the Tower of London set about translating it, publishing his work in 2003 and ultimately becoming the world’s foremost authority on MS I.33. The companion volume is 23x15cm and is limp sewn with a hard cover.

The Higgins Armory Museum, you may recall, was the subject of several reports here. It was absorbed into the Worcester Art Museum and partially liquidated by the end of 2013. Some 2,000 items from the Higgins collection were retained — particularly those thought to be of artistic merit, naturally — and the remainder were auctioned to benefit the Art Museum. Certain of the retained items will be retained, mostly open-storage style, in a gallery made from a former Art Museum library. Higgins’s bespoke cast-iron building still stands, but is deteriorating without maintenance.

Due to the rare nature of these facsimiles Extraordinary Editions will deal with the purchase of all manuscript orders.

via Limited Edition I.33 Manuscript Facsimile – Royal Armouries.

And Extraordinary Editions, the producers of this work, is a whole other kettle of custom and rare books, one that we may delve into later. Suffice it to say that it’s a source of many more $1000-dollar books we want, just not $1k worth.

For someone tempted to drop the $1k on the book, here’s a glowing review of it by swordsmanship instructor Guy Windsor, that just might put you over the top. And here’s EE’s own page on the book.

Saturday Matinee 2016 46: Sabotage (2014)

sabotage-posterArnold Schwarzenegger has starred in some of the most iconic action movies since the invention of the genre.

He has also starred in Sabotage. 

His acting has improved since his action debut as Conan the Barbarian all those years ago — he’s really good in an impossible role here — but if this movie is anything to go by, the direction the scripts have been going is decidedly retrograde.

In Sabotage, a name which has no imaginable point of congruence with the story whatsoever, Ahhhnold plays John “Breacher” Wharton, head of an “elite DEA undercover team” that’s more like Hollywood’s idea of a Dirty Dozen remake. We’re supposed to buy that a gang of insubordinate, indisciplined and impulsive man-children (and one woman-child, who’s a heavy if indiscriminate drug user) are magically competent at CQB, and that an organization as strait-laced as the DEA is completely cool with an element whose motto might as well be, “kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.” Or at least, “let God do the paperwork.” The more you know about Federal law enforcement, or, on the other hand, about firearms and combat, the more this movie will annoy and irritate you.


But wait, that’s not enough — you need to suspend your disbelief further. Because this klatch of Keystone drug cops is also dirty, having conspired to steal $10 million from a Mexican cartel, but being robbed in turn of the $10 million. Probably by an insider.


Why $10 million? They needed a number that sounded big.

The more you know about Federal law enforcement, or, on the other hand, about firearms and combat, or, on the gripping hand, about basic human nature, the more this movie will annoy and irritate you.

Acting and Production

The cast is packed with solid journeymen actors, who do their best with a script that must frequently contain the stage direction ALL CHEW SCENERY, but their best is pretty good. It’s not the acting that’s the problem, it’s the thready, foamy plot, which is really just a series of plot holes connected by frenetic, confused action scenes. (At the Infogalactic page, linked below, there’s a functional plot summary. Infogalactic is a fork of Wikipedia that may have increased accuracy going forward).


Mireille Enos stands out, playing a truly repulsive character. Since the actress can’t remotely be as bad a human being as the character Lizzy, it’s probably a great job of acting just on technical terms; but it illustrates how almost none of the characters are likable. Even Schwarzenegger’s, to the extent he’s not one cardboard cutout or another (he changes during the film, but it’s honestly like throwing the Cutout A or Cutout B switch), is a rebarbative human being.


Then again, that’s probably what the stoners of Hollywood actually think of the DEA, so there is that.

There are a couple of good lines, mostly delivered by Schwarzenegger’s character, but they do feel like the writers were trying too hard to create the “Arnold tagline,” like, “I’ll be back.” The best is probably this (NSFW) “48% body fat”:

We do have to give it up to Schwarzenegger for continuing to perform physical roles, given his age and injury history. We heard from One Who Was There at a shoot (can’t recall if it was for this or another film), but he’s apparently all gimpy and suffering these days, and yet he completely brings it when the cameras roll, only to pay the price when the scene ends and he limps off set. Sure, the stunt men take the worst of the beating, but most actual operators who are his age are pretty racked up, too; it can’t be that much gentler to have played all those parts for 35 years, and Arnold suffers the Curse of the Bodybuilder, which is this: you can’t ever stop, and as your metabolism slows with age, never stop gets ever harder. Arnold Schwarzenegger is sixty-nine years old, and he’s still playing action leads. (OK, he was just 65-67 when he shot this).


Thank a merciful God, we didn’t blow movie theater money to see this turkey. We got it from a 2-movies-for-one $7.88 DVD at Walmart… and we’re really hoping we’ll get at least $6.88 in value out of the other half of the pair. But you can’t blame the great actors (along with Schwarzenegger and Enos, there are great performances as rotten characters from Josh Holloway, Terence Howard, Max Martini, and Sam Worthington) for the sins of the production as a whole.

Why didn’t the director see that the script was a stinker? Well, director David Ayer co-wrote it, for one. Who can edit himself effectively? It’s unfortunate, because the same guy produced the taut, tense sleighride of End of Watch, which we thought we’d reviewed, but apparently haven’t. Better luck next time?

 Accuracy and Weapons

The guns are all fairly plausible except for this: everybody on the team has his or her own, and there’s no commonality. Not makes, models, calibers, nothing; neither long guns nor pistols. They were selected, apparently, for the visual appeal of each character. And so each character is dressed and equipped sort of like one kind of federal cop or another might be, but each is extremely different in set-up from the others, most likely because the director realized he and the writers had done little to make many of the characters distinct from one another.


The firefights are almost comically unrealistic. The room-clearing tactics are pathetic. And those are practically a documentary. compared to the nonsense that passes as training scenes.


This show bucks the recent trend of more realistic explosions, reverting to 1970s-style colossal fireballs. Set against the mortal sins of its script, the fireballs are merely venial, but they’re still annoying — like a mosquito that doesn’t carry a terrible tropical disease, but just bites you.

The bottom line

Sabotage is what this movie’s awkward script and hinky direction does to itself. On the other hand, there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, a cast of pretty good actors, and lots of shooting, explosions, and the obligatory car chase with oodles of to-whom-it-may-concern automatic fire blazing away. And it’s not too long — there is that.


For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page (we think there’s an error in this page — a real rarity at IMFDB. We saw the “Carcano” as a Mosin-Nagant):

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (20% rotten):

  • Infogalactic  page (replaces Wikipedia):

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: LaBounty Precision Reboring

labounty_precisionWhy would we make a Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week out of a single small shop’s web page? Well, it ties in to the discussion we’ve had on rifling machines and methods, which is, incidentally, the name of Clifford LaBounty’s book: Rifling Machines and Methods. For convenience’s sake, that’s the URL of the web page, too.

As far as we know, it is the only full-length book on rifling machines that makes an attempt to describe all the major methods, and it’s even more useful because it meets LaBounty’s intent in writing it: to pass on the information that nobody ever passed on to him, when he was starting out; to tell the barrel makers of the future what he wished somebody had told him.

So if you’re really interested in that stuff, do like we did, go to LaBounty Precision Reboring, and buy the book. It’s a ≅$50 8½ x 11″ paperback of about 170 pages, but, as he discovered when he started out, there’s not a lot of books on rifling out there. There is enough information on the book on the web page for you to figure out if you want it or not.

Apart from the book, he also has several other tools that are useful for gunsmiths seeking to accurize or blueprint bolt-action rifles, and a nifty holder for letter or number stamps that lets you mark firearms (or fixtures, or anything you mark with a stamp) in a neat, legible row.



Saturday Movie Trailer: Viking (Russian, 2016)

We didn’t get a Matinee in this weekend, but we do offer you this:

Who knew the Vikings were Russians? Or maybe it’s that the Russians were Vikings? In any event, you would expect them to be a bit similar, given the weather and all.

If you’re a fan of swords and sandals (or maybe it’s swords and snowshoes?) epics, this looks like it’s going to be a blast.

And yes, we will get back to the movie reviews when we can. Patience, dear vultures, patience.

Saturday Matinee 2016 41: The Third World War (TV, 1998)

Imagine one counterfactual: the resistance Mikhail Gorbachev met turned into a coup and overthrow of him, rather than only ramping up in time to make an inept attempt to overthrow his successor Boris Yeltsin.

From that follows that his successor, rather than the reform-focused Yeltsin, might have been a belligerent military man — and might have started the world down a path that led to nuclear war. That was the premise of a 1998 German-made TV movie that is a “documentary” of this chilling alternate history.

As this video is not available in the usual places, here is the video for you to watch:

Acting and Production

The video is produced documentary-style by, mostly, clever intercuts of actual period footage and actors portraying the talking-heads who are so essential to the documentarist’s craft.  The “war” footage comes from training exercises, weapons tests, and such recent wars as the Falklands and Desert Storm; the political crisis footage comes, mostly, from real footage of the many crises and demonstrations attending the collapse of European Communism. Actual press conferences and leaders’ statements from other diplomatic meetings and crises are cleverly edited in to the flow of the documentary, so you get the sense that Gorbachev, Erich Honecker, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher and George HW Bush are all actually playing parts, when the director is really using found footage. The only people who actually did play themselves, reading scripted lines, were a couple of now-forgotten TV newsmen, like CBS’s Daniel Schorr. (Considering that all Schorr ever did at CBS was read scripted lines, he seems uncommonly stiff in his performance here).

The actors are fairly good. Mostly they are in talking head scenes; one German officer’s English is so colloquially American that he loses some believability (we think the actor is a German who just happens to have near-native fluency in American English, and paradoxically, choosing an actor with worse English might have made the character more convincing). There are some small-scale, low-budget action scenes where they’re absolutely necessary to advance the plot.

But because the show doesn’t aim high, production-wise, it hits its spot. It does seem like a documentary telling the tale of how a nuclear war broke out would be made.

Accuracy and Weapons

Except for a couple of the live-action scenes with troops engaging demonstrators, all of the scenes with weapons use found footage from military archives. So there are few accuracy problems. (Sometimes the uniforms, arms and equipment are a little out of date).

The accuracy problem we had with the movie was more in the verisimilitude, or absence thereof, of the film’s scenario. In the 1980s, the novel about The Big One between NATO and the Soviet and Satellite Bloc became a cottage industry, and in, for example, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 (from 1978) and Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (from a few years after that), nuclear strikes are considered (and in The Third World War, a single nuke strike is carried out by each side). But here, they seem to go to war, first, and to nukes, second, with very little consideration.

Particular accuracy beefs:

  1. The Soviet leader appears irrational, even incompetent at times. He is bellicose to the extent of risking national suicide. Look at Russian and Soviet history and consider how unlikely this really is.
  2. Far too much credit is given to the Soviet submarine force.
  3. Far too little credit is given to NATO’s qualitative edge, especially in air power.
  4. The psychological warfare / propaganda / IO efforts and effects are not portrayed.

On the other hand, some things were extremely accurate, including the internal fault lines in NATO, the Soviet use of demonstrations in the West, the devastation of the war zone, and the relative readiness of East German and Soviet forces.

The bottom line

The Third World War is a movie you’re glad isn’t actually a documentary, but as mocumentaries go, it’s a lot less fun than This is Spinal Tap. It might be a good thing for Cold War veterans to show to their younger family members, to try to explain the tensions of the times.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film. (All N/A)

  • DVD page:
  • IMDB page:
  • IMFDB page:
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page:
  • Wikipedia  page:

Saturday Matinee 2016 39: Striking Distance (1993)

striking-distanceBruce Willis has been in some good movies. He’s also been in Striking Distance. You can say the same about Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays his police partner (with a secret) / love interest. (Not to mention some of the other actors, including Tom Sizemore as a scenery-chewing goofy cop and Dennis Farina, improbably, as Sizemore’s character’s and the murderer’s father). One gets the impression this was a midsummer-released actioner (IMDB says mid-September, actually) and nobody (except Willis and Parker, who do as well as they can with the script they’ve got) was really knocking themselves out on this one.

You get the impression the producer’s instruction to the director (Rowdy Herrington) was: do not miss a cop-film cliché. He seems to have hit them:

  • The maverick cop, who gets busted out of Homicide;
  • The cop is from a family where everybody else is a cop, and most of them are legendary;
  • The case the maverick cop won’t give up;
  • The boss who disciplines the maverick;
  • The gun that keeps clicking when you run it dry (hot tip to screenwriters: revolvers do this. Auto pistols and long guns generally don’t);
  • Sneaking onto the boat being hijacked by bad guys (no one ever explains why bad guys would hijack a river towboat pushing two barges full of coal);
  • Sneaking onto the bad guys’ boat with an empty shotgun so that you can load it portentously;
  • The Mexican Standoff with good and bad guys;
  • The bad guy turns out to be, as the maverick cop always suspected, a bad cop (if you ever wondered why presumably intelligent people buy into Black Criminals’ Lives Matter false stories of shootings, fifty years of this formula is one reason. Culture is upstream from politics).
  • The maverick cop who wants to beat the truth out of a suspect, and the better rookie cop who won’t let him;
  • The suspect who is so obvious that anyone who’s seen a cop movie knows it’s not him. (In real murders, the suspect often is obvious, and the obvious suspect seldom is not guilty).
  • The serial killer whose master stroke, of course, involves kidnapping the hero’s girl;
  • The killer who must explain himself at length, like a Shakespearean soliloquy, only written at sixth grade level;
  • The car chase;
  • The boat chase;
  • The foot chase;
  • Reprises of the various chases;
  • Escape from being chained up by the bad guys;
  • Sacrifice of a good guy — arrgggggh. We’re sick of listing them.

It’s basically a TV movie of the week, with some more graphic violence (not very) and foul language.

Acting and Production

Parker, before she got old and sinewy.

Parker, before she got old and sinewy.Is this what Capt. Mike’s boat partner looks like?

Willis is good here, not his best, but good. Parker is surprisingly good, in a pre-Sex-in-the-City role, and much prettier and fresher looking than people think of her as being (after all, she was a youthful 27, not a  worked-on Hollywood-youthful 37).

The supporting cast are mostly experienced Hollywood journeymen. The script and direction mean that they’re just going through the motions. The late Robert Pastorelli is a case for the Royal Hospital for Overacting as the bad guy. Why is he a bad guy? Because he’s nuts. Why is he nuts? Because he’s jealous, and anyway everybody’s always pickin’ on him.

Depth of Sharacter, Hollywood style.

A few more words on Pastorelli… this role may have been the high point of his career. He does manage to look like Tom Sizemore’s brother, and like Sizemore, he did a number on his career with drug abuse. However, Pastorelli wrapped up his career by shooting his girlfriend (and almost getting away with it), and killing himself with a heroin OD when the cops reopened the case.

Family Values, Hollywood style.

Robert Pastorelli goes crazy as a crazy guy, before he went crazy IRL.

Robert Pastorelli goes crazy as a crazy guy, before he went crazy IRL.

Production was frequently careless. In a car chase, we see the same bumpers and hubcaps fly off more times than we felt like counting.  If you care about such things, there’s probably some site on the net somewhere, where some benighted aspie stays up late counting these things.

Weapons and Accuracy

Bruce Willis about to ventilate somebody with a SIG. Yes, he's left-handed.

Bruce Willis about to ventilate somebody with a SIG. Yes, he’s left-handed.

The weapons are plausible, but their employment is pure Hollywood, and that’s not praise. We’ve already mentioned the scene where Willis (demoted to maritime patrol for his obsession with a case his boss considers closed) leaps aboard a criminal-occupied tugboat with an empty shotgun, and two rounds between his teeth, so that he can load it as he sneaks toward the bad guy. He then shoots three bad guys (one with his pistol, after throwing away the empty shotgun, at least), and then, unlike every real cop, doesn’t get put on paid admin suspension for the duration of the investigation.

willis-shotgun-striking-distanceThe score must have been a good job, as we don’t recall hearing it.

One good thing about the movie, though, is the exteriors, shot on location in Pittsburgh. By 1992-93 a director had to work harder to find gritty streets in PGH than he did in, say, 1973, but Herrington, a native, finds them (sometimes in nearby satellite cities) and uses the rivers that have been key to Pittsburgh’s character always (and to its post-industrial revival, now). Indeed, the city’s three rivers are almost a character in the film, and the working title was reportedly Three Rivers. (Which at least has a connection to the movie. Striking Distance makes no sense as the title). This leads to some dynamic boat-chase scenes involving police Boston Whalers and up-engined wooden Chris-Craft classic runabouts. There’s some interesting background on filming the chases online.

The bottom line

This is not a movie to seek out for the entertainment value. It’s an endurable way to spend an hour and a half in a recliner, if you really don’t feel like waking the Small Dog.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Official Page (none):
  • DVD page ($14… too much)

Somewhat amazing to us: Amazon reviewers give it 4½ stars.

  • Alternative DVD (with three other B-movie actioners for $9, the best deal)

  • Amazon Video ($3.99 to rent, $12,99 to buy, the DVD above is more cost-effective):

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (rotten, 14%)

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page (n/a).



Saturday Matinee 2016 38: Taking Fire (TV Documentary Miniseries, 2016)

The idea seemed to be this: a very green Army infantry platoon was going to be spending a year at a miserable position in Afghanistan, Combat Outpost (COP, pronounced like slang for policeman) Michigan, located at the junction of the Pech and Korangal valleys in southeastern Afghanistan. Why not just GoPro the living daylights out of their tour?


And so they did. And they got more than they bargained for.

  • One of their MCAVs was blown up by an IED, leaving two men dead and one with a broken spine, needing urgent medevac;
  • Their competent (and respected, and loved) medic was shot by a sniper, with a round entering his neck and exiting between his shoulder blades, and a man with combat lifesaver training only had to step up and keep him alive while the unit pursued tactical superiority and brought in a medevac Black Hawk;taking-fire-copter
  • They all would have difficulties of some kind with reintegration; the medic who thought he might be an Army career man had to reorient his life; the combat lifesaver who stepped up decided to become a paramedic and firefighter; the platoon sergeant whose men saw him as solid as a bear would struggle with survivors’ guilt over the loss of each man.

There have been some excellent documentaries based on embeds, like Restrepo and Outside the Wire, but this is the first one based almost entirely on video shot by the soldiers themselves. After seeing one soldier’s video, a producer put the whole thing together.

Acting and Production

There’s no acting, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “characters.”

One annoying detail of the production is that salty language is bleeped — always. That may have been required to get it on Discovery. Likewise, some images are blurred. One hopes that some of this is rectified before these things see DVD.

The video is fast-paced when in country, but drags in the postwar home scenes.

A documentary like this is at the mercy of the power of the events that occur while the cameras are rolling. Fortunately for the producers and viewers — and sometimes, at some heartbreaking moments, unfortunately for the soldiers of this platoon — this was an eventful tour.

This video may not be available forever, but it is supposed to be the complete video of Episode 1, posted by “Taking Fire“. We found it to be a weird screen-in-screen thing, with pitch-shifted audio, but it may be available to those of you who can’t see it on your cable:

Accuracy and Weapons

The weapons are the typical US weapons in use at the time. One thing that viewers may appreciate is the occasional discussion of weapons and explanation of their capabilities and roles. A high point is definitely the platoon sergeant’s irritation at a private who’s forgotten the oil bottle to maintain his Mk 48 LMG (basically, a SAW scaled up to 7.62, an easy trick for FN to pull off as the original Minimi was scaled down from a 7.62 mm prototype). Sure enough, the Mk 48 falls down on the job, in combat.

The bottom line

Based, we admit, on the two episodes (of five) that we’ve seen, this is some compelling TV. However, it is often emotionally raw and sometimes heartbreaking; consider that before you start watching.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Official Page (Discovery Network):

  • DVD page (none yet)
  • Amazon Video (available: S1E1 for free, S1E2 for purchase):

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page (none)
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (none)
  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page (none).



Saturday Matinee 2016 37: Sully (2016)

sully-poster02This is probably the least military-related movie we’ve ever reviewed here, even though the hero (who is, to the relief of anyone who’s been watching movies lately, actually shown as a hero) is a veteran. Indeed, he’s a man who’s worn the mantle of heroism like a hair shirt, insisting that “I was just doing my job.” He was; it’s what airline pilots do. What’s different is only the challenge that was thrown at him and his copilot, and the success with which they met it. (Today is a friend’s first revenue flight in new equipment — 787 — to Shanghai. Like all pros, he is impressed with what Captain Chesley Sullenberger and FO Jeff Skiles of US Air did, and hopes that he never faces such a tough problem, and that if he does, he handles it as well as they did).

In case you were under a rock during this January 2009 incident, Sully’s US Air Airbus 320 ingested a large quantity of geese into both engines on climbout from New York’s Kennedy Airport. Copilot Jeff Skiles was pilot flying, and Sully was pilot monitoring, but he took control of the plane after the birdstrikes. Out of power, altitude and options, he couldn’t make it back to the airfield — or to any other. He chose to make a water landing.


While there have been several jetliner water landings with survivors in the six-plus decades of jet air travel, this event was was unusual in that everyone survived. It helped that the incident happened in winter months, and the usual summer swarms of pleasure boaters were not active.

Acting and Production

The actors are all perfect in their roles, and the two men of the aircrew are made up as pretty near ringers of the two pilots, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and Jeff Skiles. Tom Hanks is his usual Everyman as Sully…sully_2016_9643843…and Aaron Eckhart shows that he has acting chops beyond his usual action-hero roles as copilot Skiles.



Supporting actors in important roles such as accident investigators (one of them Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad fame), union reps, Sully’s wife, New York river boatmen (one of them a real harbor ferry captain, playing himself), and the passengers and cabin crew are all just right. The producers and director knocked themselves out to show us regular people doing regular things on a day that turned out to be extraordinary for all of them.

Director Clint Eastwood makes a complicated script with flashbacks and dream sequences flow clearly, somehow; it’s never confusing, even though he monkeys with your head: is this a flashback to an actual event that ended one way, or a nightmare that will end the event differently? After a couple of times, you lose all complacency in anticipation.


Accuracy and Weapons

There are no weapons to speak of in the movie, although there’s a brief appearance by a pair of F4 Phantoms, as Sully flashes back to a previous emergency during his Air Force days. The Phantoms are in the correct period camouflage.

The flying stuff is generally pretty accurate, both in the depiction of what went right and of what would have gone wrong with some small changes in aeronautical decision making.


CGI is, mirabile dictu, used to make extremely realistic and convincing renderings of things that would be hard or impossible to pull off with practical effects. The Airbus A320 is particularly well-rendered to include aerodynamic effects on the wings and the effects of bird ingestion on the powerplants.

The accident investigation is almost entirely misrepresented, in order to create Hollywood “conflict” between Sullenberger and the investigators. Some of the investigators have had their noses out of joint about that. Also, the NTSB’s great divide between professional investigators (who might head something like a Human Factors group, or examine wreckage, etc.) and the figurehead Board Members, who are often lawyers who owe their positions to Washington influence-peddling, is erased, and instead you see an investigation as if it were carried out by gormless lawyers. It culminates in a Perry Mason style trial scene (Hollywood scriptwriters put these in because their Jewish mothers wanted them to be lawyers) at an NTSB public Board Meeting. In actual fact, these public meetings are designed for the political appointees on the board to rubber-stamp in public, the results the professional investigators have written up for them, and there’s never any question about what will happen at the meeting — it has literally been rehearsed.

But that is a small complaint, and it does serve the story line, whereas if the conflict were entirely in Sullenberger’s head, with his very real second-guessing of his own decisions, how could they portray that in a movie that you would like to watch? So the writers externalized the conflict so it could meet the audience expectation of a good guy in a white hat and a bad guy in black.

The bottom line

Sully is a well-produced, well-directed, well-acted story with a likeable all-American hero (two, if you count Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles). It’s a good late-summer fun flick for all ages, and it’s in theaters right now. It will be ignored by the Oscars, unless they choose to pillory it for not making Sullenberger a tranny or something. But go thou, and givest thee thy money to Mr Eastwood, Mr Hanks and their associates, for making an excellent work of entertainment.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page

It’s also available to stream for free for Amazon Prime members:

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page (none)


  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (82%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.



Saturday Matinee 2016 31: Hyena Road (2014, Canadian)

Hyena_RoadWelcome to Afghanistan, where Afghans’ loyalties are never certain, snipers chafe under restrictive ROE, fraternization on the FOB can destroy careers, and an intelligence officer struggles to understand something about the badal revenge code that is part of Pushtunwali. 

And, holy schnikeys, it’s not a documentary, but a feature film.

Made on a tight budget ($13 million Canadian) with a lot of support from the Canadian Department of National Defense, this movie gives you a gritty you-are-there feeling as ordinary and extraordinary Canadians struggle to come to terms with their duties in Taliban-rich country outside the teeming camp of Kandahar.

Acting and Production

Paul Gross directs and co-stars; his character, Captain Pete Mitchell, is one of the two male leads, an intelligence officer who understands the Afghans — or thinks he does. Rossif Sutherland is Ryan Sanders, the NCO leading the task force’s sniper teams. Sanders has a secret, although it’s clearly the sort of secret everyone pretends not to know: a cross-ranks romance with battle captain Jen Bowman (played convincingly by Christine Horne).

Sutherland (l.) and Gross (r.)

Sutherland (l.) and Gross (r.)

You may remember Gross from Passchendaele, which we also need to review.  A visit to Afghanistan made him want to tell the story of Canadian Forces there. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, he said:

It was absolutely mesmerizing. I don’t know what I expected by it wasn’t what I found. I felt like, in some strange way, I had been misled or the full picture was never presented by successive governments or by the press. I mean we had some very good journalists there but, by and large, I thought the press was rather shallow in trying to explain what it was we were doing in such a complicated environment.

In essence, everything in the movie is based on something that actually happened and the characters were all roughly characters I met or composites of them. All I really did was assemble them into a narrative that I thought would make for an exciting movie. But it’s all fundamentally based on the real stuff of my trip.

Gross actually made two trips: the first, his initial “entertain the troops” visit, he found himself less busy than the singers and comics who had rehearsals and sound checks; so he spent his time wandering around, meeting average Canadian troopies — and being blown away by the experience. He came back with a camera crew (which explains why some of the exteriors look so correct. They are.) Other parts were shot in Jordan and on Canadian Forces training areas in the west of Canada.

Gross really did an incredible job here, making a big movie for small money.

Accuracy and Weapons

Weapons never do the impossible and all of them look and sound right. Care has been taken with signatures — no Hollywood fireballs.

One thing you’ll see here that is rare in modern movies is artillery firing live. The dust, the blast, the recoil, are all lost when some director calls for big guns to be CGI’d or fired with blanks.

The sniper procedures are generally not too far off, although there is of course the inevitable cranking on about 1000 mills on the scope turrets. The sniper rifles, however, are either dead-on (the McMillan .50 as used by CF) or very close (a PGW .308 standing in for the .338 that’s actually used in the field). The other Canadian weapons and optics are right, and the Taliban are armed, as in the real world, with AKs.

Some TTPs are accurate and some are not, either for opsec’s sake or for narrative reasons, take your pick. The final battle does go “Hollywood,”  but not completely out of the range of possibility.

The bottom line

Surprisingly excellent, Hyena Road is a great little movie you’ve probably never heard of. You don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy it, but we recommend it even more strongly to Canadians than to other readers.

Thanks to OTR for sending the DVD.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

Amazon streaming video:


  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (55%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.


Saturday Matinee 2016 30: Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Star_Trek_Beyond_posterThe movie is called Star Trek: Beyond. So what, exactly, are they beyond? Well, the last two episodes of the Star Trek “reboot,” maybe. The edge of known space? The box-office reach of endless sequels? The capacity of endless CGI to entertain?

Has the Great Buggernaut inserted a gratuitous attempt to mainstream teh ghey?

Yes. Yes to all of those, to all of it.

But… it’s not all bad, particularly for fans of, or at least people familiar with, the original Star Trek TV series. There are numerous homages to the original, including: known taglines: “I”m a doctor, not a…”; the expected interplay between Bones and Spock; and, worthy of a laugh out loud, the officers of the Enterprise running through a cheesily-lighted set of even cheesier papier-maché “rocks,” just like Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley did fifty (yes, 50!) years ago.

There is at least one missing cliché: Kirk doesn’t fall for any of the women (alien or crew). But then, they’re all arrayed along the Galactic H-Line between Homely and Hideous; you won’t fall for them, either. That may be the reason for Kirk’s un-1966 chasteness, or it may just be that the imaginary century being depicted here is post-hetero or something.

So it has the entertainment value of any average 50-minute Star Trek episode, crammed tightly into over two hours of plot twists and more and more CGI. Apart from the above-mentioned cameo by the fake rocks of 1966, the entire movie seems to have been shot in front of a green screen.

Acting and Production

The actors are all competent and all have clearly studied the TV versions of their characters; for most of them, the continuity is remarkable. The exception is Zachary Quinto as Spock; he’s a perfectly logical bowl of seething emotions, whatever that is.

A vast fortune was spent on pixels that were blown hither and yon by CGI. By and large, the effects, while dominating the film, don’t fail at their role in telling the story. But the score also tries to dominate the film, and that’s worse luck. It’s jagged, distracting, and just generally “off.” A good score often goes unnoticed, but this one kneels on both armrests of your theater seat and punches you in the face — and then comes back to do it again the next time the director’s insecure about the DRAMA or TENSION (his caps, honestly) in a given scene.

The movie is available in regular and 3D; we recommend, after watching the 3D for a stinging $14 a seat, and being somewhat disoriented at times, given the 3D a miss.

The script was co-written by Simon Pegg, the talented British actor who plays Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Pegg’s brilliant comedies are essentially a string of episodes only loosely organized by a plot or storyline, and, sad to say, this script is like that, too. On the plus side, he did write a decent part for himself, so there is that.

Idris Elba, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Idris Elba, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Idris Elba’s talents are utterly wasted as a mostly unexplained Starfleet-officer-turned-immortal villain, and he’s stuffed in a fake rubber Creature from the Black Lagoon suit anyway, so it could have been anybody.

As we have said in other recent reviews (John Wick, for one, although we might not have hit publish on that one), the current trend in cinematography of loading up the dark end of the histogram means that this will have a hard transition to the small screen.

Accuracy and Weapons

Space opera is not the place to quibble about accuracy, but the physics of the Star Trek movie universe is so far off plumb as to be inadvertently funny.

You know, if James T. Kirk really totaled a starship every movie, Starfleet would stop giving him the keys.

You know, if James T. Kirk really totaled a starship every movie, Starfleet would stop giving him the keys.

We could give endless examples of this, but here’s one: a spaceship reenters a planet’s atmosphere and tumbles to the surface in a jagged, mountainous area. On impact with a jagged, rocky crag, it breaks the crag off. And this doesn’t happen just once, but every time the screenwriter is stuck for a way to get Character X from space to surface, and the screenwriters seem to get stuck a lot.

In true Roddenberry, fuzzy-thinking-LA-denizen spirit, numerous saccharine platitudes about the universal and overwhelming power of peace and love are floated out by the script, before the situation is resolved by the good guys with a massive arsenal blow the living Jesus out of the bad guys and their massive arsenal.

The bottom line

Star Trek: Bryond is a must for Star Trek completists. It’s not a bad movie to take a teenager to, because it has enough cartooney violence to please the kid without the violence ever failing to be cartooney. Really, it’s basically just an overgrown (and scriptwise, unnecessarily convoluted) Lost Episode of some baby boomers’ favorite childhood TV show.

See the matinee, though, and don’t splurge on the 3D.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page (preorder only):

You can also find Blu-Ray at that link. Amazon also has the book on which the movie is based:

(Interesting to note: most of the reviews max the book out, four stars. But there are some one-star reviews. Or are there? When you click on the one star to read them, they are mostly very positive. Apparently if you ignore the stars when reviewing, Amazon defaults to one star).

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:


  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (60%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.