Web site TV for Apr. 3 – Apr. 9, 2011
TV film fare -- week of April 3
The following are capsule reviews of theatrical movies on network and cable television the week of April 3. Please note that televised versions may or may not be edited for language, nudity, violence and sexual situations.
'The Borgias,' April 3, Showtime
The name of Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503) -- who reigned as Pope Alexander VI from the momentous year of 1492 until his death -- will forever be associated with one of the most deplorable periods in the long history of the church and with the manifold ecclesiastical abuses that helped to provoke the crisis of the Reformation.
But Alexander's name -- together with those of at least two of his children, Cesare and Lucrezia -- has also been linked to lurid charges that the historical record of the time fails to support.
Both this infamous family's genuine misdeeds and some of their merely alleged dark doings are showcased in the drama series "The Borgias," premiering on the Showtime pay cable channel, with back-to-back initial episodes, Sunday, April 3, 9-11 p.m. EDT.
While lavishly presented -- with a few scenes skillfully recalling the splendid Renaissance art of which Pope Alexander was an early patron -- director and co-writer Neil Jordan's production sometimes degenerates from an intriguing study in power politics (however misplaced and lamentable) to an obvious exercise in sensationalism.
Typical of the latter tendency is a bedroom scene featuring the world-weary pontiff -- intensely impersonated and given gravelly voice by Jeremy Irons -- and his mistress, Guilia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek).
Though accompanied by dialogue that aptly captures the paradoxes of the era -- "God's work," Alexander insists, "can be done by the most unlikely of his servants" -- the spectacle of the church's most prominent priest cavorting with another man's wife is hardly calculated to appeal to the viewer's highest instincts. All the more so since it's preceded by Guilia's sacramental confession to Alexander and partly played out to the strains of sacred chant. Subsequent encounters involving purely secular characters are even more intrusively graphic.
The narrative is on solid ground as it opens with the circumstances surrounding conclave at which Alexander was elected, a gathering during which he played to great advantage on the ambition and greed of his fellow cardinals. But when Cesare (Francois Arnaud) afterward turns the tables on a cardinal (Derek Jacobi) attempting to poison his father -- bringing about the eminent would-be murderer's own demise -- we're back in the realm of racy but unsubstantiated rumors.
While a scandalous saga, the story of the Borgia dynasty is one that, if approached with prudent restraint, can provide a good deal of instruction, if little in the way of edification. (The exemplary life of Alexander's great-grandson, St. Francis Borgia, proves, of course, a notable exception.) But this exploitative account of their activities is too prurient to be recommended for audiences of any age.
'The Civil War,' April 3-7, PBS
The fratricidal war of 1861-65 pitting the Union against the Confederacy was a testing ground and turning point for the American nation.
Providing a television history of this monumental epoch is "The Civil War," a nine-part series being rerun on PBS. The first episode will air Sunday, April 3, 8-10 p.m. EDT, followed by back-to-back episodes each night through Thursday, April 7, 8-10:30 p.m. EDT (check local listings).
Historian David McCullough narrates the series, which was written by Geoffrey C. Ward, former editor of American Heritage magazine, and co-producer Ric Burns, with a battery of Civil War scholars verifying the historical accuracy of its content.
Translating the script into TV images is co-producer and director Ken Burns, whose distinguished list of credits range from "Brooklyn Bridge" and "The Statue of Liberty" to "Huey Long" and "The Congress."
Though photography was still in its infancy at the time of the Civil War, Burns was able to draw upon the considerable work of Matthew Brady and other pioneering cameramen who captured still lifes of soldiers before and after battle -- movement was only a blur in these early photos.
Mute but eloquent testimony of the war's ferocity and cost in human lives is to be seen in the pictures taken of battlefields after an engagement -- men strewn where they fell in the contortions of death.
The battles themselves are depicted in the drawings of newspaper artists and paintings done long after the war. Newspaper coverage of events in the form of headlines and subheads, as well as battle maps showing the disposition of forces, are also part of the rich visual tapestry that Burns has fashioned for the screen.
McCullough's narration presents a capsule history of the period, beginning with the causes of the war and ending with the consequences of the Union's victory.
This history relates not only the course of the major battlefronts but also follows the political concerns of Washington and Richmond, the diplomatic maneuvers involving Britain and France and the economic disruptions, both North and South.
Much time is devoted to the issues of the war, principally the institution of slavery, Lincoln's growing realization that emancipation was the war's main moral aim. and the arming of blacks to fight for it.
However, time is also allotted to short digressions on such matters as the weapons with which the war was fought, the state of medicine, the effect of the draft in the North and the role of women on the home front and as nurses, spies and, sometimes, soldiers.
Giving something of a more personal flavor to McCullough's factual account are interviews with a variety of historians, most notably Civil War authority Shelby Foote. Spoken with a soft Southern accent, his thoughtful remarks -- a tribute to the bravery of Union infantry at Antietam, a moving account of Stonewall Jackson's death -- are a great asset to the series.
Also adding a personal touch are the words of individual participants in the war, famous and unknown. This material, derived from diaries, letters and speeches, is read off-screen by a number of well-known actors, including Jason Robards Jr., Julie Harris, Jeremy Irons and humorist Garrison Keillor.
This is prime history made accessible to a general audience. Civil War buffs may be disappointed that the battles are not recounted in greater detail. Others may wish there had been room to see how the war divided churches or the role of women religious in caring for the wounded and the dispossessed.
That, however, is the price of historical popularizations, especially in the TV form. If the job of such popularizations is to present the big picture rather than a myriad of details, "The Civil War" is a resounding success.
Parents should encourage their youngsters to sample the series, recording it for later viewing. The youngsters just might find it interesting enough to motivate them to pay a little more attention to their history classes at school.
Monday, April 4, 9 a.m.-noon EDT (AMC) "The Great Raid" (2005). Stirring World War II drama set in the Philippines which tells the real-life story of the daring mission to rescue 500 American POWs from a Japanese prison camp by a vastly outnumbered joint team of U.S. Army rangers (led by Benjamin Bratt and James Franco) and Filipino resistance fighters. Directed by John Dahl, the movie has an old-fashioned patriotic feel, and while the acting and writing are less than stellar, it hardly detracts from what is a tremendous tale of heroism and sacrifice. Intense wartime violence, including torture, executions and scenes of burning bodies, some vulgar language, profanity and ethnic slurs. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Tuesday, April 5, 8-10 p.m. EDT (TCM) "The Major and the Minor" (1942). Wacky comedy in which a woman (Ginger Rogers) lacking enough money for a full-fare train ticket gets the children's rate by pretending to be an 11-year-old, then has to continue the disguise when she's befriended on the journey by an Army officer (Ray Milland) from a boys' military academy, with increasingly giddy but mostly good-natured results. Director Billy Wilder sustains the humor of the absurd premise until the sentimental ending, abetted by a capable cast gamely going through the antic proceedings. Comic misunderstandings and romantic complications. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-II -- adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Wednesday, April 6, 8-10:30 p.m. EDT (TCM) "Friendly Persuasion" (1956). Winning adaptation of Jessamyn West's novel about a Quaker household (Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Tony Perkins) at the time of the Civil War. Director William Wyler's lyric treatment of family life and human relationships heightens the conflict between the hard realities of the war and the pacifist convictions of the Quaker faith. Still a warm and cheering experience for family viewers. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Saturday, April 9, 6-8 p.m. EDT (A&E) "Walking Tall" (2004). Remake of the 1973 cult classic, about a retired soldier (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who, upon returning home, finds himself waging a one-man war against the crime and corruption that have overtaken his boyhood community. Transplanting the action from Tennessee to the Pacific Northwest, director Kevin Bray's film stays faithful to the original's good-man-taking-a-stand premise but also follows its predecessor's lead in promoting a dangerous message that violence is the most effective way to fight injustice. Recurring violence, an implied sexual encounter, drug content, a striptease scene, crude language and humor. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Saturday, April 9, 8-11 p.m. EDT (ABC) "War of the Worlds" (2005). Impressive but distressingly violent updating of H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi story, about (in this version) a deadbeat dad (Tom Cruise) who is jolted into responsible parenthood when he must struggle to survive and keep his two children (Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning) safe amid a hostile invasion by space aliens bent on exterminating humanity. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the decidedly dark and scary thrill ride delivers edge-of-your-seat excitement and knockout action sequences, which though visually stunning never drown out the human drama at its core about a father trying to reconnect with his children. Intense sci-fi violence, including mass destruction and slaughter, disintegrated bodies, a murder with extenuating circumstances, child peril, as well as scattered crude language and profanity. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Saturday, April 9, 8:30-10 p.m. EDT (HBO) "Jonah Hex" (2010). The popular DC Comics series springs to life with a bang as the title character, a Civil War soldier turned bounty hunter and drifter, seeks revenge on the man who killed his family and left him disfigured. Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) chases his nemesis, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), across the country to prevent him from blowing up Washington and restarting the Civil War. The body count along the way is enormous, and while it is always clear that the bad guys go to hell, it's hard to condone Hex's fanatical drive for revenge. Stylized if unbloody violence, including gunfights, brawls and explosions, implied sexual activity, occult rituals, some profanity. The Catholic News Service classification of the theatrical version was A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating was PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
TV program notes -- week of April 3
Here are some television program notes for the week of April 3 with their TV Parental Guidelines ratings if available. They have not been reviewed and therefore are not necessarily recommended by Catholic News Service.
Sunday, April 3, 8-9 p.m. EDT (EWTN) "Franciscan University Presents: Redemptive Suffering." What is suffering? Why does it exist? Series host Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan will examine these questions and more with Dominican Father Paul Keller, author and professor of theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary of the West outside Cincinnati, and panelists Regis Martin and Scott Hahn.
Sunday, April 3, 8-11 p.m. EDT (CBS) "46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards." Entertainer-of-the-Year nominees Jason Aldean, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban are set to perform at this ceremony honoring country music's top established talent and most popular new artists, broadcast live from Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel.
Tuesday, April 5, 10:30-11:30 p.m. EDT (PBS) "Desert of Forbidden Art." Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev's documentary recounts the true story of how one man, Igor Savitsky, saved a treasure trove of art worth millions of dollars by "hiding" it in a museum in the desert in Uzbekistan. An "Independent Lens" presentation (TV-PG -- parental guidance suggested).
Wednesday, April 6, 9-11 p.m. EDT (History) "Weird Warfare." This special looks at some of the most absurd, ridiculous and bizarre schemes for waging war developed over the last century. The proposals range from pigeon-guided missiles to an aircraft carrier made of ice, trained mosquitoes laced with poison, to incendiary bats. While some have proved to be useless, the most surprising thing history reveals is that some of these bizarre plans proved devastatingly effective.
Wednesday, April 6, 10-11 p.m. EDT (EWTN) "Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings:' A Catholic Worldview." Joseph Pearce explores the Catholicism underpinning J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Friday, April 8, 9:30-10:30 p.m. EDT (PBS) "Energy Innovation." This episode of the series "Planet Forward" harnesses the power of the online community to uncover innovative solutions to global energy and climate challenges as it showcases ideas submitted by the public to the program's website. Emmy Award-winning CNN veteran Frank Sesno hosts (TV-G -- general audience)