YEAR OF THE DOG
YEAR OF THE DOG (A-3, PG-13):
Peggy (Molly Shannon) is a
40-ish unmarried secretary.
She lives quietly with her beloved dog,
Pencil, who dies after being accidentally
poisoned by a neighbor (John C. Reilly,
Peggy grows fond of Newt (Peter
Sarsgaard, Garden State), an SPCA worker,
at the same time she becomes a
vegan and a PETA activist. She alienates
her family when she takes a niece to an
animal-rescue ranch. Peggy’s boss,
Robin (Josh Pais), is boring, a
reflection of Peggy’s life.
This not-quite-a-comedy from
writer/director Mike White (The
School of Rock) is about a woman
on the verge of finding meaning
in her otherwise dull life. On the
surface, Peggy is ordinary. But
she discovers through trial and
error that there are all kinds of
ways of loving in the world.
Anyone who has ever lost a
beloved pet will empathize with
the lonely Peggy. Molly Shannon,
of Saturday Night Live fame, shows
considerable talent playing her role
with restraint and heart. Mild profanity
and sexual innuendo.
FIREHOUSE DOG (A-2, PG): Rex is a pampered
canine celebrity who accidentally
falls out of a plane while shooting
a commercial. He lands in a truckload
of tomatoes and loses his hairpiece.
Unrecognizable, Rex is carried away
into the city, where a firefighter named
Connor Fahey (Bruce Greenwood, Racing
Stripes) rescues the lost pooch and
takes him home.
Connor and his son, Shane (Josh
Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, RV),
have a strained relationship: Shane’s
mom left when he was a toddler, and
recently his uncle died with the firehouse
mascot in a suspicious blaze.
Rex is renamed “Dewey.” He adapts to
life at the fire station, including the
Spam soup created by firefighter Joe (Bill
Nunn, Sister Act). The future of the station
is threatened by a mysterious series
of fires. Dewey saves the day, the firehouse
and a family.
Firehouse Dog is entertaining, even if
it is formulaic. There are some intense
scenes that make it more appealing to
young adolescents than small children,
yet the dog’s antics (including the requisite
canine farts) cut across generational
lines. I enjoyed the faux funeral
Rex’s owner had for him because the
fast-food Chihuahua and insurancecompany
duck were in attendance.
Television director Todd Holland
(Malcolm in the Middle, Felicity) helmed
this fun family-values flick that won’t
make it on anyone’s best-film list. Some
problem language and peril.
ADAM’S APPLES (Adams æbler) (not rated,
R) is a Danish film that focuses on Adam
Pedersen (Ulrich Thomsen, Kingdom of
Heaven), a neo-Nazi paroled to a rural
Christian parish to do community service.
He becomes wary of the pastor,
Ivan (Mads Mikklesen), who has an
eccentric and religious way of dealing
with everything. Ivan assigns Adam to
keep an eye on the apple tree.
The pastor’s community is populated
by parolees who seem like characters
straight out of the Gospels, including
a murderer, a thief and an
adulterer, as well as rebels and
infirm people. But Ivan does not
see people the way others do.
Adam thinks Ivan is in denial.
Adam and Ivan exist in parallel
universes. Yet Ivan’s psychological
weakness becomes Adam’s
spiritual strength and evokes a
touching generosity that the neo-Nazi seems incapable of at the
Ivan is a Christ figure, Adam’s
redeemer; Adam is transformed
when Ivan has a near-death experience.
Sinfulness is astonished by saving
Adam’s Apples is a dark comedy that
is inherently Christian, sacramental,
inspiring and surprising. It’s the kind
of story Catholic novelist Flannery
O’Connor (1925-1964) might write if
she were alive. (Danish with English
subtitles.) Violence and problem language.
THE FINAL INQUIRY (not rated, PG-13):
In what could be called CSI: Jerusalem,
Fox Faith’s New Testament-era drama-romance
has Tiberius Caesar (Max von
Sydow) sending a tribune named
Tauro (Daniele Liotti) undercover to
find the tomb and body of Jesus.
Tauro falls in love with a beautiful
Jewish girl but her father (F. Murray
Abraham, Amadeus) resists. Tauro’s
inquiry includes an interview with Pontius
Pilate (Hristo Shopov, reprising his
role from The Passion of the Christ).
The investigation provides a way to
tell the Christian story. Although the
direction is uneven, it is an unexpectedly
watchable movie. Italian actor
Liotti is excellent. Battle violence.
HIDDEN SECRETS: A group
of Christians gather for the
funeral of a friend who has
committed suicide. The friends and
family members range from an atheist
to a woman who epitomizes the fundamentalist
Christian stereotype (she
The film deals with abortion, homosexuality
and other challenging issues.
The promotional material protests too
much that this is not a preachy Christian
film, but that is what it is.
I did not find this film compelling or
inviting. Films succeed when they tell
a good story well; they fail to impress
when they are more concerned with
message than story.
CHRISTA McAULIFFE: REACH FOR
THE STARS: Twenty-one years after
her death in the
the story of
the first civilian
chosen to go into
space as a NASA
young and old
alike. Christa, the
primary candidate for NASA’s first
Teacher in Space Project, was among
the seven-member crew who died when
the space shuttle exploded.
This 75-minute documentary that
premiered at the Newport Beach International
Film Festival in 2006 is narrated
by Academy Award-winner Susan
Sarandon. It includes warm and revealing
interviews with Christa’s mother
and siblings, fellow teachers and the
nuns at Marian Catholic High School in
Framingham, Massachusetts, where
Christa went to school.
The footage from Christa’s life as an
enthusiastic student, mother, wife,
teacher and astronaut-in-training makes
it seem as if she is speaking to us today.
The title song was written and performed
by Carly Simon, Christa’s favorite artist.
For additional information, visit www.teacher1986.com.
SECRET FILES OF THE INQUISITION (PBS, check local
listings): This fascinating four-part
docudrama airing in May reveals
for the first time some of the contents
of the Vatican-held records about the
Inquisition as well as a history of the
Episode 1 begins in medieval France
with the Albigensian (or Cathari) heresy,
rooted in Gnosticism. Episode 2
covers 15th-century Spain and the
manipulation of the Inquisition by the
state. Episode 3 describes the Church
and the Inquisition in Renaissance Italy.
Episode 4 tells the intriguing story of
the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a
six-year-old Jewish boy, by agents of
the Inquisition: A former maid claimed
she had baptized the boy, and Pope
Pius IX, as head of the Papal States,
believed he could not let the baptized
child remain with his own Jewish family.
This episode includes accounts of
the Inquisition in 19th-century Europe,
in addition to Napoleon’s theft of the
I was captivated by the first-person
accounts of people who suffered from
the Inquisition. But the commentaries
offered by experts were uneven, as if
some were cut off too soon.
The series includes what seems like
carefully selected commentary by
Dominican Father Joseph Di Noia,
undersecretary of the Vatican’s Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith
(the current office that succeeded the
Holy Office for the Inquisition in 1908).
But his remarks have little significant
insight until the final segment: No
doubt, he had much more to tell.
It was filmed in high-definition
and is well worth the time to watch. For
additional information or to purchase
the DVD, go to www.pbs.org or www.inquisitionproductions.com.