Memorial Day 2018: Movies About Military Sacrifice and Valor

Posted on May 24, 2018 at 1:52 pm

For Memorial Day, take a look at these documentaries about our military:

War of 1812

The History Channel Presents The War of 1812 The young country proved its commitment to independence with this war against Britain that gave us a President (Andrew Jackson), and our national anthem.

Civil War

The Civil War Ken Burns’ series for PBS is meticulously researched and compellingly presented.

WWI

The Last Voices of WWI – A Generation Lost The veterans of “the war to end all wars” tell their stories.

WWII

The World at War This classic is considered the definitive history and a landmark of television reporting.  It was created long enough after the war ended to have perspective but close enough in time to have access to the participants, with eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers, and politicians as well as historians.  The 30th anniversary DVD set issued in 2004 has three hours of new material and additional documentaries.

GI Jews  Fifty thousand Jewish American fought in WWII, often struggling with anti-Semitism in the military.  They look back on their experiences and how it affected their lives.

In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen The first African-American pilots of the US military faced bigotry at home and in the military, but fought with extraordinary skill and dedication.

Korean War

Korea, The Forgotten War It was the Cold War era, but a real war was being fought in Korea that embodied the geopolitical conflicts.  This documentary covers that story, from Inchon to Pork Chop Hill.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War: America’s Conflict Many documentaries cover the politics and the protests, and that is covered here, too, but this series focuses on the stories of the battles and the men who fought them.

Desert Storm

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm Interviews with General Norman Schwarzkopf, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former UN Iraq Program Director Denis Halliday, former UNSCOM team-leader Scott Ritter and many others help tell the story of the American response to the invasion of Kuwait.

Afganistan/Iraq

Restrepo This is the award-winning story of one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military, covering the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The remote 15-man outpost was named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

The War Tapes Three National Guardsmen (“citizen soldiers”) document their time in Iraq.

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Trailer: Set it Up

Posted on May 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Coming to Netflix June 14, 2018 — “Set it Up,” the story of two assistants to highly demanding bosses who decide to “Parent Trap” them into falling in love so they won’t be so demanding. Cute idea and two stars from one of my favorite films from 2016, “Everybody Wants Some!!” — Zoey Deutsch and Glen Powell.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Posted on May 22, 2018 at 2:32 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi style peril, action, and violence, chases, shootouts, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2018

Copyright 2018 Disney
The moment I became a “Star Wars” fan forever was in the cantina scene in what I will always refer to as the first “Star Wars” movie, now of course known as Episode IV, “A New Hope.” It was when Ben Kenobi tells Han (Harrison Ford, of course) he hopes to avoid any Imperial entanglements, and Han leans back and says, “Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?” with so much rakish charm that we have to instantly forgive him for bragging about making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs. (We will always be too polite to mention that parsecs measure distance not time. Who knows, maybe a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they told time in parsecs.)

So, would I like to see that Kessel run? And how Han met Chewy the wookiee? And how me met the dashing buccaneer, Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams in Episodes V and VI and here by master-of-all-arts Donald Glover? And the bet that won Han the brand-spanking-new Millennium Falcon? Written by “Empire Strikes Back” and “Force Awakens” screenwriter Lawrence Kasden, with his son Jonathan (“Dawson’s Creek”)? With the divine Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) voicing a slightly loopy and more than slightly lippy droid? You bet I do!

Does it deliver? You bet your Han Solo hanging dice it does! Does Han shoot first? This time he does!

This prequel has the wonderfully charismatic Alden Ehrenreich (the “Would that t’were so simple” guy from “Hail, Ceasar!”) as Han, who lives with other orphans in a work camp led by Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Think Fagin, without the warmth. He has a plan to escape with the girl he loves, Qi’ra (“Game of Thrones” dragon-rider Emilia Clarke). Han is a bit of a rascal, but also an optimist back in these teenage years. “Wherever we go it can’t be worse than where we’ve been,” he says. But we know it can.

And as we know from films like “Casablanca” and “The Fifth Element,” whether it’s the letters of transit or the multipass, you have to have the right paperwork to get away. Han escapes (and in the film’s cheesiest moment, is assigned a last name based on his solitary status) but Qi’ra is captured. Han decided to enlist with the Imperial forces to get trained as a pilot so he can return to save her.

Three years later, Han has been thrown out of the academy and is now a grunt in the Imperial military. He meets a bandit named Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and his ragtag crew (is there any other kind?) of daredevils, and agrees to join forces with them on a heist so he can get a ship go back and rescue Qi’ra. This leads to a marvelously staged sci-fi version of a western train robbery.

It turns out that Beckett is not stealing on his own behalf, but working for someone else, someone who is not forgiving when things do not go well, harking back to the original cantina scene again, where we learn that Han had to jettison the cargo he was delivering to Jabba the Hutt. The big crime boss is Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany, with scars across his face as though a space tiger clawed his cheeks, scars that redden when he gets angry. Beckett and Han have to try again.

Along the way Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando. I am not going to spoil how; I’ll just say that both encounters are fitting and highly entertaining. Han does meet up with Qi’ra again, but is not ready to see how she has been affected by what she has had to do to survive. She joins the team and they take on another big heist. There’s a high-stakes card game, a trial by combat, and good advice that gets ignored. And the better you know the series, the more references and callbacks you will be delighted to discover. There are new insights in well-known characters and intriguing new ones, especially Waller-Bridge as a droid with a few crossed wires. In addition to the touches that center this in the “Star Wars” universe, there references to classic movie genres, heist films and westerns and maybe “The Wages of Fear.” It may not be necessary, but it is most welcome, a thrilling and warm-hearted adventure in its own right that fits as satisfyingly into the “Star Wars” universe as that last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

Parents should know that like all “Star Wars” movies, this one has non-stop peril and action with some disturbing images and many characters injured and killed. There is some mild language and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What do you think happened when Han was at the Academy? What is Han’s greatest skill?

If you like this, try: the other “Star Wars” films

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Pope Francis — A Man of His Word

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 7:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material including images of suffering
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Images of tragic circumstances including illness and oppression
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018

Copyright 2018 Focus Features
Wim Wenders’ unabashedly admiring documentary about Pope Francis is an intriguing and inspiring look at the man who is breaking a number of precedents in the Holy See. He is the first pope from South America after 265 predecessors, mostly from Italy. He is the first Jesuit, an order known for scholarship who “seek to find God in all things.” And he was the first to choose the name Francis, after the 16th century saint who was devoted to animals and nature.

He is unaffected, explaining that he wants to live very simply. He speaks to audiences and to us via the camera with candor and sincerity on topics ranging from the environment to interfaith understanding to the “three T’s” he says should be the foundations of our lives: in English, they are work (for dignity and contribution to the community — “to imitate God with your hands by creating”), land (to support sustainable resources), and roof (home, family).

Wenders interweaves a re-enactment of moments in the life of St. Francis to show parallels with his namesake. But the heart of the movie is seeing His Holiness interact with the crowds of people who are palpably moved by him. Visiting an American prison, he reminds the inmates that the very first man who become a saint was a prisoner like them. And then, in an act of infinite tenderness, he washes and kisses prisoners’ feet. A girl asks him why he has renounced wealth. He tells her that poverty around the world is a scandal, and “we must all become a little bit poorer…poverty is central to the gospel.” We can see the lugubrious faces of some of the Vatican priests and cardinals, looking as though this is not a welcome interpretation. Later, visiting his home country of Argentina, the crowd almost ecstatic with pride, he reminds them of a local expression: “You can always add water to the beans.”

One of the most striking scenes in the film has images of environmental damage projected onto the outside of St. Peter’s Basilica. “The poorest of the poor is Mother Earth. We have plundered her.” And he reminds us that it is the poorest of the poor who suffer first and most from environmental degradation.

His Holiness appears before the United States Congress and goes to Jerusalem to meet with rabbis and imams. He sits alone in a cell at the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. He speaks movingly to groups and to us about the importance of listening. He misses the connection of taking confession. He says smiles are “the flower of the heart” and speaks of the importance of of having a sense of humor. He tells us the prayer of St. Thomas More he says every morning that always makes him smile.

“An artist is an apostle of beauty,” he tells us. Wenders has taken that to heart and created a film that gives us a rare chance to hear directly from a man whose devotion and compassion will inspire anyone.

Parents should know that this film includes some footage of suffering, including illness, poverty, and abuse.

Family discussion: How do the “three T’s” appear in your life? Why is listening especially important to Pope Francis?

If you like this, try: “The Letters” and “Nuns on the Bus”

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Bobby Kennedy for President: Interview with Dawn Porter About Her Netflix Series

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 8:32 am

Dawn Porter’s four-part Netflix series, “Bobby Kennedy for President,” examines the life of one of the central political figures of the 1960’s. In an interview, she described the process of collecting the extraordinary and surprisingly intimate archival footage and her interviews with people who worked closely with Bobby Kennedy and are still deeply moved by the experience.

They say that history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. I felt like there was a lot of rhyming in this series, which takes place during the politically tumultuous 1960’s. What parallels do you see going on today?

We’re in a really confusing and chaotic era right now where people are choosing sides. The country is never a hundred percent united but it certainly feels as if we are more divided than we have been in recent years. It’s unsettling and I think that it is very similar to the middle through late sixties the series covers. I think the big difference is there was more confidence in the leadership and people felt acutely behind one candidate or the other and so there was confusion and chaos but I don’t know that there was the same amount of fear but more anger I think than in the 1960’s. There was more activism then and I think we’re seeing a more resurgence of that activism, now so I think that’s actually a good thing.

People say today, “oh goodness, it’s never been worse,” but we had the Vietnam War, a huge racial divide, poverty like in the Deep South, assassinations happening routinely, you don’t want to do a misery comparison but you could certainly say that things were as bad or as serious. That’s when we really do value leadership and Kennedy stepped into that role.

If you were making a film about a historical figure from even a decade before you would not have anywhere near the wealth of archival footage that you had here. It was really breathtaking because there were so many scenes where he seemed unaware he was being filmed, not just giving speeches but talking to his staff, being with his family.

I used to work for ABC News and I remember a colleague there telling me that there was all this film footage that had been shot during the time period that I was interested in. So one of the things that I thought would be really effective is to allow the viewers as much as possible to experience the footage themselves, to experience the time. And so there were two things to do. You can see at the beginning there was more black and white, there was more sometimes grainy/sometimes smooth footage. This was a period that coincided with the shift in news coverage. Upstart news entities such as ABC News began shooting in film and shooting in color and sending really gifted cinematographers out to do political coverage. So you get this feeling not only of the candidates but of the era: the clothes, the cars, the light. I think that helps point you in time in a way that still pictures can’t even quite accomplish.

That is why working with Netflix was so great because we convinced them to give us investigation room. We ended up digitizing over 140 hours of news footage and one of the things I’m really, really happy about is that footage is now available to others who want to explore the period for whatever storytelling they’re doing. It was quite a project of discovery in that way but we went through about 2,000 reels of film and our archivist ended up using 100 different sources so it was quite a massive undertaking but once we got our rhythm it was really fun. All the news organizations might cover the same event but they would shoot it differently and so we could have different angles from different news organizations. But 100 percent of that material had to be licensed, so we were constantly trying to figure out what we could afford to actually use.

There was another exciting thing that was happening. It was also the era of growth and excitement about that type of verite filmmaking. So there were filmmakers like D.A. Pennebaker, Robert Drew, like Charles Guggenheim who had sent a bunch of independent cinematographers out to cover Bobby Kennedy. We used all of those sources and got outtakes from them and I even visited Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus in their office and got material from them personally. So there is also quite a bit of film history contained in the series.

I think the most powerful moment in the series is the John Lewis interview.

I wanted to only have interviews with people who worked very closely with Bobby Kennedy, who were either staffers or people like Marian Wright Edelman. We had known that John Lewis was involved with Kennedy and he agreed right away. One of the things that I think was very helpful for these interviews was we would show people footage that was material they hadn’t necessarily seen of themselves as young people and I think that that helped them go back in time and remember. John Lewis is a spectacular interview. He’s very giving, he’s a very open, very, very, very generous and Kennedy was really important to him and he wanted to communicate that. He’s also not a person who is afraid of being emotional and didn’t try and stop it and that was really quite a gift to a project like this.

What do you think is Bobby Kennedy’s most enduring legacy?

I am really moved by his curiosity, his ability to change and grow, his inclusiveness (particularly to minority groups) and this kind of resilience and relentlessness which can be a blessing and a curse but in the end I think he made it a blessing and really refused to give up on things that are too important to give up on.

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