Memorial Day Concert 2021 on PBS

Posted on May 28, 2021 at 5:08 pm

Gladys Knight, Vince Gill, the Four Tops, Alan Jackson, and Sara Bareilles join Gary Sinese and Joe Mantegna for the annual Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol Building. It will honor all of our heroes, Sunday, May 30, 2021, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. E.T.

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Holidays

Free for Memorial Day Weekend: Oral History of Black Soldiers in the Korean War

Posted on May 28, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2015 Miniver Press
Copyright 2015 Miniver Press

To honor our veterans this weekend, John Holway’s oral history ebook, Bloody Ground: Black Rifles in Korea, is available at no cost all weekend.

Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. Holway writes:

Korea was also our last segregated war. This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way.

It’s a good thing we weren’t with Custer,” one black GI muttered – “they’d have blamed the whole thing on us.”

The 24th won the first battle of the war, won its division’s first Medal of Honor, and guarded the shortest and most vulnerable road to Pusan. If the port had fallen, the war would have been lost, leaving a red dagger pointed at Japan. It did not fall.

That winter, after the Chinese attacked, the entire American army bugged out in perhaps the worst military disaster in American history. “That,” said another black veteran, “was when I learned that whites could run as fast as blacks.”

This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.

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Books

Movies for Memorial Day 2021

Posted on May 28, 2021 at 8:00 am

Memorial Day is more than the beginning of summer; it is a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope you can take some time over the weekend to think of those we have lost. Some movies to pay your respects:

The Outpost was on my top ten list for 2020, a movie that was sadly overlooked because it came out in the early weeks of the pandemic shutdown. It is based on the book by Jake Tapper. There are war stories that are about strategy and courage and triumph over evil that let us channel the heroism of the characters on screen. And then there are war stories that are all of that but also engage in the most visceral terms with questions of purpose and meaning that touch us all. “The Outpost” is that rare film in the second category, an intimate, immersive drama from director Rod Lurie, a West Point graduate and Army veteran who knows this world inside out and brings us from the outside in.

Gardens of Stone James Caan and James Earl Jones star in a film about the 1st Battalion 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Virginia, the U.S. Army’s Honor Guard. They conduct the funerals of fallen soldiers and guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Francis Ford Coppola directed this touching, elegiac story.

Taking Chance An officer (Kevin Bacon) escorts the body of a young Marine killed in Iraq. Each stop along the way is meaningful.

Mr. Roberts is a WWII story about a Navy cargo ship, based on the experiences of author Thomas Heggen. Henry Fonda stars in the title role or an executive officer who tries to protect the men from a tyrannical captain. Broadway, and the outstanding cast includes William Powell, James Cagney, and Oscar-winner Jack Lemmon.

And; Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Midway, Flags of Our Fathers, Act of Valor

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Holidays War

Cruella

Posted on May 26, 2021 at 5:13 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, character gets drunk in response to stress
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy-style peril and violence, murder and references to murder and attempted murders, child feels responsible for death of parent, characters are thieves and con artists
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 29, 2021

Copyright Disney 2021
“Cruella” has the same problem as “Maleficent.” Origin stories of iconic villains have to make the characters relatable enough to hold our interest but also damaged enough to lead them toward the most despicable cruelty. So it never decides whether Cruella is some sort of Jekyll and Hyde character or a “Bad Seed” struggle between nature and nurture.

“Cruella” has some pleasures, particularly the performances of the two Emmas, Stone and Thompson, as the title character and her own ultra-wicked nemesis. But it never resolves that problem, and it sits uneasily in the PG-13 space, too dark for children who are fans of the original animated film with Betty Lou Gerson as the husky-voiced Cruella or its live-action remake with Glenn Close. And it is too cartoony for most of the audience old enough to see it.

Our anti-heroine begins life as Estella, also the name of the Dickens character who is raised to be cruel by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. But this Estella is raised by a loving, understanding single mother (Emily Beecham as Catherine), who recognizes that Estella is a bit different, and not just because of her striking hair: jet black on one half of her head and snow white on the other. The kids at school bully her, except for Anita, who becomes her friend. But Estella can’t stay out of trouble. She seems to like trouble. She gets kicked out of school, and her mother decides they should move to London. They stop on the way there so Catherine can ask an old acquaintance for some money. But she is killed in a fall, and Estella believes it is her fault. She is left with no one to care for her.

She makes it to London and meets up with a couple of Artful Dodger types, Horace and Jasper. They invite her to share their home in an abandoned building and soon they are picking pockets and, as they get older, coming up with more complicated ways to steal. But Estella dreams of being a fashion designer and when she turns 18 (now played by Stone) Jasper (Joel Fry) helps her get an entry-level job at the legendary Liberty of London, where the closest she gets to fashion is scrubbing the bathrooms. But some mishaps bring her to the attention of the country’s imperious fashion impresario, The Baroness (Emma Thompson). At first, Estella just wants to do a good job. But various developments and revelations bring out the fury and, it must be said, the megalomania and cruelty that does not necessarily make sense in the context of what we’ve seen so far but gets her where she needs to be for the original story. Cruella (as she now calls herself) goes from being somewhere between Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist to being, well, the meanest movie villain of all time.

And she has some pretty fabulous gowns along the way. The Disney design team never fails to bring their magic. And it was a very shrewd idea to set the film in the moment as the swinging London of the 60s is moving into the punk era of the 70s with a soundtrack that includes a bunch of bangers. The movie is not very good but much of it is fun to watch.

Thompson is clearly having a ball playing a character who could fit the description of the character she played in “Much Ado About Nothing,” “My Lady Disdain.” She is a kind of “Devil Wears Prada” boss known as The Baroness. (It’s not a coincidence that both films share writer Aline Brosh McKenna). The Baroness rules her fashion line with a ruthlessness that makes “Devil Wears Prada’s” Miranda Priestly look like Little Miss Muffet. (Gosh, I hope we don’t have to sit through any of their origin stories some day.) And Stone does her considerable best with a character who does not make much sense.

Many years ago, a poll of the most evil villains of all time put Cruella De Vil at the very top, ahead of Hannibal Lecter. It’s right there in her name! She wanted to murder 99 puppies to make a coat! (Dodie Smith, who wrote the charming book 101 Dalmatians, was inspired to create the character of Cruella by an actress friend who admired Smith’s Dalmatian puppies and jokingly suggested their fur would make an elegant coat.) Cruella was the most fun when that was all she was, a wealthy lady with a husky voice who wanted to make a coat out of puppy fur. What a shame that the original animated Cruella was a more vibrant character than anyone in this film.

Parents should know that this movie has some dark themes. A child sees the murder of her mother and blames herself. Orphans band together as thieves and never find homes. A character gets drunk to deal with stress. A character admits to murdering more than one person. The story includes toxic and cruel behavior.

Family discussion: If you were going to change your name, what name would you pick? Why do Jasper and Horace do what Estella tell them to? Why is Anita the only girl who is friendly to Estella?

If you like this, try: the original animated film and the book by Dodie Smith

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P!nk: All I Know So Far

Posted on May 20, 2021 at 5:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine
Violence/ Scariness: Brief scene of accident
Diversity Issues: Acceptance of diversity a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 21, 2021

Copyright 2021 Amazon Studios
As I watched “P!nk: All I Know So Far,” I thought tof what W.H. Auden wrote in a poem called “Tonight at Seven-Thirty:” “The funniest mortals and the kindest are those who are most aware of the baffle of being, don’t kid themselves our care is consolable but believe a laugh is less heartless than tears.” P!nk, one of the world’s biggest rock stars, exemplifies that deep appreciation of humanity. Her tour, like her most recent album, is titled “Beautiful Trauma.” She embraces all of life’s struggles, losses, problems, and joys with laughter.

The film documents a portion of her pre-pandemic tour. Skillfully directed by Michael Gracey, who showed his appreciation for backstage stories with “The Greatest Showman” and “Rocketman,” the film follows P!ink and her family as they approach one of the highlights of the tour, her appearance at the legendary Wembley Stadium. There is the usual mix of rehearsal and concert footage, with perhaps more than usual of the star herself, who also produced, telling her story, which is about living at the intersection of art, commerce, and life, not trying to balance it all but trying to embrace it all at once, to integrate every part of it as seamlessly as she can. “I enjoy seeing the world with my kids as much as I enjoy nailing it on stage,” she says. “I want it to be perfect for everyone buying a ticket and in my kids’ minds.”

Essentially, she is responsible for three different jobs, though, all unimaginably all-consuming. She is the mother of Willow (age 8) and Jameson (age 3) and the wife of Carey Hart, formerly a Motocross champion, now a full-time dad. She is a Grammy award-winning mega-rock star who fills stadiums like Wembley for her concerts and thrills audience with acrobatic stunts that would be a challenge for Cirque du Soleil performers, belting out the hit songs that she wrote as she swings above the crowd, sometimes upside-down. And she is essentially the CEO of P!ink, Inc. as we see after a concert performance when she sits across a table from the people who work her show with a list of changes. For example, this venue has a stage 85,000 square feet larger than the one they had blocked the choreography on, so they need to figure out a way to adapt so that she can be where she needs to be without having to race so fast to get there that she does not have enough breath to sing. Just as she has to manage simultaneously singing and dancing (and swinging from the ceiling) she has to manage simultaneously touring and mom-ing. She laughs (of course) at one point remembering her wild child days, when she thought being a rock star meant freedom from anyone else’s rules only to find that she not only had to obey rules like being on time, she had to enforce them.

That applies to parenting, too, of course. It is a pleasure to see the patience and love P!nk and Carey show Willow and Jameson. Willow shyly asks if she can take some time off from the tour to see her friends and in one of the film’s sweetest moments, P!nk says she is proud of Willow for being able to express her feelings.

Hart does not get much time on camera until about halfway through the film, and when he refers to Alecia, it took me a moment to remember who that was. For her family, she is Alecia. And Mommy. The musical performances are thrilling, but what is most memorable about this film is Alecia/P!ink herself. She says that when you’re struggling, you imagine that if you ever get a Grammy you will take the opportunity at the podium to call out the high school principal who didn’t believe in you. But after all of the work it takes to get there, you find you are just grateful for everything that got you to that point. Watching her helps us to reframe our own lives with gratitude as well.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and explicit lyrics and some drinking of wine. There are references to past wild behavior.

Family discussion: What is P!nk’s biggest challenge, performing or being a mom? How are they different? What will her children remember about the tours?

If you like this, try: “The Other F Word” about punk and metal musicians and fatherhood.

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