Remembering the Vietnam War: 10 Movies

Posted on July 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

gardens of stoneAs we observe the 50th anniversary of the War in Vietnam, here are ten of the best of the movie and documentary depictions of the war and its impact on history and culture in the United States. The best-known films about Vietnam include “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Coming Home,” “Good Morning Vietnam.” But over 2000 films have touched on or portrayed the Vietnam war and there are sure to be many more to come as we continue to grapple with the strong feelings about the conflict. These are others I think are well worth watching.

1. We Were Soldiers The very first U.S. military involvement in Vietnam is explored in this somber portrayal of military honor and politicians’ hubris.

2. Gardens of Stone James Caan and James Earl Jones star in this poignant story of the war at home and in Southeast Asia, focusing on the Arlington Cemetery’s “Old Guard.”

3. Hearts and Minds This documentary was made in 1974 so it is as much an artifact of its time as it is an accurate depiction of events as we have come to understand them.  But it is a powerful film with some important footage of the era.

4. China Beach This beautifully acted television series is a rare look at the war through the eyes of women.

5. Hamburger Hill The story of the 101st Airborne’s attempt to take a single hill in one of the most brutal engagements of the war stars Dylan McDermott and Don Cheadle.

6. Born on the Fourth of July Tom Cruise plays Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, who became an anti-war protester after he returned.

7. Little Dieter needs to Fly Werner Herzog made a documentary about a German immigrant fell in love with planes and became an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War, where he was captured and then escaped, and then made it again as a feature film called Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale.

8. Vietnam – A Television History The PBS series about the Vietnam war has been re-edited and updated. It is still a thoughtful, balanced history of the conflict and its context.

9. In Country Bruce Willis stars in the story of a girl who wants to find out what happened to her father, who never returned from Vietnam.

10: Remembering Vietnam: The Wall at 25 Maya Lin’s memorial to the Americans who died in Vietnam is one of the most powerful spaces in Washington D.C. Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs was determined to build a Vietnam memorial. Maya Lin was the Yale undergraduate whose etched granite memorial was selected by the judges but was considered insulting by some in the veteran community. The site has become a place for thousands of visitors to pay their respects. Many of them leave tokens with deep personal connections, and that is now a part of the memorial as well.

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After the kids go to bed For Your Netflix Queue Lists War

Cloudburst

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 8:06 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and sad confrontations and loss
Diversity Issues: Age and sexual orientation diversity is a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2013
Date Released to DVD: July 29, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00CBG9SQS

Two of the all-time great actresses play a long-time couple who must find a way to cope with the indignities of aging — and the greater indignities of the way they are treated by their families and the legal system.  Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker play a long-time couple, one losing her sight, one losing her hearing.  With the best of intentions, one’s granddaughter plans to put her in a nursing home.  The only way for them to stay together is to run away to Canada, where they can get legally married.

And so, they take to the road, where they pick up a hunky hitchhiker (newcomer Ryan Doucette).  Like the lovely “Still Mine,” also set in Canada, this is a beautifully performed story about a love that spans decades, brimming with tenderness and heartwarming devotion, and gives rare depth and dignity to characters in their 70’s.

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Two Great Documentaries Take You Behind the Scenes of Classic Rock, Pop, and Soul

Posted on June 30, 2013 at 8:00 am

Summer is a time of raunchy comedies, superheroes, and explosions, but you can find movies for grown-ups, too.  I highly recommend two outstanding documentaries that take the audience behind the scenes of some of the greatest music ever recorded.

20 Feet from Stardom is the story of the back-up singers, the ones who sing “da doo ron ron” and “toot toot beep beep” and all those extras that make the songs so rich and powerful.  This is the story of the singers, mostly women, with powerhouse voices, who appear over and over on hit after hit.  The stories are fascinating, like the late-night call that had Merry Clayton racing to the studio with curlers in her hair and a mink coat over her pajamas to sing “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and Darlene Love working as a house cleaner and hearing her own voice on the radio.  It kicks up a gear into existential  consideration of the way all of us find ourselves in one way or another supporting players.

Here is Lisa Fischer, also featured in the film, performing “Gimme Shelter” with the Rolling Stones in concert.

Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier, is the equally enthralling story of a small Alabama town with two recording studios that produced some of the greatest music of all time from performers like Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers.  Intimate archival footage and present-day recollections from the performers and the studio musicians and engineer/producer Rick Hall are fascinating and the music can’t be beat.  “I’ll Take You There”, “Brown Sugar”, “When a Man Loves a Woman”, “I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You”, “Mustang Sally”, “Tell Mama”, “Kodachrome”, and “Freebird” are just a few of the tens of thousands of tracks created there.

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After the kids go to bed Documentary Music

Quartet

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm

There is something splendid about seeing fine actors at the top of their game, still nailing it — in a movie about older performers, still nailing it.  Last year, it was Maggie Smith in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  On television, she is the highlight of the world’s favorite television series, “Downton Abbey.”  And now, the two-time Oscar winner continues her total world domination as the diva in “Quartet,” an endearing story of an assisted living facility for retired musicians and singers.

The setting is intriguing, a grand but decaying assisted living facility for retired musicians and singers.  First-time director Dustin Hoffman and his luminous cast of actors bring wit, dignity, and all their years of experience to bring the characters to life far in excess of the predictable plot and one-infirmity-to-a-character screenplay that seems to have been inspired by “The Golden Girls.”  Like Sophia, Wilf (Billy Connelly) has an age-related impairment of his impulse control, and because he is old, his constant references to sex and attempts to hit on any female he sees are supposed to be funny.  Connelly makes Wilf far more appealing than that description contemplates but showing us the character’s vulnerability and good spirits in the face of the loss of control of what he says and of his ability to be the kind of man who has access to opportunities for passion.

The Rose of the group is Cissy, played by one of my favorite actresses, Pauline Collins (the original “Upstairs Downstairs,” “No Honestly,” “Shirley Valentine”).  She struggles with forgetfulness but has a sweet nature.  Then there’s stern Reggie (beautifully played by Tom Courteney of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” and “Doctor Zhivago”), the Dorothy figure, and the Blanche character — the free spirited diva Jean (Maggie Smith), whose arrival creates opportunities and stirs up old conflicts, rivalries, and hurts.

The beloved sanctuary is in financial trouble.  The only thing that can save it is the annual fund-raiser concert.  If Jean will agree to re-create one of her greatest triumphs, the quartet from “Rigoletto,” performed with Wilf, Reggie, and Cissy, under the direction of the magisterial, caftan-wearing Cedric (Michael Gambon), they could sell enough tickets to keep it going.  But Jean does not want to perform.  She does not want to be there.  She does not want to be old.

There is more than one way to rage against the dying of the light.  There is something ineffably touching about the way that “the show must go on” takes on a deeper meaning for these old troupers, both on and off-screen.

Parents should know that this film has strong language and crude humor as well as issues of aging and mortality.

Family discussion: Did this movie make you think differently about getting older?  How?  Who surprised you the most?

If you like this, try: “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Meeting Venus” and some of the earlier work of these stars, including “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” “Shirley Valentine” and “Mrs. Brown”

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