The Outpost

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 5:50 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Substance abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense wartime peril and violence, very graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, possible suicide attempt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2020

Copyright ScreenMedia 2020
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,” based on the book by news correspondent Jake Tapper, 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.

The script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy wisely avoids the usual expository dialogue as a newcomer is introduced to the group. Instead, we get a crisp, military briefing-style scene-setting with on-screen text informing us that the military has set up outposts in areas that are impossible to defend and given the 53 soldiers there the impossible task of both befriending the locals and fighting off the Taliban. This one is Combat Outpost Keating, located in a near-indefensible mountain-enclosed area in Afghanistan 14 miles from the Pakistani border.

Lurie and his cast, including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and breakout star Caleb Landry Jones, understand the small revelatory moments, the trash-talk and taunting that is the way people away from home and coping with unendurable uncertainty connect to each other. Then there are the brief calls home when they pretend to be normal and maintain those connections. As a sign nearby reminds them to keep the calls to 10 minutes, one soldier puffs away while assuring his wife that he stopped smoking. A series of new commanding officers each bring his own ideas and style of communication. Over the course of the movie, we see how much we expect from the military, from 21st century warfare to diplomacy. Over the closing credits, we get a devastating reminder of how heartbreakingly young these soldiers are.

There are telling moments in the interactions with the locals. The soldiers do their best to implement the policies they are there to carry out, which means “soft power” like paying them for their people who have been killed as collateral damage or even as enemy or possibly those who are dead by other means but maybe a way to get more money from the Americans. “I will lose my honor with my elders,” one explains via a translator. “I can regain my honor one of two ways. One way is for all of you to lay down your arms and watch as your communities flourish with the help of the US and Allah.” That support comes in the form of “money, contracts, projects.” The other way does not need to be explained to the Afghanis or to us. The outpost also has to develop sources of intelligence in a place where there is no reason for anyone to trust them and they do not speak the language. There is a local version of the boy who cried wolf, constantly warning of an attack but with no useful details. And then there are the attacks, always expected yet always unexpected because they never know when.

Impeccable camerawork from Lorenzo Senatore and editing by Michael J. Duthie give the film a documentary feel matched by understated, natural performances from the cast. We feel their exhaustion. And we feel their dedication, more important even than their training or their courage. Their loyalty to each other in the face of risk so dire the outpost is known as Camp Custer is itself the answer to the question the story raises about purpose, meaning, and why we are here. The question of why we are there it is wise enough not to try to resolve.

Parents should know that this is a war movie with constant, intense, and graphic military and terrorist violence, disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual humor, smoking and substance abuse.

Family discussion: Which was the best commanding officer of the outpost? How do the soldiers manage their stress?

If you like this, try: “Beaufort” and “1917”

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Protest: Movies for Families About Working for Justice and Progress

Posted on June 2, 2020 at 10:41 am

Copyright 2014 Cloud Eight Films

The news of 2020 may be confusing and scary for children. These movies will help families talk about how democracies allow ordinary citizens to work for change.

Selma:  “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay’s film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital at Montgomery, to make the case for the right to vote, is superb as biography, as history, and as drama.

He Named Me Malala:  She risked everything to be allowed to learn. And now she is a world leader in advocating for other girls to have the same chance.

How to Survive a Plague: Extraordinary archival footage of the early days of AIDS activism makes this documentary especially vital and compelling. As writer/director David France told me, ““This isn’t a movie about what AIDS did to us. This is a movie about what we did to AIDS.” the people in this movie changed the way the medical and research communities interact with patients and their families who are coping with all diseases and conditions.

Boycott: The Montgomery bus boycott led by a young clergyman named Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Mission Blue: World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle travels the globe on an urgent mission to shed light on the dire condition of Earth’s oceans.

Dolores: One of the most powerful activists on behalf of migrant workers is Dolores Huerta, who had to fight sexism as well as racism.

Amazing Grace:  The first ever citizen-led movement leading to peaceful social change was the British anti-slavery movement led by William Wilberforce, movingly depicted in this film. You can see the origins of the kinds of tactics and arguments that have formed the basis for every social movement since.

Made in Dagenham: Sally Hawkins stars in this fact-based story about women fighting for equal pay at a car company. It is a stirring and inspirational story and has a nuanced look at the political challenges as well as the professional ones.

1971: Before the Pentagon Papers, Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers, Wikileaks, and Chelsea Manning there was the first-ever leak of government documents. A group of activists broke into an FBI office and released documents showing abuse by law enforcement in a program called COINTELPRO. It was decades before anyone discovered who was responsible and we are just beginning to understand the impact of these revelations in loss of trust for government and changes of policy in the press.

Mighty Times: The Children’s March: This Oscar-winning documentary is the story of how the young people of Birmingham, Alabama, braved fire hoses and police dogs in 1963 to demand justice.

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Military Wives

Posted on May 21, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated, some mature material
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Offscreen wartime violence and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2020
Copyright 2020 Bleeker Street

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Those lines by Milton are a powerful reminder of the quiet struggles of the families left behind when soldiers go to war. “Military Wives” is based on the real-life story of British women who stood and waited while their spouses were fighting in Afghanistan, and came together to form a choir that inspired audiences and led to the creation of choirs on other military bases.

The choir is as much the result of opposing forces as common interests. Kate (a frosty Kristen Scott Thomas) is the wife of one of the base’s commanding officers. He is about to return to duty for the first time since the death of their only son in action. We get a sense of their different ways of grieving — and the way his death has driven them apart — as they talk about a photograph of their son. Should it be left casually on the refrigerator as it was when he was alive or upgraded to a frame and protected by glass?

Lisa (“Catastrophe’s” Sharon Horgan) seems to have been designed to annoy and be annoyed by Kate. She is earthy, unpretentious, and outspoken and just generally messy. She is, in theory, in charge of organizing the morale-boosting base activities for the spouses. But she is not by nature or inclination an organized person. She has a rebellious teenage daughter she can barely manage. And she considers Kate’s “helpful” suggestions snobbish and unrealistic. How much comfort can worried, lonely wives of soldiers get from a knitting club or a film series to explore the auteur theory?

But Lisa cannot dispute Kate’s point that the women “need something to focus on, something to keep them together.” The idea of singing seems to have some appeal. Lisa tentatively agrees but want to keep it casual. “It’s like a drop-in,” she tells the women. “And then you commit,” says Kate. “A lot of fun,” says Lisa. “And uplifting,” says Kate.

They have different ideas about what to sing and how to rehearse. But just as different notes can make beautiful harmonies, the two women find a way to combine forces and even develop some respect for one another. With some bumps along the way. Kate says “it has to be challenging to give them something else to think about.” But it turns out that the challenge is what helps them think about all of it — worry, grief, fear — better.

“It’s like ‘Sister Act’ without the Mafia hit men!” one character says cheerfully. No Mafia hit men, no nuns, but real war, with real casualties, and real pain. The real turning point is when the women bring the people they miss into their performance. And the real highlight is the glimpses we get of the real choir and the others it inspired over the closing credits.

Families should know that this film includes some strong language, teen misbehavior, and sad offscreen war-related injuries and deaths.

Family discussion: Did your sympathies toward the characters shift over the course of the movie? Why? How did characters find different ways to deal with stress?

If you like this, try: “Young at Heart,” a documentary about a choir of elderly singers

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Hamilton — Original Cast!! — Coming to Disney Plus

Posted on May 13, 2020 at 5:28 pm

The original Broadway cast of Hamilton film is coming to Disney+ on July 3.

The show was filmed live on stage with the original cast at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016.

The original Broadway cast appearing in the film include Tony Award® winners Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton; Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler; Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr; Tony Award® nominees Christopher Jackson as George Washington; Jonathan Groff as King George; Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton; and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison; and Anthony Ramos as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton.

The cast also includes Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Elizabeth Judd, Jon Rua, Austin Smith, Seth Stewart, and Ephraim Sykes.

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The Banker

Posted on April 2, 2020 at 9:51 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language including a sexual reference and racial epithets, and smoking throughout
Profanity: Some strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 3, 2020

Copyright Apple 2020
“The Banker,” now available on Apple TV+, is three movies in one, all of them vivid, engaging, and compelling.

First, it’s a heist in plain sight movie, and all, or pretty much all, strictly legal. Two black men, Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) start a business in the pre-Civil Rights Act era when it was not only legal but the universal practice to keep people of color not just out of the neighborhoods where white people lived and worked but out of the places that make property ownership possible, the business that sell homes and office buildings and the people who provide the financing for those purchases.

Second, it is a “My Fair Lady”-style Cinderella makeover fairy tale movie, about taking someone who has the heart to be more than he is and teaching him the language, manners, and skills necessary to have credibility in the highest levels of society, or, in this case, business and finance. Garrett and Morris need a white man to pretend to be the president of their enterprise, so they recruit Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), a genial construction worker, and teach him their version of “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” how to do (or pretend to do) complex valuation computations in seconds and how to play golf, so he can display the (apparently) effortless credibility needed to do big-money deals.

Third, it is a very personal underdog story of heroes to cheer for, two very different men, both played with exquisite precision, working together against near-insurmountable odds to overturn a virulently oppressive system.

Garrett has a head for numbers even as a young boy, where he listens in on the conversations of men of business as he shines their shoes. As a young man, he understands that the ability to own property is as critical to financial stability, social parity, and equal opportunity as the kind of political organizing that is getting started at the same time. Morris is already a savvy businessman with clubs and real estate holdings. Their personalities are very different — one a quiet, devoted family man, the other a good-time guy. But they both know how things work. They know how to make themselves invisible, pretending to be limo drivers or janitors to get access to the places of power while their front-man pretends to know what he’s doing. (One problem with the film is its failure to give Nia Long more of a role than the ever-supportive wife, though this ever-talented actress lends the character some dimension.)

We know from the beginning, opening on a Senate hearing with some harsh questioning, that powerful people are going to try to stop Garrett and Morris from taking some of their power. This movie, with MCU star-power portraying real-life superheroes, gives some of it back to them.

Parents should know that this film has some strong and racist language, some sexual references, scenes in clubs and bars, and some historical depictions of racism.

Family discussion: What did Morris and Garrett have in common? Who is most like them today? What should they have done about Steiner?

If you like this, try: “Hidden Figures” and “Self Made,” and read more about Bernard Garrett and Joe Morris.

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