Memorial Day 2024: Movies to Pay Tribute to Our Troops

Posted on May 23, 2024 at 7:14 am

Copyright 1987 Tristar

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.

The Blue Angels Glen Powell, who played a pilot in “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Devotion” is also a real-life pilot who has flown with “the best of the best,” the Navy’s Blue Angels. He produced this documentary that takes us behind the scenes and into the sky, even “inverted” (upside down!) with the Blues.

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.

Band of Brothers is the extraordinary series from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks about ordinary men who came together to do extraordinary things as soldiers in Easy Company in WWII.

Red Tails is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary heroes who risked their lives for a country that did its best to hold them back.

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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Posted on May 22, 2024 at 5:51 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, and grisly images
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some substance use
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, torture, guns, knives, fire, characters injured and killed, disturbing, graphic, and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2024

It is always a thrill to enter George Miller’s dystopian vision, now approaching the half century mark of eye-popping design and heart-in-the-throat action. The first “Mad Max” film premiered in 1979, and it was like nothing we had seen before. Mel Gibson had the title role as a cop turned warrior in a post-apocalyptic world of brutal savagery, humans almost feral, with survival the only goal. The films borrow themes from classic genres, myths, knights and chivalry, wasterns, even sci-fi, but they build on those themes like the characters build massive machines out of junk piles. This series creates something new, enthralling, terrifying, dark and disturbing cautionary tales but with a glimmer of humanity.

The fifth in the series is both sequel and prequel. “Fury Road” is a transition from the original Mad Max character, Tom Hardy taking over for Gibson, to a new character, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Furiosa, with a mechanical prosthetic arm, is a warrior as fierce as her name. In “Fury Road” she is trying to rescue young women from a harem/breeding farm under the control of Immortan Joe (originally played by the late Hugh Keays-Byrne, in this chapter played by Lachy Hulme).

While the last film spanned just three days, this one tells us the story of Furiosa from childhood to what appears to be her mid-20s. We first see the young Furiosa (played by a very compelling Alyla Browne), reaching up to pick fruit from a tree and about to pick a second one for another girl, perhaps her sister. This is more than a Biblical metaphor. The tree is in a small, Edenic green space in the midst of the devastated, parched desert world we know from the earlier films. That means it must be kept secret.

Though she is very young, Furiosa knows what to do when intruders approach. She tells her companion to be invisible and she races off to cut the fuel lines of their motorbikes. The intruders grab Furiosa. Her mother chases them, on horseback the first of a series of catch-your-breath chase scenes. Eventually, Furiosa is adopted by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), the leader of the gang that snatched her.

Dementus is a charismatic but volatile leader. He wears a billowy white parachute and has a small stuffed bear, a relic of his ruined life. He calls her his daughter and lets her hold the stuffed bear that belonged to his children. He tells Furiosa she does not have to look as he tortures her mother. But her gaze is steady.

For a movie that is always hurtling between three major outposts, with different factions battling each other for the scarce resources, gas, water, and ammunition, it takes its time getting us to Anya Taylor-Johnson as the adult Furiosa. She is an ever scarcer resource; she is healthy, and there is a moment when she is placed with the harem, with the thought that she might be able to produce a healthy baby. She escapes and finds a way to work as a mechanic and later riding shotgun on the gas tanker, driven by Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke).

This edition is more of an origin story than the others, which centered on characters who were already fully formed. There is less focus on the way that the scarcity of the resources that give weight to the stakes. But these are relatively minor points when the screen is all but exploding with intense action and mesmerizing visuals. Every detail of Miller’s world (with the help of Production Designer Colin Gibson) is intricate and meaningful. Jenny Beaven’s costumes define the characters and show us the defects and disabilities that are the result of their deprivations and depraved sensibility. The details also show us how parched the world is, not just the aridity of the desert landscape but the absence of any capacity for progress, any thought beyond what can be obtained and who can be vanquished as quickly as possible.

That means many chases, and no one is better at making us lean forward to watch than Miller. Those scenes are a lesson in timing, camera placement, and editing (by Margaret Sixel, married to Miller, and Eliot Knapman). They crackle with energy and excitement. And a scene near the end with Furiosa and Dementus is almost Shakespearean in its scope, is beautifully performed by Hemsworth and Taylor-Joy. Miller is an extraordinary film and this series continues to be powerful and provocative.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with many characters injured, tortured, and killed and many grisly and disturbing images. A child sees her mother murdered. Characters use strong language.

Family discussion: What makes Furiosa different? Do you think the story Furiosa told about what happened at the end is true?

If you like this, try; the other Mad Max movies

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image from the movie IF

IF

Posted on May 15, 2024 at 2:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rate PG for thematic elements and mild language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death and illness of parents, injured child
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 17, 2024

Classic movie fans will immediately recognize a brief clip watched by one of the characters in “IF.” It is James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey,” a gentle fantasy about a man who is the only one who can see a tall invisible rabbit-looking creature called a pooka, named Harvey. Later in that film, when a doctor tries to assess his mental capacity, Dowd says, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.” Another touchstone for the film is that moment, more heartbreaking for parents than children, when Bing Bong dissolves in Pixar’s “Inside Out.” Writer/director/star John Krasinski says he made “IF” because he realized his daughters were on the cusp of that end of childhood when imagination is real to them. The movie’s poignance will be felt most acutely by parents, aware of their own fleeting moments of magic as children and, while looking forward to the milestones of their own children, missing the magic and even the exhaustion of the early years.

The title “IF” mostly stands for “Invisible Friend,” but also a little bit stands for the word we use to conjure up infinite possibilities. The world Krasinski has conjured up here is beguiling, with a handmade, retro feel. The Paramount logo at the beginning looks like a child’s finger-painting and the movie itself is a smudgy valentine, all heart, whimsy, and charm. If the message is a bit messy and the logic not quite sound, for me that was more than made up for by the tenderness.

It takes place in present-day-ish, no cell phones, no internet searches, an apartment building and apartment decor that dates back to the 40s or 50s. The soundtrack includes some classic songs, played on, stay with me kids, a vinyl record on a Victor Victrola with a trumpet horn, like they made a hundred years ago. Cal wears suspenders and a hat that’s vintage, not hipster. The light is soft. And there is a beguiling enchanted amusement park on the beach.

Cailey Fleming is lovely as Bea, a 12-year-old girl staying with her grandmother (the always-wonderful Fiona Shaw, a long way from Harry Potter’s aunt) while her dad joke-aficionado father (Krasinski) is in the hospital. As we see early on, Bea’s adored mother died when she was young, so her father’s illness is hitting her very hard. When her grandmother tries to welcome her into the apartment she once shared with both parents by offering her the paints she used to enjoy, Bea stiffly says she is too told for them now.

She goes for a walk and sees what she thinks might be a girl her age. But she is not. Bea discovers that Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is an imaginary friend who looks like a girl-sized talking butterfly, who lives in an apartment in the same building where Bea is staying, with Cal (Ryan Reynolds) and Blue (Steve Carrell) a gigantic, fluffy purple imaginary friend with a sweet, goofy smile. Cal explains that there are a lot of imaginary friends who have been outgrown by the children who created them. Cal and Blossom are trying to find new children for the abandoned imaginary friends, so they don’t disappear. Bea is captivated by the idea and volunteers to help.

Krasinski assembled an all-star cast to provide voices for the amusingly varied group of imaginary friends, including George Clooney as an astronaut, Bradley Cooper as an ice cube, Emily Blunt as a unicorn, Awkwafina as a bubble, and the late Louis Gossett, Jr. as a bear named Lewis. Cal, Bea, and Lewis interview the IFs to try to match them up with children who share their interests and need their skills. But it turns out that may not be the answer they are looking for. The one they find will be as reassuring to kids as it is to parents.

Parents should know that, as in many stories with children at the center, this one begins with a sad loss of a parent. And her remaining parent is also ill. and in the hospital for surgery.

Family discussion: What stories do you like to tell? Which IF is your favorite and why? What IF will you imagine?

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Tuck Everlasting”

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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Posted on May 9, 2024 at 11:37 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence, beating, sling-shots, taser-like spears, explosion, flood, marauders, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 10, 2024
Copyright 20th Century 2024K

Know going in that this is the kind of movie where the humans are mute, cognitively impaired, and yet the main human character wears tailored pants and a woven shirt that look like they came from the mall. This should not be a surprise as it is also the kind of movie there the title is, at best, paradoxical, as a planet is bigger than a kingdom and in any even the kingdom in this story is only a small part of the planet. So shouldn’t it be “Kingdom ON the Planet of the Apes?” Of all the suspension of disbelief required for the film, the idea that complex machinery would operate as intended after hundreds of years — well, that idea procured intended laughs in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and unintended laughs in “Battlefield Earth.”

Know, too, that, for anyone who is trying to keep track of the “how does ‘Tokyo Drift’ fit into the chronology”-type questions about the original series of films, the television show, and the Tim Burton-and-after movies, this one takes place a long time after the death of legendary character Cesar, who sacrificed himself, and, possibly, before the Charlton Heston original. Maybe.

Noa (Owen Teague) is a young, male ape who lives in a gentle clan with his parents and two best friends. We first see them preparing for a coming-of-age ritual. Each of them must find an eagle’s egg (but always leaving one in the nest), and bring it back safely. The clan is centered around their trained eagles, and Noa’s stern father is their leader. Noa struggles to get his father’s approval. We see that they have some signs of what we think of as human civilization, in addition to the rituals. They have built some simple structures as homes, they ride horses, they obey the rules of the clan, and they have adornments and some tools and simple weapons, like slingshots. Also, as mentioned above, that most human of attributes, daddy issues.

A marauding group of apes arrive, with more powerful weapons, including spears with taser-like points. They destroy the compound, kill Noa’s father, and capture everyone else, except for Noa, who manages to escape, vowing to find his clan and get revenge. He meets up with Raca (the deep, kind voice of Peter Macon), a follower of the lessons of Cesar. And they meet up with a human woman they call Nova (Freya Allan) — cue the jokes about how humans are slow-witted and smell bad.

They try to drop Nova off with a group of humans (note: none wearing pants and a shirt), but the same marauding apes arrive to capture the humans like cowboys capture mustangs or, in “The Time Machine,” the Morlocks capture the Eloi. It turns out Nova has some secrets.

She and Noa are themselves captured by the apes, they find themselves in the kingdom of Proximus (Kevin Durand), a tyrant who, like the male humans of our time, is obsessed with Ancient Rome. They live on what was once a human stronghold, and Proximus is determined to break into the vault, to get access to whatever it was the humans were so intent on protecting.

I suspect we may hear some people claim that this film is intended as a metaphor to illuminate some of the most divisive topics of our era — colonialism, immigration, xenophobia, the way we tell our history. That gives this film too much credit, but the way both Raca and Proximus claim to be the true heirs of Cesar’s authority, with very different interpretations of his message, should resonate with viewers.

We are mostly there for the special effects and action scenes, though, and those are vivid and effective. The settings are stunning and the motion capture and CGI are next-level, giving the ape characters real weight and their expressions, well, expressive. As one of the most enduring series in history moves, potentially, toward the time of the very first film, the questions remain: whether humans and apes can find a way to co-exist, whether technology can advance without causing great harm and existential threats, and whether humans or apes can ever find a way to overcome fear and greed to work together for the common good.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and violence. Characters are injured and killed and there are some graphic and disturbing images. Characters use brief strong language (a human teaches it to the apes, of course).

Family discussion: Why did the clans have such different cultures?

If you like this, try: the other movies in the series and the original films with Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Charlton Heston

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The Fall Guy

Posted on May 1, 2024 at 10:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action and violence, drug content and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, jokes about getting tipsy, drug use, including hallucinations
Violence/ Scariness: Extended real and fictional peril and action, fights, guns and other weapons, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2024

“The Fall Guy” is a love letter to movie-making, to all of the work, all of the heart, all of the expertise from hundreds of people that goes into telling our stories. It is a love letter to the audience, filled with action, romance, comedy, impossibly gorgeous, magnificently talented ,and endlessly charismatic performers, and with joy. Most of all, it is a love letter to the unsung heroes who do the crazy daredevil stunts that make the world’s most beloved movie stars look athletic and courageous. It is pure popcorn pleasure and I cannot wait to see it again.

There’s just a tincture of the 80s television series that lends its name, its theme song, character name, and a brief cameo from its star, Lee Majors). This is the story of stunt man Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, who is the long-time substitute for one of the world’s biggest Hollywood action stars, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) when the script calls for anything that might be dangerous. The job of the stunt performers is to do the crazy things that make audiences gasp and cheer: cars rolling over, falls from great heights, fighting with fists, feet, and weapons, dangling from helicopters, racing speedboats. Basically, they get paid a minuscule fraction of what the star is paid to get all of the bruises, burns. and broken bones, do to it over and over, to make sure their faces do not show and ruin the illusion, and to give a thumbs-up to show that they are fine after every take.

Colt has a crush on a cinematographer and would-be director, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). But when Tom insists on a re-do of a fall from the top of a skyscraper atrium because he thinks too much of Colt’s chin was showing, something goes wrong and Colt is badly injured. Over the next 18 months, as he slowly recovers, he works as a parking valet and his relationship with Jody ends in hurt and disappointment.

And then Colt gets a call from Tom’s long-time producer, Gail Meyer (“Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham). Tom is making a huge sci-fi film in Australia and Gail wants Colt to do the stunts. He says no. She says Jody asked for him. He says, “Get me an aisle seat.”

Once he gets to Sydney, Gail tells Colt that Tom has disappeared and she wants Colt to find him. He also finds out that Jody did not ask for him because (1) she is surprised to see him and not happy about it and (2) she fires him. Literally. Like, she has him do a stunt where he’s on fire and gets slammed into a rock — three times.

There is so much more I’m longing to tell you about what happens next but I want you to have the pleasure of discovering it all for yourselves. I will just say that Gosling and Blunt have chemistry for days and are clearly having a blast perfecting the balance between action, comedy, romance, and mystery, there are dozens of sly jokes about Hollywood and filmmaking, Winston Duke is a dream as the stunt coordinator (if you have not seen him in “Black Panther” and “Nine Days” and “Us,” three roles that could not be more different, watch them!), there’s a stunt dog who only understands French, and while you may expect the stunts to be amazing, they are amazing times amazing. Real-life stunt performer-turned director David Leitch likes to take Hollywood’s handsomest leading men (Brad Pitt in “Bullet Train,” Gosling here) and make them scruffy and in need of a comeback, always a choice choice. Be sure to stay through the credits for behind the scenes footage of the real stunt performers and an extra scene.

Parents should know that this is an action film with extended real and fictional (stunt) peril and violence, with guns and other weapons, fight scenes, characters injured and killed, drinking and jokes about being tipsy, drugs, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What’s your go-to karaoke song and why? Why is it hard to apologize? Would you like to see the movie Colt and Jody are making?

If you like this, try: “The Stunt Man” (some mature material) with Peter O’Toole as the director of a WWI movie who impulsively hires an escaped convict as a stunt performer, and stunt-filled films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Fast X” and another movie from this director, also with Taylor-Johnson, “Bullet Train”

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