This holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country’s service and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.
We celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
This year, Midway is in theaters to remind us of the immeasurable dedication and courage of our WWII military.
Some movies for families to watch about real-life US military:
They Shall Not Grow Old On the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, Peter Jackson used 21st century technology to make archival footage and audio feel contemporary, to make the experience of these men seem as though it happened to people we know.
1917 Two young soldiers are sent on a very dangerous mission to deliver a vital message. Remarkably, this film seems like it was all one continuous shot, a breathtaking achievement.
Band of Brothers Historian Stephen Ambrose’s book was made into a stirring miniseries about “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from jump training in the United States through its participation in major actions in Europe, up until the end of the war.
M*A*S*H is a dark anti-war comedy based on the real-life experiences of an Army surgeon. It inspired the long-running television series.
The Vietnam War The documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tells the story.
Persian Gulf War/Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
Jarhead Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Sam Mendes’ film based on the memoir of Anthony Swofford about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I.
Restrepo is a documentary about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, serving in a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.
American Sniper Bradley Cooper stars as the late Chris Kyle, a top sniper who served four tours of duty in Iraq, and then was killed by a veteran he was trying to help after he got home.
The Messenger Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play soldiers who have the hardest job of all, notifying families that someone they love has been killed.
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.
Rated PG-13 for war-related action/violence and brief strong language
Brief strong language
Extended wartime peril and violence, weapons, explosions, some disturbing images, characters injured and killed
Historical issues, segregated all-male military
Date Released to Theaters:
July 10, 2020
People always remember the wrong part of “The Caine Mutiny.” It’s understandable because Humphrey Bogart is mesmerizing as Captain Queeg, a career officer held in contempt by the junior officer draftees who think he failed so unforgivably in his command that, in this fictional story, there is a mutiny. (In reality, there has never been a mutiny on a US military ship.) One of the most iconic scenes in movie history is when Bogart as Queeg becomes so defensive on the witness stand he undermines his own credibility. Like Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup being cross-examined by Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men,” the short-term smart alecks show up the men who give their lives to the service. But do they? After Queeg decompensates on the witness stand, the mutineers feel vindicated. But the lawyer who argued the case tells them they are wrong. He could have given Nicholson’s speech about those who are smug in the luxury of their principles without having to test them in war. (Of course, SPOILER ALERT Jessup’s actions went far beyond Queeg’s paranoia and poor judgment; there is no possible justification for assaulting a soldier to force him to improve or quit.)
The WWII story “Greyhound,” written by and starring Tom Hanks, is something of a counterweight to those stories. It is based on a book called The Good Shepherd by Horatio Hornblower author C.S. Forester, whose specialty was thrilling naval stories. Hanks plays Captain Ernest Krause, commander of the USS Keeling, known by its callsign Greyhound. Like Queeg and Jessup, Krause was in the Navy before the war. We get a sense that he has been disappointed by not being promoted and perhaps, now that America’s entry into the war has prompted a promotion at last, he may have some doubts about whether he is ready. In a brief and probably unnecessary flashback, we see him propose to his lovely girlfriend, played by the lovelier-than-ever Elisabeth Shue. But she wants to wait. (In Forester’s book, Krause is divorced because his wife could not handle his by-the-book-ishness.). But unlike Jessup and Queeg, Krause is the very model of a decent, honorable, careful, officer. His first thought is for his mission; his second thought is for his men. He never loses sight of the consequences of his actions. As his men rejoice in the sinking of the U-Boat attacking them — “50 less Krauts!” — he says to himself as much as to anyone else, “50 souls.”
Other than that flashback, the quick 90-minute runtime is entirely devoted to a few days as Krause’s destroyer brings cargo ships across the Atlantic so they can deliver critically needed supplies and troops to England. Air cover at the time could not stretch all the way across the ocean, so there was a space in the middle known as the Black Pit. As the movie begins we hear the stirring voice of Winston Churchill describing the “hard unrelenting struggle” of the Atlantic fleet and Franklin Roosevelt, a former Secretary of the Navy, extolling the American spirit: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” “The price of the war has fallen on our sailor men,” we hear. And then we see what that means on Krause’s first crossing.
In addition to the vulnerability of lack of air cover, the equipment they have to work with is endearingly, and horrifyingly basic, analog, almost prehistoric. Their communication with their base is inadequate, even when it works, a critical message arriving two hours too late. The tracking system stops working. On board, Krause gets his intel by voice relay. A sailor has the job of just repeating everything coming from below so he can hear it. A sneeze at the wrong moment can be disastrous. The crew uses grease pencils and protractors. Krause uses binoculars. He uses a pencil-sharpener. They run low on ammo.
As admirable as the movie’s devotion to accuracy is, the tech talk is overwhelming. There’s a lot of “five minutes to course change” and language that is much harder to parse. Much less time is devoted to developing characters other than Krause; he may care a lot about the men but the movie does not seem to. An exception is Rob Morgan, in his third indelible performance of the year so far after “Bull” and “The Photograph.” As a loyal steward in the still-segregated military, he manages to convey infinite dignity and a movie’s worth of back story.
All of the tech talk and even some of the action are a distraction from what the movie is about: risk assessment under the direst circumstances, the responsibility for other people’s lives, both those on board and those they are fighting to protect at home, the wear on the spirit, the resolve to go on. At its foundation, beyond all of the tension and action, this movie is is a continuation of those same issues explored in Hanks’ recent films, especially “Captain Phillips,” “Sully,” and “Bridge of Spies.” Hanks, who often seems to play the role of America’s dad in real life, explores the existential questions that underly all of our choices.
Parents should know that this film includes extended wartime peril and violence, disturbing images, guns, torpedos, explosions, characters injured and killed, and brief strong language. Reflecting the reality of the era, the military is segregated and all-male.
Family discussion: What are some of the biggest differences between the military technology of WWII and today? Which was the most difficult decision Commander Krause had to make? If he had to do it again, what would he do differently?
If you like this, try: “Midway,” “Mr. Roberts,” “Destination Tokyo,” and “Band of Brothers”
Rated R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Constant very strong and crude language
Substance abuse, smoking
Intense wartime peril and violence, very graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, possible suicide attempt
Date Released to Theaters:
July 3, 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?
It’s a very different Memorial Day this year, much quieter, with no parades or community picnics. But now more than ever we have reason to show our appreciation for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Some movies to help us pay our respects:
Black Hawk Down: Elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
Glory: The story of the first black regiment to fight in the Civil War, with an Oscar-winning performance by Denzel Washington.
American Sniper Bradley Cooper plays real-life army sniper Chris Kyle, who found his return home a different kind of challenge.
We Were Soldiers: The earliest US involvement in the Vietnam War has Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) preparing for one of the most violent battles in U.S. history, making a promise to his soldiers and their families: “I will leave no man behind dead or alive. We will all come home together.”
Red Tails: George Lucas directed this story of the multiple medal-awarded Tuskegee Airmen.
Midway: The story of the first major Allied victory of WWII.
The Longest Day: An all-star cast tells the story of the Normandy landing that changed the course of WWII.