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11/11/1918-11/11/2018 — Movies about WWI for Veterans Day

Posted on November 11, 2018 at 12:03 am

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War, later dubbed World War I, it is time to remember the heroes, the sacrifices, the world-changing geopolitics that resulted.

Some of the best movies about or set in WWI.

Copyright Warner Brothers 1941

Sergeant York Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Alvin York, the pacifist from the hills of Tennessee who carried out one of the most extraordinary missions in military history using lessons from his life on a farm. He captured 132 men by himself, still a record for a single soldier. In addition to the exciting story of his heroism in war, this is also the thoughtful story of his spiritual journey. He is a pacifist, opposed to fighting of any kind. By thinking of what he is doing as saving lives, he is able to find the inspiration and resolve for this historic achievement.

Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and Chris Pine star in this DC superhero origin story set during WWI. Yes, it is fiction and fantasy, but the plot line about poison gas is based in reality.

War Horse A horse named Joey goes him back and forth between the British and the German forces and, for a short idyllic time, a respite with a frail but brave little French girl and her affectionate Grandfather. The horse can switch sides in a way that a human cannot, and the movie makes clear the difference between the soldiers who are taken prisoner and shot and the animals who are inherently neutral and thus commoditized. The brutality of war affects the human characters differently as we see in their responses to the animal.

Copyright 1951 United Artists

Paths of Glory Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film is the story of a French general who orders his troops on a suicide mission. General Mireau (George MacReady) is willing to sacrifice his men to enhance his own reputation. Against his better judgment, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) leads the charge. After the defeat, Mireau blames the men and demands that three soldiers be randomly selected to be executed as an example to rest of the troops. This powerful, fact-based absurdity-of-war film was banned outright in France for several years.

Oh What a Lovely War John Lennon stars in this WWI-set musical satire that was a commentary on all wars, especially the Vietnam conflict.

Flyboys Airplanes and movies were brand new technology and there have been more WWI air battles on film than there were in real life. This is the story of Americans who became the first American fighter pilots, volunteering in France before the US entered the war.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Posted on November 8, 2018 at 5:48 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual situations and some nudity
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, explosions, guns, fights, torture, parent killed in front of child, domestic and child abuse, incest, very graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 9, 2018

Copyright 2018 Columbia Pictures
Remember in “League of Their Own” when Tom Hanks said, “There’s no crying in baseball?” Well, there’s no crying in Lisbeth Salander movies, or there should not be. As imagined by the late Swedish journalist and author Steig Larsson, Lisbeth Salander is a pierced, tattooed, bisexual, motorcycle-riding, 21st century Sherlock Holmes, cerebral, relentless, on the side of justice, and with a mastery of logic, observation, and detail that borders on a superpower. And good in a fight.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is the first film based on the authorized continuation of the series by Larsson’s family, and here she is played by “The Crown’s” Claire Foy, following Noomi Rapace (in the Swedish movie trilogy) and Rooney Mara (in the David Fincher English-language film based on the first book in the series). There’s a subtle difference in the title of the book that reflects a shift in tone. The first book’s title is descriptive: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, both references to risks taken by Salander, with the implication that it was intentional. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is not about a choice she made or a dare she braved. There’s no action verb here. There’s no choice to adorn her body with a symbol of strength and fire. This title suggests a girl who has been placed in danger. Salenger as a damsel in distress? I don’t think so.

And then, like those last seasons of “Bewitched,” when they had really run out of ideas, the movie presents us with a sister we knew nothing about who apparently has been just waiting through three books to show up. We get a flashback of the two girls playing chess with, yes, a spider crawling on one of the pieces, before some very, very nasty stuff begins to happen with the girls’ father, who we already know from the earlier books was a very, very, very evil guy.

We go to these movies to see Lisbeth Salander hack, be invincibly tough, and right wrongs. She hacks into the US National Security Agency mainframe and downloads their most dangerous file. In a brief prelude she goes after a domestic abuser and we learn that she has been avenging other abused women. And she repeatedly takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But here the McGuffin is a computer program that can access and activate any nuclear weapons in the world, created for NSA (Stephen Merchant) who now regrets it and wants it destroyed. So he asks Salander for her help, bringing his young son along (Christopher Convery), just to ramp up the threat element. Salander gets the file, to the considerable consternation of NSA’s Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), who goes uses his considerable computing power to track down Salander, in a race with some very, very bad guys who want the file, too.

So, it’s your basic run with a gun stuff, ably staged if nothing particularly gripping, until the crying. Salander’s friend (and Larsson stand-in) Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) appears briefly for no particular reason. Foy does fine with Salanger’s thousand yard stare but the script lets her down by trying to have her be vulnerable and tough at the same time. Tbey’ve taken one of the most arresting characters in recent fiction and made her into just another sad girl. And they’ve taken what began as a superior series of action films and turned it into just another night-at-the-multiplex, sequel-heavy formula movie. If Salanger is caught in a spider’s web, it’s not the blah blah about the secret computer file, it’s the blah blah of the filmmakers.

Parents should know that this film has very intense and graphic peril and violence, disturbing images, characters injured and killed, death of a parent, torture, guns, explosions, severe spouse and child abuse, sexual abuse, very strong language, drinking, smoking and drugs.

Family discussion: What should Lisbeth have done for her sister? Why did they make different choices?

If you like this, try: the Swedish “Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” trilogy

What Movie Makes You Feel Better?

Posted on November 4, 2018 at 8:00 am

The New York Times asked some of the stars of the big fall movies what movies they like to watch when they’re feeling down. Two of them picked “The Lion King” but for different reasons. Interestingly, most picked movies that meant a lot to them when they were kids, suggesting that it is partly about the content of the film but partly about taking them back in time that they find comforting. Perhaps the most surprising answer — and my favorite, though I’d never find that movie cheering — is from Tim Blake Nelson, who picks the documentary about underground comix legend R. Crumb. Nelson, who is a writer as well as an actor, expresses so beautifully what moves him about the film and about Crumb’s life.

In spite of a family whose level of dysfunction honestly cannot be described in words — making the film all the more essential — and a welter of his own debilitating social issues, R. Crumb remains resolutely true to who and what he is. His resilience and perseverance result in drawings as lacerating as Daumier’s, as distinct as Toulouse-Lautrec’s, and as beautifully, tragically human as Schiele’s — mostly in the milieu of underground countercultural cartoons and illustrations. The movie ultimately provides great hope in its depiction of an artist who simply won’t compromise, and who furnishes a way of seeing the culture that has impacted popular aesthetics to this day. As sad as it is, this makes “Crumb” one of the more strangely uplifting films I can name.

The MPAA Reveals Some Details of its Famously Secretive Rating System

Posted on November 3, 2018 at 8:18 am

As the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has revealed some details of its first half-century. The rating system was instituted after three decades of the famous, highly restrictive Hays Code, was no longer workable in the tumultuous 1960’s. Filmmakers and audiences wanted a wider range of material and movies like “The Pawnbroker” and “Carnal Knowledge” were undeniably (even, in the latter case, SCOTUS confirmed) of artistic merit. So then MPAA head Jack Valenti adopted a parental guidance rating which was further refined over the years. The documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated” exposed some of the failings of the system, including inconsistent ratings based on whether the movie was independent or studio-made, the lack of any qualifications of the secret raters, and the absurdity of the appeal system.

The LA Times reports on the MPAA’s new report on 50 years of movie ratings:

In the eyes of many filmmakers, the Motion Picture Assn. of America should be rated R — for reticent. The MPAA has long kept its rating methods a tightly guarded secret as it continues to wield enormous power over the types of explicit content that can been shown in U.S. cinemas.

Now the MPAA is drawing back the curtain on its rating system, at least partially. In a new report published Monday, the Washington-based trade organization representing Hollywood’s major studios released data on all films rated since the system was created five decades ago. The MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration has rated 29,791 movies, the majority of which have received an R rating, which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The most films the MPAA has reviewed in any given year was in 2003, when it rated 940 titles (compared with just 563 last year). The organization attributed the surge to the popularity of DVDs at the time.

R-rated movies account for nearly 58% of all titles rated by the MPAA, followed by PG at 18%. The dreaded NC-17, and its predecessor the X, accounted for less than 2% of titles, though they have garnered the vast share of negative publicity whenever a director has sought an appeal. NC-17 prohibits children younger than 17 from entry into a movie theater.

The MPAA said that of the nearly 30,000 films it has rated, only 1.4%, or 428, have been appealed, and a scant 0.6% have had their rating overturned. Filmmakers often appeal NC-17 and R ratings in an effort to reach the largest audience possible. Recent successful appeals include Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” which went from R to PG-13, and the upcoming Rebel Wilson comedy “The Hustle,” which was also reduced to PG-13.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Posted on November 1, 2018 at 5:30 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and non-explicit situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Medical issues, sad death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 1, 2018

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a just-good movie with a great performance based on the life of a once-to-a-planet musician of endless talent and magnetism and a four-octave range of unmatched clarity and suppleness. In other words, it is entertaining, if not illuminating. Indeed, it is strange that a movie about fictional rock and pop stars, the 2018 version of “A Star is Born” is more insightful about what it is like to perform at that level than this movie based on the life of Freddie Mercury, the brilliantly genre-bending front man of power rock band Queen.

Musician biopics have a huge advantage over movies telling the life stories of writers, visual artists, and other public figures. It is, of course, the music. Whether the movie is highly fictionalized with Cary Grant as Cole Porter or Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart, in films that pretended they were not gay, or more honest, like Oscar winners Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, the highlight of the films will always be the music that made the real-life characters stars. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has Queen’s rousing masterpieces and Rami Malek channels Mercury superbly, especially in those performance scenes, with a breathtaking re-creation of Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance in the film’s climactic scene.

The biggest risk in a biographical movie about a musician, though, is avoiding “VH1 Behind the Music”-itis. Unfortunately, real life for future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers does tend to follow the same pattern, and that is why we see the same scenes over and over. The family wants them to get a respectable job and not waste time on music. The early struggles. The recording session where someone in the control room says, “Wait a second, these guys have something special! Let me call my friend in the music business to sign them up.” The Vorkapich montage of tour dates to increasingly enthusiastic crowds. Yay, success! Yay, EXCESS! The squabbles. The industry executive who does not want them to be innovative (in this case, a sly meta-joke as he is portrayed by an unrecognizable Mike Meyers, whose iconic head-banging to the film’s title song in “Wayne’s World” created another generation of fans). The breakups. The reconciliation. It’s very hard to tell that story again and make it specific enough to stand out.

And then there is the other risk. Either the surviving members of the band are not involved, so you risk authenticity, or they do participate, as Brian May and Roger Taylor did here, so we see their version, which may be spun, even sanitized.

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara, to a Parsi family from the Zoroastrian community of the Indian subcontinent. We first see him in the film working as an airport baggage handler, being called by the (inaccurate) racist epithet “Paki.” Farroukh, already calling himself Freddie, is a fan of a popular local rock group called Smile. When their lead singer quits, he does an impromptu demonstration of his stunningly melodic voice, explaining that his overbite is caused by an extra set of incisors, which he credits for his range. The film then trudges through the steps outlined above.

The dramatic scenes are soapy and predictable — betrayed by a manager, estrangement from the band, too many cats, too many parties, learning that you can’t escape yourself, some reconciliation. Lucy Boynton (continuing her connection to 80’s music from “Sing Street”) is lovely as the ever-loyal Mary, who was Freddie’s closest friend, even after their romantic relationship ended because he was gay. The other band members barely register as individuals; more time is given to Myers’ stunt casting as the record industry guy who tells them that the six-minute “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be played by teenagers in a car (get it? that’s what happens in “Wayne’s World!”). The “this is how we wrote that song” sections are especially weak. The songs themselves, though, are as captivating as ever and Malek, who struggles a bit with the overbite prosthetic, recreates them with all they buoyancy and flamboyance Freddie would want.

Parents should know that this film has the expected sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a story of a real-life rock star, with strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and wild partying, along with medical issues and a sad death.

Family discussion: Who understood Freddie best? Why was Live Aid so important to him?

If you like this, try: the documentary “The Story of Queen: Mercury Rising” and YouTube clips of the Live Aid performance