Thank You For Your Service

Posted on October 26, 2017 at 5:35 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic wartime violence, suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 27, 2017
Date Released to DVD: January 22, 2018
Copyright 2017 Universal

Thank You for Your Service,” based on the book by David Finkel about returning servicemen and their feelings of dislocation when they try to adjust to civilian life, is so decent, respectful, sincere, and, most of all, so vitally needed that it is difficult to evaluate it as a movie. It follows in the tradition of one of the best American movies of all time, The Best Years of Our Lives, which won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Like that film, “Thank You for Your Service” follows three servicemen, one disabled by injuries and one not sure how to rejoin the civilian workforce when his last job before the military was as a teenager. But this movie is not nearly as optimistic.

Miles Teller plays Adam Schumann, who tells us in the movie’s first scene that he was a good soldier and he was proud of what he did. He was responsible for his squad and he was responsible for spotting improvised explosive devices, which he looked for under every scrap of trash in the road and learned to feel by instinct. This hyper-alertness to danger served him well in the military, but it was difficult to turn off, especially because some of his experiences left him with intense survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress. He comes home to a loving, wise, strong, and supportive wife (Haley Bennett as Saskia), who tells him that she can handle anything he has to tell her except not telling her anything about his experience. He barely knows his children, at first almost forgetting the baby who was born while he was away. He has no idea how to get a job other than the one he had before his service. But he assures Saskia that everything is “perfect.”

Solo (Beulah Koale) is struggling with a traumatic brain injury that has impaired his memory and cognitive function. He wants to stay in the military because being a part of his team was a major part of his identity, but they do not want him. That’s “Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes as his wife.

And there’s Will Wall (Joe Cole), excited about coming home to marry his fiancee. “No bachelor party,” he tells Adam and Solo. His girl does not approve. But it turns out that she has left him. He is devastated.

The movie’s most wrenching scene comes when the characters are finally willing to admit that they need help and they go to the VA, only to find soul-destroying bureaucracy and endless waits, up to 12 weeks to even see someone who can begin to treat them. The returning soldiers are given pills instead of support. While some people at the VA are sympathetic but overloaded, there are also those like one former commanding officer who tells Adam to buck up so that he does not affect the morale of the others. Real help comes from a phone number passed along by the survivor of a soldier who did not get any support, and from an act of selflessness from one of the vets that is one of the most effective ways to show himself that even at home, he can still serve.

Parents should know that this movie includes intense and graphic wartime violence, characters severely injured and killed, disturbing images, suicide, drinking, drugs, drug dealing, very strong language with crude epithets, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: What is the best way to honor the service of returning military? Why was it hard for the soldiers to talk about their experiences?

If you like this, try: “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Captain Newman M.D.” and the book and its predecessor by David Finkel

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week War

Only the Brave

Posted on October 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs, substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, many characters killed, snake bite
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 Sony

They literally fight fire with fire. Unlike “structure fires,” burning buildings doused with water, wildfires in non-residential areas are contained by setting a line of fire to stop them from spreading. Sometimes it does not work. “Only the Brave” is the story of the Granite Mountain hotshots, the “alpha” team of 19 Arizona firefighters who were killed in 2013. Like “The Perfect Storm,” this is a real-life story that spends three-quarters of its time making us love the characters and then heart-wrenchingly shows us how painful it was to lose them.

Josh Brolin, who has spent some real-life time as a firefighter, plays Eric, the leader of the group that, as the movie begins, is the second team, not allowed to set the fires on “the line.” “You guys are type two and we’re hotshots so why don’t you do what deucers do best, which is stay in the back and mop up our ?” sneers the leader of the alpha team. Eric and his group want very much to be certified as alphas and they train hard, the more experienced members of the team as the newcomer, Brandon (Miles Teller), good-naturedly dubbed “Donut” by the team for his zero score when quizzed on the rulebook.

“It’s not easy sharing a man with a fire,” a wife explains. The same qualities that make these men (they are all men) good at what they do can make it difficult for them to be the good husbands and fathers they strive to be.  For Brandon, the discipline and support of the team makes it possible for him to stay away from his past life of slacking and substance abuse.  But for some of the others, the intensity of the fire fighting experience is something of an addiction and it is difficult for them to go back to normal life with their families, who can never really understand what they face and what they do.

The moments of struggle are touching, as Brandon’s discovery that he is going to be a father inspires him to change his life and Eric’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) tries to stay close to a husband who is not ready to share what he has been through. The movie’s greatest strength is in its presentation of the music of man-talk, indirect, mock-aggressive, often crude, but always in service of the most profound commitment and loyalty.  For a moment, we get to be a part of that group of hotshots, and it is piercingly sad to lose them.

Parents should know that this is the true story of firefighters with a lot of peril and many sad deaths, some strong language, sexual references (some crude) and situations, pregnancy, drinking, and some drug use and references to substance abuse.

Family discussion: What qualities does someone have to have to be a hotshot? Why didn’t Brendan want painkillers at the hospital?

If you like this, try: “The Perfect Storm,” “Backdraft,” and “Ladder 49″

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

Bleed for This

Posted on November 17, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Copyright Sony 2016
Copyright Sony 2016
We watch sports for the skill.

We love sports for the heart.

Sports stories give us heroes whose determination and courage is constantly tested. The athletes who face those challenges — who live for those challenges — can help us understand and face our own. Vinny Pazienza was a great boxer, but what made him heroic was not his skill in the ring or his unprecedented wins in three different weight classes. It was his comeback from injuries he got in a deadly car crash, including a broken neck so severe that it was not clear whether he would ever walk again. He was given the choice between spinal fusion that would guarantee that he could walk but would prevent him from getting back in the ring, or six months in a Torquemada-style halo contraption literally screwed into his skull, where the slightest bump could paralyze him forever but, if everything went perfectly he might regain enough mobility to fight again, he chose the halo. He ended up resuming his training — against the advice of his doctors — and removing the halo after three months, then returning to boxing. Let me put it this way: knocked down worse by life than by any opponent in the ring, he was up by 9.

For his first film in more than ten years, writer/director Ben Younger (“Prime,” “Boiler Room”) tells the true story of one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Miles Teller, himself a survivor of a serious car accident, plays Pazienza, known as Vinnie Paz. We first see him sweating out the last few minutes before a weigh-in, swathed in plastic wrap, on a stationary bike, determined to make weight so he can still qualify as a lightweight. He just makes it, stripped down to a thong. That night, instead of getting some rest, he stays up most of the night playing blackjack and having sex. But the next day, he wins.

Vinnie loves his fights. After each one, he’s ready for the next. His mother listens from the next room, holding her rosary and lighting candles as his sister watches the fights on television. But his father (Ciaran Hinds) is literally in his corner, urging him on and arguing with his fight promoters. Vinnie switches to a new trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), who has a sometime drinking problem but who has taken fighters all the way to the top. Kevin persuades him to stop trying to qualify for the junior welterweight class and put on some extra weight to fight as a junior middleweight. Things go pretty well until the car accident.

And that is how he learns who he is. Vinnie has never stopped for anything and nothing has stopped him. He worked hard at boxing, but never considered why or whether it mattered to him. Literally and metaphorically immobilized, he discovers that the combination of recklessness and determination gives him a way to get back in the ring.

Teller is one of the best young actors working today, and he makes Vinnie’s physicality real. His chemistry with Eckert gives what could be yet another boxing story hold our attention, even without the usual romance. Younger makes the family scenes of a rowdy middle class Italian vibrant — you can almost smell the oregano. And the story of resilience and redemption is always welcome, especially when it is as well told as it is here.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, brutal fight scenes, and graphic and disturbing images including a fatal car accident, surgery, and other medical procedures. Characters smoke and drink, including alcohol abuse.

Family discussion: Who helped Vinnie the most? Why did fighting matter so much to him?

If you like this, try: “The Fighter” and “Creed”

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Based on a true story Drama Sports

War Dogs

Posted on August 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Copyright Warners 2016
Copyright Warners 2016


“What does AEY stand for?” a newly hired employee asks Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). “You mean morally?” No, he just wants to know what the initials represent, though the answer is the same: nothing. And, as it turns out, asking the question and correcting Efraim’s mistake get him fired. AEY “stands for” making money, no questions asked. That will be the basis for great success, until it is also the basis for catastrophe.

We this know right from the beginning, when we see Efraim’s partner David Packouz (Miles Teller) released from the trunk of a car and beaten up at gunpoint by some very evil-looking masked guys. In Albania. And then we go back in time to see how David, a college drop-out now on his seventh job, working as a massage therapist, and smoking a lot of weed, met up with Efraim, an old friend from middle school, and joined him at AEY, a company that sold equipment to the Pentagon.

It was 2008. The United States was fighting two wars and outsourcing pretty much everything. If it costs more than $17,000 to outfit each soldier, that means someone has to sell them all that gear. The Bush administration got into trouble for dealing exclusively with “Dick Cheney’s friends” and was under pressure to give some of that procurement business to small companies. And Efraim, a high school dropout, had mastered the art of constantly scrolling through the website that was essentially the government’s wish list and bidding on contracts so small they were beneath the notice of enormous government contractors who sell tanks and planes. “All the money is made between the lines,” Efraim says. He tells David that while big companies go for the pie, they can make plenty of money from the crumbs. David, bored and worried about money for his pregnant girlfriend, signs on.

At first it works. They make tons of money. But buying and selling guns puts them in contact with some untrustworthy and violent people. And a little bit of success makes them eligible to go beyond the crumbs. An international arms dealer who is barred from selling to the US because he is on a watch list (producer Bradley Cooper) offers them a deal too good to pass up on ammunition they can sell to the Pentagon at a huge mark-up. But Efraim and David are very good at the details when it comes to making the pitch; not very good at the details when it comes to delivering the product. This is a business school case study in failure of operations and execution. And in the failures of government procurement.

Director and co-screenwriter Todd Phillips is clearly trying to make the kind of shift from raunchy, slob comedies (“Old School,” “The Hangover”) to sharp, trenchant satire that Adam McKay did with “The Big Short.” And Jonah Hill, looking disturbingly puffy and pasty, clearly wants to play the Leo role instead of the Jonah Hill role in his own “Wolf of Wall Street.” Both get partway there. Hill clearly enjoys being the trigger-happy hotshot who can brashly invite a girl to skip ahead to the third date for $1000 instead of his usual role as either the dumb shlub or the smart shlub. Phillips does a good job in laying out the parameters of the story, making it clear how the window of opportunity opened for AEY and Efraim and David were in the right place at the right time. There are even chapter headings for each section, foreshadowing telling comments we will hear, from “God bless Dick Cheney’s America” to “That sounds illegal.”

He also lays out a classic Hollywood movie structure: set-up, early triumph, hubris, wipeout. There are some fine moments, like the surreal use of identical actors (or CGI) as the Pentagon officials who sign off on the deal. But Phillips’ control of tone and character is uncertain and he relies too much on songs (“Fortunate Son,” “Time in a Bottle”) to carry the story.

Parents should know that this film includes wartime and crime-related peril and violence including automatic weapons, war profiteering, constant very strong language, crude and explicit sexual references, non-explicit situations, drinking, and drugs.

Family discussion: When and why did David and Efraim make different choices? What was their biggest mistake? Were they appropriately punished?

If you like this, try: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

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Based on a true story War

Trailer: Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in “War Dogs”

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Based on a true story and from Bradley Cooper’s production company, “War Dogs” follows two friends in their early 20s (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan Military—a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government.

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