The Last Full Measure

Posted on January 23, 2020 at 5:41 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, medication
Violence/ Scariness: Graphic and disturbing images of wartime violence, characters injured and killed, veterans with PTSD, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 24, 2020

Copyright 2019 Roadside Attractions
The story of the exceptional valor of Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War, and the story of the thirty-year effort by the men he saved to see that he received recognition with a posthumus Medal of Honor are plenty dramatic, so it really wasn’t necessary to ramp it up with fictional details about a cover-up. And even an AARP A-list in the cast, including Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd, John Savage, Amy Madigan, Samuel L. Jackson and Peter Fonda, each with a chance at a bravura star turn, cannot match the clips over the final credits of the real-life veterans who would not quit until his valor was acknowledged. He ie one of only three Air Force enlisted men to be awarded the Medal of Honor in military history.

So a documentary about what really happened would have been better. Instead we have a diligent, well-intentioned, if overheated story that is as much about the (fictional) Defense Department staffer who was assigned to investigate the application for the Medal of Honor, Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), and the lessons he learned from contact with the honor and courage of Pitsenbarger, his parents (Plummer and Ladd), and the humble but insistent men who would not quit.

The movie goes back and forth between 1966 Vietnam and 1995 Washington DC. In Vietnam, Pitsenbarger was an Air Force pararescueman, not in a combat company himself but part of a team that evacuated wounded soldiers via helicopter. In one of of the bloodiest days of the war (meaning highest US casualty count), when the Americans were being slaughtered, he rescued wounded men at great risk to his own life and then picked up a gun and fought alongside them, until he was shot and killed. These scenes are extremely violent and graphic and often hard to follow, especially since there is no effort to make the younger versions of the characters played by Fonda, Harris, Jackson, and Savage look or sound like their counterparts.

In 1995 Washington, DC, Huffman (a fictional character) is an ambitious Defense Department civilian bureaucrat with a young son and a pregnant wife (neither of whom serve any function in the story except to be adorable and supportive, with one brief pep talk. His career is in jeopardy when the political appointee who serves as Secretary of the Air Force (Linus Roache) announces that he is resigning (and yet somehow still in the job what looks like a year later at the award ceremony but okay). And when he is assigned to develop a record for the medal application, including interviewing eye witnesses and tracking down mysteriously missing paperwork.

None of this is true (and by the way, the wives of the veterans whose lives were saved also played a significant part in getting the medal), but it makes for good drama, giving each of the venerable co-stars a moment suitable for a lifetime achievement clip real. They fall at different points on the range of PTSD, but all of them end up confessing and achieving some kind of catharsis. It is poignant to see the clearly ailing Peter Fonda in his last role as the most fragile of the group. And it is a little bit surreal to see John Savage of “The Deer Hunter” back in Vietnam 42 years later. Not the “Kurtz-ian burnout smoking ganja under a bohdi tree” that Huffman imagined but someone who found peace by bringing peace to others. Ladd’s monologue about sending her teenage son to war is also a highlight, and a welcome reminder that when we say no to sending our children into battle it just means we are sending someone else’s children in their place.

It is artificial and awkward. but thankfully it does not try to make the purpose of Pitsenbarger’s story into a life lesson for a fictional civilian. A moving award ceremony at the end reminds that the purpose of any hero’s story is to give a life lesson to us.

Parensts should know that this movie includes scenes of the Vietnam war with very graphic wartime violence and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, veterans with PTSD, strong language, and smoking.

Family discussion: How did Scott change as he spoke to the veterans? What did he learn about listening from Kepper? What kind of medal would you like to earn?

If you like this, try: “Hacksaw Ridge” and “We Were Soldiers”

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Drama Inspired by a true story movie review Movies -- Reviews War

Trailer: the Jesse Owens Story, “Race”

Posted on October 13, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton, and William Hurt star in this film about Jesse Owens, who defied Hitler’s claims about Aryan supremacy to win four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Here is the real Owens. I was privileged to meet him when I was a teenager and will never forget it.

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Based on a true story Race and Diversity Sports Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Trailer: Days and Nights With Katie Holmes and Allison Janney

Posted on September 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

Inspired by Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” this is the story of a weekend at a country house that includes a famous actress, her discontented son, and people who love the wrong people and are angry at each other — sometimes at the same time.

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Based on a play Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Winter’s Tale

Posted on February 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Supernatural and crime-style violence, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 14, 2014

Winters-Tale-Movie“Winter’s Tale,” based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Helprin is deeply romantic but also pretty daffy. There are exquisite images and some grand themes but also some clangers, some murky mishmash in the set-up, poorly designed special effects, and one badly botched miscasting that throws everything out of whack.

The exquisite images are not hard to come by with Colin Farrell along with “Downton Abbey’s” Lady Sybil, Jessica Brown Findley with auburn hair that makes her look like a pre-Raphealite dream, and a white horse who looks like he should be pulling Cinderella’s coach.  The setting feels like a fairy tale, too, first turn of the 20th century Manhattan and then a fabulous snow-covered mansion out in the New York countryside.

Farrell plays Peter Lake, left behind as a baby in America when his immigrant parents were rejected for health reasons and sent back to Ireland.  They put him in a model boat with the nameplate “City of Justice” and set him off toward the shore.  When we meet him, he is a thief, formerly allied with a brutal, scar-faced crime boss named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  Everyone has very literary names in this story except for the horse, who is called Athansor in the book but here is just known as Horse even though, according to one character, he is really a dog.

Now Soames is determined to kill Lake.  Rescued once by a mysterious white horse, Lake knows he has to get out of town.  He goes on one last expedition to steal enough to pay for his journey.  When he is ready to leave just before dawn, the horse refuses to budge.  Lake sees the family leaving a luxurious townhouse and decides to see what he can take.  He has an intuitive skill with mechanics and easily breaks into the safe.

But one member of the family has stayed behind.  Her name is Beverly Penn (Findley) and she is dying of consumption (the 19th century term for tuberculosis).  She has to be surrounded by cold all the time, and the family has gone to the country house ahead of her to prepare a tent for her to sleep in.  Lake steals nothing but her heart, and loses his own in return.  Because she knows she is dying, smaller problems like his being a thief do not really bother her.  “What’s the best thing you’ve ever stolen?” she asks him.  “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet.”  Instantly, he knows that his purpose in life is to protect her.

So far, so good, but then the argle bargle about transcending time and everything being connected starts up and it feels like the rules change at random.  Or, at least, that a nearly-800 page book lost big chunks in the translation to the screen by writer-director Akiva Goldsman.  This relationship between Lake and Penn seems to have some grander purpose, which is why Soames is so determined that he must stop it.  He seeks permission from “The Judge,” played by Will Smith.  It’s not entirely Smith’s fault that it is at this point things start to completely fall apart.  The role is poorly conceived and written and he is catastrophically miscast.  Lake ends up getting somehow catapulted into the present day but without his memories.  As he tries to piece things together, the pieces of the movie come apart.  There are way too many fortune cookie-style pronouncements about eternal battles between good and evil, miracles, destiny, and how we are all connected themselves, even a few from the underused Graham Greene who appears briefly just to throw out some deep thoughts about how God, the devil, angels and demons are just “the newer names” for the forces he describes. Penn says, that “the sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light.”  But by the end, nothing in this movie feels connected to anything.

Parents should know that this film has sexual references and a situation, supernatural and crime violence, some disturbing images and scary surprises, sad death, and brief strong language.

Family discussion:  How are the rules for this world established and why are they important?  What could only Beverly understand as a result of her illness?  

If you like this, try: “Stardust,” “The Adjustment Bureau,” and “The Fountain”

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Based on a book Fantasy Movies -- format Romance

The Host

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and violence, characters injured and killed, attempted suicide, character shot with gun, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 29, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B0090SI4OC

The author of the Twilight series was showing signs of running out of ideas around the middle of the second volume, and this latest story shows more evidence of the pressure of producing a new series than anything approaching inspiration. Howlers that can slide by in print are impossible to ignore in a thuddingly dumb story of an alien takeover and the girl who is able to hold onto her own consciousness as the “host” of glowing millipede from outer space.

Problem #1: If you’re going to make a movie about aliens taking over human bodies, the indicator of possession should not be glowing blue eyes that eliminate a critical element of the actors’ ability to communicate.

Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of the few remaining humans who have not been overtaken by alien invaders who have inhabited almost every person on earth and eliminated suffering, illness,  and conflict — also passion, independence, innovation, and any notion of the individual.  Everything is smooth and civil and orderly.  It is like the whole planet moves to Muzak.  But they have excellent healthcare.

Melanie is captured by the aliens, led by Seeker, who heal her injuries and implant one of their aliens inside her.  But instead of taking over her consciousness, the invader, known as Wanderer, exists side by side, leading to a series of back-and-forth conversations intended to be touching but are more often mundane.  She’s like a bad ventriloquist with two invisible dummies.  It is clunky and dull when she talks to herself but not much better when the characters talk to one another.  “What’s it like in there?” a character asks Melanie/Wanda.  “It’s crowded.”  “Kiss me like you want to get slapped.”

Ronan is a superb actress, but even she cannot make real the idea of these two equally drippy characters as distinctive individuals, especially after she hides out with a secret rebel group led by Jeb (William Hurt), and in “Twilight” love triangle  fashion becomes involved with two different cute guys, one who loves Melanie and one who loves the Wanderer, now known as Wanda.  “If you could hold me — me — in your hand, you’d be disgusted,” Wanda explains to the guy who wants to kiss her.  When he finally does see what the alien looks like and tries to gaze tenderly at a glowing bug is just silly.

And then things really go nuts as the Seeker (Diane Kruger) goes after the human rebels, insisting, “I am not weak.  I am in control.”  Kruger is more believable as an alien than she usually is as a human, at least until a ridiculous twist near the end.  Melanie had two voices in her head.  I only had one, but it was clearly telling me that this movie is a mess.

This rebel group seems weirdly retro, with almost no women, and a social structure that resembles the 18th century.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi style peril and violence with some disturbing images, a car crash, aliens, possession, characters injured, some teen kissing and sensual embraces.

Family discussion: Why could Melanie and Wanda exist together?  How do Ian and Jared see her differently?  Why are the aliens able to achieve societal benefits humans have failed to? How does she earn the trust of the humans?  What do you think will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “I Am Number Four” and the book by Stephenie Meyer

 

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Based on a book Movies -- format Romance Series/Sequel
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