MIDWAY GOES ALL THE WAY

SHORT TAKE:

Inspiring reenactment of the days before and of the watershed Battle of Midway during World War II, highlighting the selfless heroism and courageous dedication of men who committed EVERYTHING they had to fighting what  seemed to be a losing struggle with the Japanese Empire.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid teens and up as the violence is necessarily graphic and brutal. No sexuality but the language is occasionally rough and appropriate to the men and circumstances.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS!

Romans 5:7: “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just man, though perhaps for a good man one might even find courage to die.”

We all love action heroes who put their lives on the line in extreme moments to save family or friends in desperate situations: Bruce Willis’ John McLane in the Die Hard series, Tony Stark in Endgame. Even the disaster “B” movies like Skyscraper and The Poseidon Adventure can be guilty pleasures, admiring (pretend) courage in the face of the (manufactured) crisis.

Now imagine HUNDREDS of these types of everymen, volunteers or drafted, trained certainly but no superheroes. But this was real. These men had real families and lives. The pain, the terror, the disfiguring injuries and sudden young deaths, the gut wrenching grief left behind, HAPPENED to people your grandparents knew – or TO your grandparents. Your own family histories, photos, private letters, and stories told at family gatherings are probably rife with tales of loss and sacrifice of young men who left everything behind, including their youth and many their lives, to protect their country and families.

The story of Midway begins on a warm December in Hawaii, where people planning outdoor church services and picnics with their families, are suddenly faced with split-second life changing and life losing decisions when, without  warning, planes tore out of the sky shooting at  friends and crewmates, ripping them to pieces. Few would have blamed any who froze or ran, but hundreds of these men seized the nearest weapon to shoot back, some hopelessly trying to simply buy time for others to reach safety, while the vessel they were on broke, sank or burned in brutish apocalyptic Hellscapes of screaming and smoke and explosions, with no possibility of escape.

That was Pearl Harbor and the movie Midway examines the fallout from this cataclysmic event and the eponymous Battle for our lives that followed in Pearl’s wake. The Battle of Midway was the determiner whether the war would continue to be fought out in the ocean and around Japan and Europe or whether it would make its way to the shores of continental USA and be prolonged, possibly for decades.

Midway tells the story of the men who, at Pearl and during the Midway Battle, followed Christ’s example, willingly offering up their lives for their fellow countrymen regardless of who they were, knowing only that they were in desperate danger.

All of the acting choices were inspired, the indigenous accents of the people being portrayed understated and realistic.

Woody Harrelson (2012, Zombieland, The Glass Castle) is the perfect Charles W. Nimitz, bringing his familiar wary self confidence to this real life seasoned soldier, agonizingly cognizant he is in the fight of his country’s life.

Dennis Quaid (Frequency, A Dog’s Purpose, The Alamo) is the growly fire hydrant shaped tough guy William “Bull” Halsey who leads from the front.

Patrick Wilson, (The Alamo, Phantom of the Opera) whose talents have been grotesquely underused in the fright flick Conjuring franchise, comes into his own as the intelligence officer Edwin Layton, whose warnings leading up to Pearl had been ignored and who now was determined to put everything on the line to be sure his country was never under-prepared again.

Ed Skrein (Alita: Battle Angel, Deadpool) is the fighter pilot Dick Best, who put his country’s freedom and his fellow patriots before any consideration for his own personal safety.

Aaron Eckhart (Batman: Dark Knight, White House Down) is Jimmy Doolittle who led the potential suicide mission into the never-before attacked Tokyo to strike a morale blow for America.

Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) is Bruno Gaido, whose calmly philosophical personality and selfless heroism are brought to light on the screen.

Luke Evans (Hobbit trilogy, steam punk Three Musketeers, live action Beauty and the Beast) portrays Wade McClusky, decorated air group commander whose reasoned instincts and willingness to think outside the box became critical elements in the outcome of the Midway Battle.

All these actors brought to life real heroes, instilling their performances with the respect and dignity those historic military fighters deserve.

There are no last-minute saves or inevitable wins, no cliched characters though some cast members portray composites of real people, no politically correct soft pedaling, no feminist agenda. This is historically based on the raw courage of the men who went toe to toe with a ruthless aggressor Empire, with only a handful of planes and the few patched up aircraft carriers which survived the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. These are the men who truly were the Thin Line between the west coast of America and conflagration by the Japanese Empire. The soldiers at Midway were the only thing standing between us and a brutal autocracy for whom the Geneva Convention meant nothing, and which slaughtered a quarter of a million Chinese as retribution for the aid given by a few dozen Chinese to a single American Squadron.

These men, many young and barely out of their teens, stood like the Spartans at Thermopalaye, with their homes almost in sight against an overwhelming Imperial military which would have shown no quarter, no mercy, no diplomacy and no compromise for anything west of the Rocky Mountains. Had the Japanese won at Midway there was a distinct possibility that everything from Seattle to San Diego would have burned, the citizens butchered or enslaved by the merciless occupying Japanese force, as they had done in China. As such, these desperate and disparate courageous men threw themselves against this juggernaut, with photos of their families tucked into the control panel, in planes technologically years behind the Japanese, flying missions which were often tantamount to suicide, with little regard for their own personal safety.

Writer Wes Tooke and director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Patriot) show the stark savagery with which America was confronted, bringing to unvarnished relief the raw dauntless valor required of these American heroes. Robbie Baumgartner’s (Argo, Hunger Games) cinematography puts you in the flying seats with the pilots as they dive bomb in and out of the sky, challenging the limits of human endurance against incredible G-forces to survive the onslaught of anti-aircraft coming from the Japanese ships. The soundtrack by Harold Kloser and Thomas Wander (Independence Day, 2012)  is inspirationally stirring and evocative not only of the selfless patriotism of the country behind this effort but evocative of the very plane propellers and stuttering guns which flew like under-weaponed knights against this massive Japanese dragon.

So go see this tribute to great American soldiers who stood between us and a sadistic pitiless foe, who risked and gave their lives, not only for the just, or the good, but following Christ’s example, for every man, woman and child in America. Go see it, if for no other reason, than we owe it to their memory.

 

EPIPHANY – WHAT REALLY BUGS ME ABOUT CAPTAIN MARVEL

I finally figured out what bugs me about Captain Marvel. Not the movie, the character. The movie, as I pointed out in my post on Captain Marvel, is flawed but good and not really deserving of most of the negative hype it got. My problem is with the CHARACTER of Captain Marvel as it manifests itself, not just in the origin story, but in other movies as well – like Endgame.

It’s not the alleged anti-male bias in her origin story, which I mostly disabused in my post about Captain Marvel, that bothers me. It’s not Captain Marvel’s snarky attitude – I love  Rocket’s acerbic comments in Guardians of the Galaxy, the sarcasm of Tony Stark, the quips from Nick Fury and even the defensive banter from Marvel’s version of M.J.

It’s not the fact she is a woman in a lead action adventure role – even though her origin movie (while rather fun) is no where near as good as Wonder Woman was or Black Widow’s will be (OK I’m just a teensy bit biased but B.W. is SUCH a great character).

I don’t even mind arrogance if it is earned, as it is with Iron Man or Loki, especially when they occasionally allow themselves to be the butt of humor.

And yes, I DO mind that the character of Captain Marvel HAS no sense of humor. That takes a bit of edge off of every scene she is in. BUT that is NOT what really BUGS ME!

It suddenly occurred to me when lines of dialogue popped into my head from Avengers: Endgame which nailed her entire persona and shone a light on the major flaw with this character, which crops up in everything she does, everything she says and all of the relationships, or lack of them, she has with the other characters in this Marvel Universe. Danvers is talking to the group of grieving super hero survivors, and Rhodey, rightly, asks where she has been all this time (the last 5 years) and she replies: “There are a lot of other planets in the Universe. And unfortunately, they didn’t have you guys.”

OK, I can accept that and she’s right. It’s almost complimentary to the Avengers. But it’s what she DIDN’T say that rankles. Danvers is from Earth. She was born in America and used to be American military. So she understands loyalty. But her comment, or lack of it, reflects a (literal and disturbing) “universitality” to her mindset; a comment that speaks volumes in what is unspoken about where her allegiances lie. Sure, she was brainwashed, but she remembered her best friend Maria and Maria’s little girl, so her memories were and are resurfacing.

What she should have said, and did NOT say was: “I’m sorry. I wish I could have been here helping AT HOME, but you must understand that …..” Along with a grounding of Danvers’ place in the galaxy it would have afforded her a more three-dimensional personality, a vulnerability which every other character displays at one time or another – from Drax to Thor. But not ice queen Captain Marvel and without it she is a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

What she does reflect is a distance and sort of condescending entitlement attitude, wherein she will not deign to show up on Earth unless she determines we are worth the effort. There is no attachment, no sense of gratitude to the place of her birth, no expression of affiliation to the rest of her species even.

Instead, Earth to her is not the exceptional place of her birth, nor America the exception country of her upbringing, but just another rock in the cosmos with beings that need her help.

Well thanks loads and we’ll grovel later, but I’m sorry – maybe she should consider that without the nurturing she received on Earth, in America, there would not have BEEN a Carol Danvers. She is, after all, SUPPOSED to be human.

Superman, (D.C. but we’re talking creative writing and what works, not affiliation with a particular franchise), has endured (despite some admitted egregious mistakes) and is easy to like, in part because he has shown tremendous gratitude and affection to the species into which he was adopted. He’s not even FROM here and he protects Earth as owning a special place in his heart.

Dr. Who (again irrelevant to franchise or universe but only to the creation of character) has declared dozens of times that Earth is under his special protection – not just because he finds traits in humans that are noteworthy – our capability for great good, our resilience – but because we sheltered him in a time of need during the third doctor’s series.

In Star Trek (TOS) an empath described humans: “Your will to survive, your love of life, your passion to know … Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed to you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.” Lai the Vian, “The Empath”.

But there was NONE of that respect and affection for the human race reflected anywhere in the Captain Marvel movie or in her character in other movies, as it written by four women – Anna Boden, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve –  and one man – Ryan Fleck. (Reminds me of the aphorism self-describing the flaws in an unchecked raw “democracy”: that it is four wolves and one lamb deciding what to have for dinner. Poor Ryan.)

I have a tough time imagining Marvel throwing herself between danger and a small child – rather she’d weigh the importance of the child against what she perceives as her own value and – well, good bye kid.

Apparently it was far more important to these writers to bow to a politically correct: “I am woman, hear me mewl”, than create a fully compelling story and hero. It is her lack of gratitude, absence of humility and vacuum of appreciation for her home planet that makes Captain Marvel the least of the Marvel heroes (or even anti-heroes) despite her amazing “powers”. As a result I find Groot, a talking tree with a rather limited English vocabulary, far more admirable and far more relatable, not to mention lovable, than li’l Miss C. Marvel.

SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO – COMPLETELY FAMILY FRIENDLY ANIMATED HISTORICALLY ACCURATE DELIGHT ABOUT A FOUR LEGGED WORLD WAR I SOLDIER

SHORT TAKE:

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a wonderful animated history of American Sgt. Stubby, a small mixed pitbull, the only dog to achieve rank and combat advancement, who followed his master’s Yankee Division regiment into the desperately dangerous front line trenches of World War I France.

WHO CAN GO:

With rare unequivocalness, I can recommend this movie for EVERYONE of any age.

LONG TAKE:

Years ago my brother, Bill, and I watched Lethal Weapon 2 on TV. There was a scene where Gibson as Martin Riggs, his dog Sam and Riggs' girlfriend du jour were under attack – helicopters, guns, lots of shooting. Bill turned to me and knowing what my primary concern would be said, "Don’t worry the dog survives." So rest assured to any parents concerned about bringing their small children to a movie about a cute dog on the front lines in World War I trenches, I have no compunction about a spoiler to let you know Sgt. Stubby is VERY child friendly.

Directed by Richard Lanni, in his first non-documentary feature film, and written by Lanni and Mike Stokey, the latter a combat vet and experienced film consultant on everything military, Sgt. Stubby is a mostly historically accurate telling of a stray miniature pit bull mix who attached himself to the 102nd Infantry Regiment Yankee Division, especially one Private Robert Conroy. Conroy is voiced by Logan Lerman, known for Fury, the Percy Jackson movies, 2011's steam-punk version of The Three Musketeers, and the most recent (and vastly underappreciated) Noah. (As a side note see Word on Fire’s Bishop Barron’s review of Noah before coming down too hard on Noah.)

In a delightful surprising supporting role, the amazing French actor, Gerard Depardieu brings Gaston Baptiste to life. Depardieu, with over 233 credits to his name is, to my mind, of note for the best Cyrano de Bergerac (short of the updated romantic comedy by Steve Martin, Roxanne), the funniest Porthos from 1998's Man in the Iron Mask, and the almost unique appearance of the character Reynaldo in Branagh’s unabridged Hamlet. Depardieu, leading man in both French and American movies, accomplished winemaker and restauranteur, has appeared mostly in historical dramas and romantic comedies. Baptiste, drawn to loosely look like Mr. Depardieu, is a large gentle giant of a veteran Frenchman who, in his civilian life, is a chef and takes Conroy, Stubby and Conroy’s closest human friends under his wing to help them survive in the trenches.

Stubby became the mascot of the Yankee Division, wandering onto the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where the troops were training. Stubby ended up going with the men to the front lines in France for 18 months – in the trenches, raising morale, chasing out vermin, locating the injured, alerting the men to incoming bombs and impending gas clouds, and warning of approaching Germans. He was the most decorated dog in World War I and the only dog to ever achieve rank and then a combat promotion which he won for heroics during battle, including receiving a war wound.

Sgt Stubby is told through the medium of letters written home to Conroy’s sister Margaret, voiced by Helen Bonham Carter. Carter is best known for her scary roles including Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise, the Red Queen in 2010's Alice in Wonderland, and Madam Thenardier from Les Mis. She is not quite as well known for some truly lovely and far gentler roles, such as the devoted wife of George VI in The King’s Speech. Her narration as Margaret in Sgt. Stubby ranks with her performance as Queen Elizabeth.

Sgt. Stubby reminded me of the old Disney and Warner Brothers animated shorts made during World War II promoting patriotism, explaining rationing, and cautioning against "loose lips". It was delightful to see that kind of straight forward common sense view of America and her allies against a common enemy AND with all the benefits of beautiful modern animation, all structured by the genuinely amazing events of this little dog.

From what I have read there were SOME historical liberties taken – for example Stubby does not manage to get onto the ship alone through sheer will and determination to find his master, but was smuggled onto the ship by Conroy. However, MOST of the other notable adventures really occurred – of which I hesitate to mention for fear of spoilers and ruining some surprises.

This is a VERY VERY child friendly movie. Even the battle injuries sustained by the soldiers are "shown" through mild reactions of other soldiers, or occur off screen or simply are just not shown but spoken of as one might during a stage play without actually showing any blood or wound. My two year old grandson, who ADORES dogs and is especially fond of our American Staffordshire mix, was not upset by any of the proceedings. During suspenseful moments he occasionally spoke a word of encouragement to Stubby but was otherwise transfixed. Two ten year old little girls who came with us and all the moms found the movie equally enjoyable. My ten year old "co-reviewers" both gave Stubby a definite "two thumbs up".

One of the other moms noted to me that, not only was Stubby a good and wholesomely entertaining movie, but it was genuinely educational. Maps of France, the trenches, the battle front lines, the advances and retreats were clearly drawn and animated, making it quite easy to follow the progress of the war. Details of uniforms and weaponry, the barbed wire, insignia on the bombs, movement of weaponry and conditions of the trenches seemed to be very carefully considered.

So I’d say – bring your dog obsessed two year old, bring grandma whose grandfather might have fought at Chemin des Dames, bring your older teen majoring in history at college, bring a girl on a first date, bring your friends to watch a feel good patriotic movie about the true exploits of brave American and French soldiers – both two and four footed, who fought selflessly to protect their countries and each other.

12 STRONG – THOR ON HORSEBACK AGAINST TANKS!? WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!!

SHORT TAKE:

Inspiring re-enactment of Task Force Dagger, the mission of an elite group of American Soldiers with their Northern Alliance allies who fought the Taliban against overwhelming odds in Afghanistan weeks after the 9/11 atrocity.

LONG TAKE:

I once had a coffee cup with the inscription: "Do not annoy the writer or she might put you in a book and kill you." Similarly, I might advise: "If you are the commanding officer of an aspiring actor, be nice or he might end up portraying you in a movie." Such is just one piece of serendipitous trivia in 12 Strong, a movie which cinematically tells how an elite group of our soldiers volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a trip which, but for the grace of God, should have been a suicide mission, entering a country and city they knew little about to work with a local insurgent who might have sold them out for their $100,000 a piece bounty, to fight 5,000 to 1 odds on foot and horseback to guide air drops against an entrenched vicious Taliban using tanks and armored artillary.

The script is based upon the experiences of a group of American elite military forces led by Mark Nutsch, who is renamed Mitch Nelson in the movie and played by Thor – I mean Chris Hemsworth. And let us not forget that Hemsworth also was George Kirk during the best 15 minutes of cinematic science fiction at the beginning of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. I only mention these movies to remind you that Hemsworth is fantastic at playing noble, courageous heroes. And he once again is awesome in 12 Strong. (As a side note, Captain Nutsch has mentioned that being played by "Thor" has gotten him some serious brownie points with his kids.)

The story is of the special forces sent weeks after the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and is based upon the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. Rounding out the cast with Hemsworth is Michael Shannon (Zod from Man of Steel and lead baddie in The Shape of Water), Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty, Ant Man and The Martian), Navid Negahban who plays General Dostum – leader of the Northern Alliance fighters and later Vice President of freed Afghanistan, who teamed with Nutsch's group for real and who is, to this day, friends with Nutsch. William Fichtner (Armaggedeon, Batman: The Dark Knight) as Col. John Mulholland and Rob Riggle a comedian and United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who, in a quirk of fate, plays his former commanding officer, Lt Col. Max Bowers. Fichtner and Riggle are the only ones who play officers going by their real names. There really was a Col Bowers and Col Mulholland participating in this extraordinary military operation. And as a side note, to lend further points of solid credibility to the chemistry of the cast, Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth's real life wife plays his REEL "life" wife, Jean Nelson.

I had difficulty trying to find the actual names of the other soldiers who were part of the team. As it turns out they prefer, in classic hero fashion, to retain the anonymity which was at first required on this top secret mission. Mark Nutsch, the inspiration for Michael Nelson only came forward when the movie was green lighted in order to help with the authenticity. These men were not given any recognition at the time for the miraculous feat they performed.

I have a Jewish friend who likes to playfully sum up the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament as: "They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!"

This sentiment pretty well sums up the forthright, pragmatic and confident attitude of the military with which America is blessed. Not looking for praise or parades they simply go in, perform their duty and come home. Not withstanding they "go in" after leaving their stalwart sacrificing wives and children, that they "perform their duty" against sometimes overwhelming odds, or that they might "come home" permanently maimed, severely injured….or in a coffin.

It’s about time these men, who struck the first blow for America subsequent to the cowardly and evil act of terrorism wrought upon our country on September 11, 2001, received some acknowledgment.

I had a friend ask if I was looking forward to this movie. I emphatically exclaimed: "Thor on horseback riding against tanks! What’s NOT to like!!!" And like it I did. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast perform with infectious camaraderie, conveying the depth of trust each of those real soldiers they portrayed had for each other. Filmed in New Mexico the rugged Afghan terrain is convincingly pictured.   The battle scenes are breathtaking. And it is not spoiler, because it is in the trailer, that, indeed, these men wound their way through merciless fire against ridiculous odds side by side with their Afghanistan Northern Alliance allies, like the Light Brigade, on horseback, into ferocious tank and artillary fire. These men boldly and selflessly offered their lives to stop the brutal stranglehold of torture and repression the Taliban and Al Qaeda had against the locals and prevent further attacks on our country. Their push into the merciless enemy's stronghold broke the back of Al Qaeda and had them fleeing to Pakistan.

There have been some criticism against the details of the mission – for example: did they really ride the horses into battle against tanks? Frankly I don’t care. We get far too few movies with the guts and gusto to demonstrate the every day bravery and selfless dedication of our American soldiers to our protection and freedom. It’s about time we returned to the likes of Patton, Green Beret, The Longest Day and The Great Escape – where the matter-of-fact patriotic heroics of our American military is a given and we should be rightly very proud and joyously celebrate their accomplishments.

I am unconcern with any modest cinematic license which might have been taken to enhance the telling of this amazing story.

The core of the history is dead on: They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!!

PS – Assuming the web page is accurate, if you want to find out more about the accuracy of the movie 12 Strong to the actual events they portray check out: How Accurate is 12 Strong?  SHORT TAKE: Almost every bit is detail-accurate.