You Learn From Your Brothers (Last Flag Flying review)

I think you can learn a lot about an institution from how it’s offspring take off into the world and live their adult lives. This week’s movie review addresses that idea with warmth, drama and humour.

And just like real life, is simultaneously messed and unresolved.

 

Last Flag Flying (2017)

Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Richard Linklater
released on blu-ray January 30, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Richard Stuart Linklater is my all-time favourite director. And he’s been my favourite ever since I first watched Waking Life back in 2003 (even though the movie released in 2001). I was barely an adult then, so you might have to cut me some slack on the the time it took me to discover him. Point of fact, Chris and I will be sharing a Cross Talk in coming weeks about our favourite directors, so rather then dig into why I think he’s so amazing as I normally preface these posts, I’ll just share a couple of quick anecdotes now. I’ve reviewed two of Richard Linklater’s films before – Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some. And I recorded that upcoming Cross Talk episode before I watched this movie.

I’ve included the distributors synopsis below and modified it slightly to provide some context…

Thirty years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) reunite for a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in Iraq. Forgoing burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Doc and his old buddies take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the coast to New Hampshire. Along the way, the three men find themselves reminiscing and coming to terms with the shared memories of a war that continues to shape their lives.

Naturalism is one of the major tools in Linklaters belt. He always manages to bring out the best and brightest of mundane aspects of life. Probably my favourite scene from the whole movie is the experience Carell’s character Doc has upon seeing his dead son when he demands that the military personal open the casket up for him. The camera pans out perfectly and we experience the secondhand emotion a third party would have normally by watching the very real and vulnerable grief someone extremely close to the recently deceased emote. I also enjoyed the interactions between Bryan Cranston’s Sal and the Colonel, that desire to challenge authority is common in many of Linklater’s characters.

And finally, the character of Doc appears very grounded in reality, though we never see him fully open up about his feelings, it is obvious how much he struggles with this unexpected turn of events.

Where the movie becomes a problem for me is in the interactions between the three main characters. They have spent a lot of time apart, and by circumstance are suddenly thrown back into each others lives, but it’s difficult to see why they ever got along or supported each other in the first place. This might be a failing on my part in not fully absorbing the awkward tension these men generate attempting to relate to each other after so much time apart. But I hope with subsequent viewings I can get to the bottom of the tone being explored here.

Pros: Linklater always manages to tell a real story, and stir up a ton of emotions running the gamet of the topic at hand. Never fully committing to one viewpoint or arc, he leaves the viewer with the choice to take something from the film or leave it. It’s difficult to swallow during a film about politics, death, and war.

ConsThat said, It does feel kind of superficial at times, and you don’t really believe the relationships these guys had could endure enough to take the road trip. Yes, they are professional actors, and they are all talented enough to sell their individual roles, but somehow it just doesn’t work thematically at all times.

Linklater has proven he can make any kind of movie, but all the elements of the film manage to conflict in such a negative way, it’s tough to accept this as film with his typical calibre of intent. It never feels especially revelatory, only sad and shallow.

And to sound even more contradictory, while I actually think the themes of patriotism, military service, and political ideologies are dealt with in a mature way, I wish at least one of the protagonists had chosen a side and let the film respond to it.

Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes

Points of Interest: The film is supposed to be a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail. Laurence Fishburne was Richard Linklater’s only choice for the character of Mueller. Principal photography took only 32 days to complete.

The concept is strong, and I can see what Linklater would have been drawn to it in the first place, but in the end it’s not strong enough in each of it’s parts to overcome the challenges presented and commit to a real anti-war message, instead choosing comedy and drama outbursts to convey the consequences.

theories Summarized

Taken together, each of the three protagonists add their own layer to this film about enduring after war-times. Brotherhood is strong, and I am reminded of the film The Deer Hunter, if only because the challenges of psychology, disruption, and resolution echo throughout both films consistently. Showcasing how two or three men raised in the same household (so to speak) could take different paths. It’s a profound statement to make, and as I mentioned earlier, a lesser director would have definitely missed all of the subtleties and disparate viewpoints within the issue. But ultimately, Last Flag Flying falls short for me, and is only a good film, not a great one. And that’s my theory.

That said, I have a really solid Watch Culture video that directly addresses the effects of war on the soul, and it serves as an excellent metaphor for impotence and decay. Surprise, surprise, a comic book movie was able to get an R rating and tell an engaging story. Can’t you tell how excited Mike and Chris are to discuss Logan? I can!

Logan will likely make you cry, but in a good way. And better still, it resolves so many threads of The Wolverine, while paying tribute to Hugh Jackman’s tenure. Check it out! And remember… Like! Comment! Subscribe!

Tim!

I Won’t Stop, I’m Gonna Work Harder (Stronger review)

I will never claim to be an expert on sociology, politics or any of the major social sciences, but I’m acutely aware of their importance, and I hope that by providing reviews on films like Stronger, my voice can contribute towards a positive world view, curbing hate and reducing ignorance about these kinds of social issues.

The movie does a pretty damn good job too though.

 

Stronger (2017)

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Director: David Gordon Green
released on blu-ray December 19, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ****/*****

David Gordon Green is an American filmmaker, best known for films like Joe, Prince Avalanche, George Washington, and All the Real Girls. He’s also done some pretty bad comedies – The Sitter, Your Highness, Pineapple Express. Thankfully, Stronger fits nicely into the biography drama camp, where Green can really shine and do his coming of age (enlightenment) thing well. That said, I just read that he is going to direct the next Halloween instalment with Danny McBride, so maybe he’s still figuring out his film identity.

He could take some notes from his characterization of Jeff Bauman…

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a well-intentioned but underachieving Boston native who works at the deli counter of a Costco and lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with his alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson). One day at the local bar, Jeff runs into his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who is attracted to his kindness and charm but finds herself constantly frustrated by his lack of commitment. After learning that Erin is running in the Boston Marathon to raise money for the hospital she works at, Jeff asks every patron in the bar to donate and then promises Erin he’ll wait at the finish line for her with a big sign.

The day of the Marathon, Jeff scrambles to make it to the finish line on time but reaches it just before Erin reaches the finish line. As she approaches a bomb goes off right where Jeff is standing. After being rushed to a hospital, both of Jeff’s legs are amputated above the knee. When he regains consciousness, Jeff tells his brother that he saw the bomber before the explosion. Patty calls the FBI, and Jeff is able to give them a description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Local authorities capture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev days later, and Jeff is hailed as a hero.

Jeff struggles to adjust to his condition as well as his newfound fame. Patty books several interviews and constantly surrounds Jeff with news reporters during his rehab sessions which Erin, who has since rekindled with Jeff, objects. Jeff and his family are invited to the Stanley Cup Finals by the Boston Bruins who ask Jeff to wave the flag during the game’s opening ceremony. The crowd triggers traumatic flashbacks from Jeff, and he breaks down in the elevator. Erin comforts him and insists he talk to his family about the fragility of his mental state and the impact his newfound exposure is having on it. Later that night they make love for the first time since his injury.

Patty books Jeff an interview with Oprah Winfrey without telling him causing Erin to speak up and tell her that the constant media attention is intensifying Jeff’s PTSD. After an argument between Patty and Erin, Jeff finally admits that he does not want to do any more interviews. Patty, disheartened, tells him that she only wishes for the world to see how amazing her son is. She soon begins enabling Jeff’s worst tendencies including his laziness and affinity for drinking. He begins missing physical therapy appointments due to long nights of drinking usually with Patty equally as drunk. Erin, who has since moved in, finds Patty blacked out on the couch and Jeff in a bathtub unconscious and covered in vomit. The next day she snaps at Patty for her selfishness and negligence before calling Jeff out for his self-pity and refusal to stand up to his mother. She storms off leaving Jeff and Patty to drive home alone.

That night, Jeff blows off Erin to drink with his brothers at a bar. Two patrons at the bar begin asking Jeff questions about the bombing insinuating that the event was a government conspiracy to start a war in Iran and Jeff was paid to look like a victim. Insulted Jeff and his brothers initiate a bar fight with the patrons. Erin picks him up later that night and tells him she’s pregnant. Jeff begins to panic and tells her he isn’t ready to be a father causing Erin to scold him for constantly running away from his problems. She leaves him in the car without removing his wheelchair from the trunk, enters their apartment, and packs her things. Jeff crawls to the apartment door and has a PTSD flashback of the bombing in its entirety.

Jeff meets with Carlos, a man who cared for him in the immediate aftermath of the bombing saving his life. Carlos tells him about his son, a marine who died in Iraq. After attempting suicide Carlos was forced to attend his son’s funeral in a stretcher. His younger son, unable to cope with the death of his older brother and the constant state of pain his father was in, killed himself. Carlos confides that saving Jeff helped him make peace with the death of his sons and the blame he placed upon himself because of them. Jeff begins to understand that his will to live in the face of adversity is what both comforts and inspires people. He stops drinking and begins to take his rehab more seriously. He leaves Erin a voicemail apologizing for his behavior finally taking full responsibility for his immaturity and fear of commitment. A few days later he and Carlos throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game where he meets Pedro Martinez. Erin watches at home and smiles. After the game dozens of people come up to Jeff and tell him how and why he has so heavily impacted their lives.

He and Erin meet at a diner where he walks with his prosthetics for the first time without assistance. He tells Erin he loves her, to which she replies “Good.” He grabs her hand and smiles.

It really does an excellent job of using a real story to showcase a survivor’s journey towards acceptance of his new life, and luckily for us, it hides very little of Bauman’s personal life. He has regular flashbacks of the bombing, his eyes hiding ghosts and his arms curled up in pain. His emotional voice often comes through girlfriend Erin, until the very end anyway.

Pros: It’s a series of moments but it never feels like a made for TV mini series, and Tatiana Maslany does an amazing job as the female lead. I hope to see more of her in the future.

Cons: I wish there weren’t patriotic shots of flags and orchestral music that hit your heart strings at key moments. A little obvious for my taste.

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Points of Interest:

Featuring some solid character actors performances on top of all the emotional core, Stronger is a film about a life examined, dissected, and reassembled, not whole, but as a sum of its parts. And it’s incredibly satisfying to watch a story about tragedy, without glossing over the ugly parts and managing to avoid cliche of overcoming adversity. Jeff Bauman is no hero, he only plays one on tv.

I only wish I had seen it in theatres, because I would have recommended the shit out of it way earlier on then I am now. So many bio pics attempt the impossible, being dramatic without overexerting themselves, and this story about an amputee does it one better. He’s a slob, self-destructive, and not morally sound either, but Bauman is surrounded by so many people just as flawed as him, you can’t help but root for a change in his heart.

theories Summarized

Overall this is a film that works incredibly hard at avoiding all the well known cliches, and it’s a cinematic treat to watch. I highly recommend you give it a shot, and set aside any preconceived notions you might have about triumph films, bio pics or Jake Gyllenhaal. This is a seriously good movie. And that’s not a theory.

Speaking of visual treats, have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? No, well check out this Watch Culture video in that case. And even if you have seen it, Mike and I have some great reminders of why this needs another viewing. I personally consider it to be Wes Anderson’s best. But tell us what you think! Leave a comment, share the video, and don’t forget to subscribe, for more great reviews.

Tim!

Your Recommended Derry Intake (It (2017) Review)

Isn’t it funny how sometimes the things you expect to flop sometimes show up on your doorstep with a balloon and a wax-coated paper ship and demand your attention. You’ll float too, they scream. You’ll float too.

Well dammit all to hell, if they weren’t right about this Stephen King adaptation.

 

It (2017)

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton
Director: Andy Muschietti
released on blu-ray January 9, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Audience Score 85%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Andy Muschietti is an Argentine director and writer, who has now directed two feature-length films – Mama and It. With a sequel to It, titled It: Chapter Two, currently in the works for release in 2019. Muschietti first garnered attention with his short film version of Mama, enough so that Guillermo del Toro took notice and became the executive producer for the version we have today. Muschietti has also been known to collaborate with his sister Barbara Muschietti, who took on a producer role in both Maman and It.

Muschietti received the directorial role for It after the departure of Cary Fukunga from the set, and luckily for us, he never looked back.

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

In October ’88, stuttering teenager Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives his seven-year-old brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a paper sailboat, but it falls down a storm drain. As he attempts to retrieve it Georgie sees a clown (Bill Skarsgard) in the sewer, who introduces himself as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown”. The clown entices Georgie to come closer, then severs his arm and drags him into the sewer.

The following summer, Bill and friends (Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff)) run afoul of bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang. Bill, still haunted by Georgie’s disappearance and neglect from his grief-stricken parents, discovers that his brother’s body may have washed up in the Barrens. He recruits his friends to check it out.

“New kid” Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) learns that the town has been plagued by unexplained tragedies and child disappearances for centuries. Targeted by Bowers’ gang for being fat, he flees into the Barrens and meets Bill’s group. They find the sneaker of a missing girl, while a member of the pursuing Bowers Gang, is killed by Pennywise while searching the sewers for Ben.

Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a girl ostracized over rumors of promiscuity, also joins the group; both Bill and Ben develop feelings for her. Later, the group befriends homeschool student Mike (Chosen Jacobs) after defending him from Bowers. All the while each member of the group has encountered terrifying phenomena in various forms; these include a menacing clown, a headless boy, a fountain of blood, a diseased and rotting man, a creepy painting come to life, Mike’s parents burning alive, and a phantom Georgie.

Now calling themselves “The Losers Club”, they realize they are all being terrorized by the same entity. After an attack by Pennywise, the group ventures to a house with a well that all the towns sewers connect to, only to be separated and terrorized. Eddie breaks his arm, while Pennywise gloats to Bill about Georgie. As they regroup, Beverly impales Pennywise through the head, forcing the clown to retreat. However, after the encounter the group argues, with only Bill and Beverly resolute in fighting It.

Weeks later, after Beverly confronts her sexually abusive father, but is abducted by Pennywise. The Losers Club reassembles to rescue her. Bowers, who has killed his father after being compelled into madness by It, attacks the group. Mike fights back and pushes Bowers down the well. The Losers descend into the sewers and find It’s underground lair, where the bodies of missing children float in mid-air. Beverly, now catatonic after being exposed to It’s true form, is restored to consciousness as Ben kisses her. Pennywise attacks the group and takes Bill hostage, offering to spare the others if they let It keep Bill. After a brutal battle they defeat Pennywise and he retreats, with Bill declaring that It will starve during its hibernation.

As summer ends, Beverly informs the group of a vision she had while catatonic, where she saw them fighting the creature as adults. The Losers swear a blood oath that they will return to Derry as adults if It returns and destroy the creature once and for all. Stanley, Eddie, Richie, Mike, and Ben make their goodbyes as the group disperses. Beverly tells Bill she is leaving the next day to live with her aunt in Portland. Before she leaves, Bill reveals his feelings and they kiss.

It is an unpretentious character and this adaptation is an unpretentious film. Somehow Muschietti has taken a very dense novel and made it infinitely more digestible, and I’m hoping that he is able to book end the story the same way he started it. Or should I say It? I found it very refreshing to watch a story I loved as a teenager come to the big screen and do it better then the miniseries we all accepted for 27 years.

Pros: The acting of all of these youngsters is excellent, and the supporting adults do their part to keep the attention where it should be, on Pennywise and the Losers Club.

Cons: While the references to 1980s horror classics are strong throughout this film, and the tone of the film embraces The Goonies, Stand By Me, and other coming of age ensemble dramas, it never quite feels super scary. The stakes only raise so high. Which could be a symptom of a story told in two parts.

Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes

Points of Interest: This was more of a fun fact for me then your average movie goer,  but this adaptation arrived almost exactly 27 years after the original was made. Much of the dialogue between the actors was improvised and Jack Dylan Grazer helped write Finn Wolfhard’s jokes. This movie currently holds the box office record for largest opening weekend for a horror film.

It could be the update from 1950s to the 1980s or the higher production value placed upon bringing Pennywise and all his iterations to life, but something about this film feels a lot more considered and genuinely authentic in it’s approach to telling the collective story of the Loser’s Club. It might have also helped that cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon helmed the camera and maintains wider view of this world then the claustrophobic one from the 1990 miniseries.

theories Summarized

In short, this movie is a highlight of 2017 film without a doubt, even if it isn’t genuinely horrifying to watch. By trading humour for scares, the story comes to life in a satisfying way – It is a very creepy adaptation and Bill Skarsgard deserves a place on the horror shelf for his rendition as the clown. Go find a copy of It and watch when you get a chance; you’ll float too.

And on a much lighter balloon… we’ve got an excellent Watch Culture video review up for your viewing pleasure! Featuring the talents of my Cross Talk co-host Chris Murphy, it’s time to dive into the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer!

Which also recently got a retread, with a couple of Netflix exclusive shows – Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. Chris unabashedly loves this movie, and I think after you hear some of his thoughts, you’ll want to check it out for yourself.

Tim!

One Flight Stand (American Made review)

Criminal activity always seems oh so sexy, doesn’t it dear readers? But I swear it isn’t until the bitter end of the barrel that the people who live this way become regretful of their actions. A tale as old as time, but an entertaining one nonetheless.

 

American Made (2017)

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Fredy Yate Escobar
Director: Doug Liman
released on blu-ray January 2, 2018
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Doug Liman is an American director and producer. He’s made Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and The Wall, but he is best known for Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow – because those last five movies are good and the others are just eh. Friends with Jon Favreau, he made Swingers for $250,000 and it made $4.4 million, launching the careers of its actors and Liman.

He also shot that commercial for Nike of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his club repeatedly before driving it. Just so you know that he is capable of both brilliance and drivel, he also made the garbage fire starring Hayden Christensen, known simply as Jumper.

Thankfully American Made is an excellent film.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the late 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a pilot for commercial airline TWA, is contacted by CIA case officer, calling himself Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). He asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small plane with cameras installed.

Later in the 1970s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega (Alberto Ospino) in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel’s cocaine to Louisiana. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Schafer moves Seal and his family to a remote town in Arkansas called Mena.

Later, Schafer asks Seal to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras, Central America. Seal soon realizes that the Contras are not serious about the war and starts trading the guns to the cartel. The CIA set up a Contra training base in Mena and Seal flies the Contras in, but many of them escape as soon as they arrive.

Seal’s freeloading brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) moves in, needing a job. Eventually, he starts stealing money from the Seals and is caught by Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons) with a briefcase full of laundered cash and is arrested. Seal gives him money and a plane ticket to Bora Bora so he can leave. JB demands weekly cash and insults Lucy. Barry tries to chase him but JB’s car explodes; it is implied Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) had JB’s car rigged with explosives, killing him so that he would not snitch.

Eventually, the CIA shuts the program down and abandons Seal, who is arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and Arkansas State Police simultaneously. Seal escapes prosecution by making a deal with the White House, which wants evidence the Sandinistas are drug traffickers. They ask Seal to get photos that tie the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal manages to get the pictures, but the White House releases them as propaganda against the Sandinistas. Seal is prominently shown in the pictures, which leads to his arrest, and to the cartel plotting revenge.

Seal is convicted but given a light sentence, 1,000 hours community service for the Salvation Army. Moving from motel to motel fails as a way of remaining in hiding because the community service is performed at the same building every night. Assassins sent by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and the cartel easily locate Seal and kill him; the CIA then destroys all documentation and other evidence to avoid being implicated in drug smuggling. But in spite of this Herculean effort at covering everything up the CIA still becomes embroiled in the infamous Iran–Contra affair.

This is not a film of historical accuracy, the real Barry Seal was an obese man, who got his start smuggling marijuana and eventually upgrading to cocaine with the Medellin Cartel. He was not kidnapped by the Cartel, and he didn’t meet them in person until many years later, and he definitely didn’t crash land in suburbia. But that doesn’t stop if from being incredibly entertaining and well crafted to emulate the life that Seal led.

Tom Cruise always oozes charm, but this film just might be one of his better performances in the past couple of years. Yes he does great things in the Mission Impossible franchise, but something about working Liman gets that right mix of crazy and fun (read: Edge of Tomorrow). It’s a movie about drugs, guns, and a soldier of fortune, and it all works with the handycam voiceovers Seal supplies.

Pros: It looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, and the cheeriness of the film helps offset the grim nature of it’s subject matter, and the eventual death of Seal. Bonus points for Domhnall Gleeson and Sarah Wright as supporting cast, they do everything to elevate Cruise and play off him perfectly.

Cons: The peril that Barry Seal faced running drugs and guns never truly seems real on the screen, you don’t believe he’s in danger, until he actually is. Pablo Escobar doesn’t seem that scary either, and we all know better.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: The man Barry speaks to in the hallway is George W. Bush, son of Vice President George W. H. Bush.. The title originally began filming under the title Mena. No one actually takes any cocaine in the movie, unless you count Tom Cruise wearing it after the crash.

It’s playful but shallow, and that’s where the movie struggles to maintain a perfect level of escapism, but if you can ignore the historical inaccuracies, and many won’t even bother to look into it, then you’ll very likely enjoy yourself watching this flick. It’s a period piece that sets a good standard for what a late summer blockbuster should look like.

theories Summarized

In short, yes I think you should watch American Made. Tom Cruise still has lots of star power to offer when he gets handed the right roles, and Doug Liman does an excellent job recreating the world leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal.

And for even more fun… you should watch my solo Watch Culture video review of The LEGO Batman Movie! I’ve got lots of love for this movie from 2017… so much so that I did both a blog post and then came back for the video version. Check it out! And don’t forget to leave a comment, subscribe and share!

I’ll see you tomorrow with my first School Of Thoughts post (formerly known as Wisdom Wednesdays).

Tim!