MIDWAY (2019)

November 7, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Japan’s World War II goal was to devastate the United States Navy fleet in the South Pacific, thereby securing the area as their own and crippling the U.S. military beyond hope. The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was the first step and the most infamous. Over the next few months, what followed were the Raid on Tokyo (April 1942), Battle of Coral Sea (May 1942) and the Battle of Midway (June 1942). Stating that these battles changed the war is not an understatement, as the Imperial Japanese Navy had previously been viewed as superior (especially after the destruction at Pearl Harbor). Director Roland Emmerich (THE PATRIOT, INDEPENDENCE DAY) has never met a war or explosion or special effect he didn’t like, so we know going in that, given the subject matter and the filmmaker, the screen will be filled with action.

Emmerich co-wrote the script with Wes Tooke (his first feature script), and as with many WWII movies, it acts as a history lesson on a war that changed the world. This one focuses on naval strategy and particularly on the individuals who defined courage and heroism … many names we recognize from history books. The contrast between Japanese military leaders and United States military leaders is on full display, and it’s no surprise that the Japanese leaders are mostly portrayed as cold and calculating, while the U.S. leaders come across as more humanistic and resourceful. Pride is evident on both sides – it’s just displayed differently.

The players are crucial to the story. Woody Harrelson plays Admiral Chester Nimitz, Dennis Quaid is Vice Admiral “Bull” Halsey (commander of aircraft carrier USS Enterprise), Patrick Wilson is Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton, Jake Weber is Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, Luke Evans is Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky, Brennan Brown plays Joseph Rochefort (leader of the code breaker team), and Aaron Eckhart is Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, the extraordinary pilot who led the Raid on Tokyo in April 1942. On the Japanese side, Tadanabu Asano plays Rear Admiral Yamaguchi (commander of the aircraft carrier Hiryu), Jun Kunimura is Admiral Nagumo (he of questionable battle decisions), and Enushi Toyokawa plays Admiral Yamamoto, the most dignified and influential of the Japanese leaders.

Much of the story is told from the perspective of naval pilot Lieutenant Dick Best (Ed Skrein, DEADPOOL). While personal stories and challenges faced by individuals makes for a relatable story for viewers, there is something about this particular actor that comes across as awkward and difficult to bond with. There is no doubting the character and courage of Dick Best as a pilot; however, Skrein’s performance is flat out annoying and distracting. The dive bombing missions are breathtaking and thrilling, but overall the liberal use of green screen for effects detracts from the realistic looks we’ve come to expect for war movies.

Mandy Moore as Anne Best, and Nick Jonas as a mechanic, are cast for relatability by viewers, but the value in the film comes from an easy-to-follow description of the contrasting strategies of the two militaries. It’s also a reminder that the “big” story of WWII is comprised of many individual stories of people … people who were brave and heroic in a time of need. So ignore the cheesy affects, unrealistic dialogue, and irritating performances, and instead take in the work and actions of those who saved the world.

watch the trailer:


LEARNING TO DRIVE (2015)

September 10, 2015

learning to drive Greetings again from the darkness. Many movies have utilized the career-focused husband who is oblivious to how his inattentiveness leads to a crumbling marriage and estranged family. It’s much rarer to have a professionally successful woman at the core of a story where she is the neglectful one, and the dissolved marriage leaves her in emotional shambles.  The metaphor here is obvious yet effective, as the woman tries to put her life back together and discover herself in the process … by “learning to drive”.

Patricia Clarkson stars as Wendy, a very successful New York book critic, who is blindsided when her husband (Jake Weber, “Medium”) dumps her for another woman. It turns out Wendy is infinitely more attentive to her computer screen than to her husband and daughter (Grace Gummer). In a fortuitous turn, the cab driver during the marital break-up is a Sikh Indian-American named Darwan, played by Sir Ben Kingsley.

Darwan’s second job just happens to be driving instructor, which means he can provide life lessons and philosophy to Wendy while simultaneously reminding her to fasten her seatbelt and check the mirrors. During this time, Darwan is also taking on a wife via arranged marriage to Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury, “Homeland”). His patience and way of life is challenged by both women, so the teacher also becomes a student.

The scenes featuring Clarkson and Kingsley are the film’s best, and inject some moments of humor to go along with the force-fed melodrama. Ms. Clarkson is at her best here flashing anger, vulnerability and a realization that life opens up for those who open up themselves, but she can’t overcome what amounts to a film that should air on Oprah’s network.

Director Isabel Coixet also worked with Clarkson and Kingsley in her 2008 film Elegy. Though it teases some interesting topics, this story sticks mostly to the surface, never digging too deeply. Because of this, it’s a pleasant film that will easily entertain adult audiences who prefer their movies with no real surprises or suspense.

watch the trailer: