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Reviews of movies.

Planes – A Review

New Disney Planes Movie...we're all excited! (Plus, a $100 ...

It has been some time since this blogger sat down and watched Disneytoon’s Planes. Panned by the critics, I found the film not only entertaining but quite interesting. And despite the poor reviews the movie made enough money to justify a sequel – Planes: Fire and Rescue. So the creators clearly did something right. The question, of course, is what?

Planes takes place in a world similar to that seen in Cars. It may even be the same world. But since this story has a different focus this is neither confirmed nor denied. There are enough likenesses, however, to make it plausible.

The story follows Dusty Crophopper, a cropdusting plane who dreams of racing around the world rather than fertilizing corn fields all day. As he himself says, “I’ve flown thousands of miles… And I’ve gone no where.” He wants to see the world beyond his hometown, an aspiration almost everyone can sympathize with, even if they have found that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Dusty has three main problems with following through on his wish. First, he is a cropduster, not a race plane. Second, he is an older model plane (not significantly older, but twenty years for a plane is not the same as twenty years for a human being). That means parts can and will be an issue. If he breaks down and loses an important piece, replacing it may not be possible.

Third, Dusty is afraid of heights. While that sounds laughable and crazy at first, it actually makes a lot of sense. As a cropduster, he has naturally has to fly low in order to do his job. For that reason trying to reach heights greater than, say, the average skyscraper literally sends him into a tailspin. He cannot look down without losing control and dropping like a rock.

Despite the scoffing of some closest to him, Dusty trains with his friends so he can qualify to enter the Wings Across the Globe race. Before trying out, Dusty approaches an old F4U Corsair named Skipper Riley and asks him to become his coach. Skipper refuses and, when Dusty fails to meet the requirements for the race, it’s a severe blow to the little plane’s morale.

Planes - Disney Wiki

However, when the plane who beat Dusty is eventually prohibited from entering the race due illegal fuel intake usage (he was essentially using steroids), everything changes. Now an official competitor in the race, he has to get into shape to make first place in the competition. Impressed by Dusty’s willingness to keep working, Skipper surprises him by offering tips and becoming his informal mentor. The old war plane isn’t happy when he learns about Dusty’s fear of heights, and he is quite put out when the farm plane absolutely refuses to fly higher than his upper limit. But he stays and continues to train him for the race.

Once he’s achieved the proper speeds, Dusty heads to New York for the start of the competition. There he makes several friends before running afoul of the race’s three-time winner, a plane named Ripslinger or “Rip” for short. (Not inconsequentially, his voice actor is Roger Craig Smith, the man who played Captain America in Avengers Assemble.) Although he dismisses Dusty at first, Rip rethinks his opinion when it becomes clear the farm plane has the talent and skill to beat him. He then resorts to every dirty trick he can think of to put this up-and-coming star out of the race.

From this overview it is clear that Planes is a pretty standard American film. It stars the country underdog who impresses everyone with his sportsmanship and gumption. The film also carries a patriotic subtheme, showing the United States Navy in a very good light, and not just with Skipper. All in all, it’s not a bad story.

Planes | Teaser Trailer

So why did the critics pan it?

Personally, I think they trashed the film precisely because it is so American. A throwback to the days when it wasn’t taboo to bless American and love her, Planes presents everything good about our home country. There is not an ounce of America-bashing angst in the entire film.

But that’s not the only area in which Planes shines as an inherently American tale. The trope of the underdog who wins the respect of the world and topples the previous record-holder is one that is uniquely American in character. The reason for this is because America herself has traditionally been the “little guy” on the world stage. We were the country bumpkins who whipped the British Empire – which ruled more territory than anyone since Ancient Rome – in two wars that were rarely close to a fair fight. We then proceeded, by dint of sheer determination and grit, to make ourselves a world power.

In keeping with this theme, as mentioned above, the film also presents the navy as an inherently good organization. Skipper and his history in World War II, while fantastic, remind viewers of the fact that we practically saved the world in the 1940s. The scenes which refer to the modern military demonstrate that the spirit which led us to step up seventy-five years ago remains very much alive and well today. Skipper’s navy has received many technological upgrades, true, but none of those have changed her heart in the least.

Another area where the film affronts the sensibilities of many modern critics is its main motif, which is that everyone “can be more than what [they] were built for.” Dusty follows through on his dream of being a race plane, proving that the audience can, with perseverance and fortitude, achieve their desires as well. Many people today feel they cannot attain what they hope for, and while Planes is not the only movie/tv show/story to use this theme in the present era, it is one of the few that does so in a forthright, American manner.

This point deserves to be expounded upon a bit. Americans are so well-acquainted with the “pursue your dreams” motif that they have largely forgotten the rest of the world actively pushes the opposite message. For the most part, even in the 21st century, all other nations on the planet force people to remain in whatever state of life they were born into.

It is extremely hard for people elsewhere on the planet, for example, to change jobs. In some countries, if a man is born into a certain caste or chooses a particular profession, when he reaches adulthood that becomes his occupation for life. A few places may let him train and/or trade jobs, but the transition will be neither cost-effective nor relatively timely.

Nor will a man who moves into another profession be respected for doing so, whether or not he works as hard as the other people in his occupation. He has reached above or below his station and therefore must be held in some measure of contempt by the rest of society. If he is not, then others might think to challenge the status quo, which would upset the standards of class practiced over the course of centuries and, eventually, lead to a culture that is no longer static.

Planes for Rent, & Other New Releases on DVD at Redbox

For Americans, the reverse has traditionally been true. We have had actors becomes soldiers and soldiers become actors, and no one has batted an eye over it. We have had plane manufacturers become farmers and farmers become plane manufacturers without the slightest bit of trouble or nationwide resentment….

And so on and so forth; almost everyone in the history of the United States has, at one time, traded his or her jobs like a set of hats. In doing so they have never had to worry about societal backlash or difficulties because it has been traditionally understood that in America class has no place. A farmer is as good as a billionaire, a CEO, or a high paid lawyer because all men are created equal. They are not kept equal, as they are in other countries, but they are born with an equal amount of potential to be more than what they were “born for.”

Planes takes these American tropes and runs with them in wholehearted, happy abandon. It does not apologize for being an American movie to its core. Instead, it flaunts its old-fashioned U.S. values with cheerful pride. In so doing the film reminds American viewers of what they can really do if they work hard and don’t quit. Nothing – except maybe a religious film – upsets critics so much as a purely American story. Thus it is not hard to see why critics hated the film and movie-goers loved it.

John Lasseter, the erstwhile head of Pixar, penned and directed this movie. While Planes may not be among the crown jewels of his achievements, it certainly deserves more respect than it has received so far. I would personally rate Planes near the head his list of accomplishments because, as usual, the critics were wrong. This is a movie that is well worth the purchase price and the time spent watching it.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy film that is shameless in its embrace of the American spirit, I highly recommend this movie. Hollywood has largely lost the ability to tell stories like this, so when such a gem is discovered, it deserves all the love and appreciation it can get.

Until next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

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Avengers: Infinity War – A Review, Part 2

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) News - MovieWeb

Whoo! Last week this blogger did a quick rundown on the (minor) issues she had with Avengers: Infinity War. Having covered those irritating incidents, we can now dive into what was truly enjoyable about this film. And there is a lot to like (warning – there will be spoilers 😉 ).

On a technical level, the film is pretty close to flawless. It never loses track of its story. It doesn’t wander off into the hinterlands or backtrack into the ancient past; neither does it throw flashy special effects in a viewer’s face, hoping to dazzle them with movie magic. No, the movie is a self-contained story that proceeds in a straight line at break neck pace. Ten years of cinematic storytelling have been building up toward this moment, this ultimate battle of good versus evil. It’s been comparable to water building behind a dam until it reaches capacity and bursts.

While this blogger hates the Mad Titan with more passion than Loki or even Thunderbolt Ross, I have to admit that his disproportionate amount of screen time here was necessary. Until now, we have never seen Thanos in action. We have heard the rumors, the horror stories, and have gained some vague idea of what he is capable of accomplishing.

But it all pales in comparison to the truth. Thanos is the single scariest villain in the MCU to date. He is as charismatic as a snake and has a tongue like honey. Trying to reason with him or tell him that he is wrong is like trying to tell a tidal wave to stop. It doesn’t work due to his arrogant certainty that he is right and the rest of the universe is wrong. He wants to be God, and has convinced himself – more or less – that he is, in fact, a deity.

No where is this better demonstrated than with the portrayal of his chief henchman, Ebony Maw. Maw practically worships Thanos and, by extension, death. The only member of the Black Order to receive decent screen time, Maw exhibits a chilling, slavish reverence for the Mad Titan. His speeches about how those whom he is going to murder on his master’s behalf have now had meaning injected into their previously “pointless” lives highlights the evil he and Thanos are perpetrating on innocents throughout the galaxy. It is a scary nod to what some people in real life who followed Hitler or Stalin believed about them and their bloody aims.

Avengers Infinity War deaths: Did [SPOILER] die or is it ...

Of course, this means that watching Maw get blasted into space was one of the most satisfying moments in the entire film. That was a good scene! I wonder if he found the meaning in his formerly pointless life upon being forcibly ejected into hard vacuum…

Probably not – or at least, not the kind that he was expecting. 😉

Speaking of good scenes, the heroes had plenty of those as well. While the majority did not receive as much screen time as I would have liked, the time they got was used well. This is most true, in my opinion, with regard to Vision and Wanda. They had some of the best scenes in the film. While they play second fiddle to Thanos, their tune is just as impressive (if not moreso) than his was or can ever be.

The trailers didn’t lie; despite the split in the team and the threat of the Accords, Wanda and Vision are dating by Infinity War. Apparently Cap and Tony have been arranging for the two to have some “alone time” in different parts of the world for a few days/weeks for the past two years. Vision turns off his tracking tech and disappears to be with Wanda, giving her a break from being on the run with the rest of the Secret Avengers. At the end of the agreed upon time, he goes back to being an official hero and she returns to being an outlawed heroine.

Their relationship is very, very well presented. Though Paul Bettany has made some joking comments about it (i.e. “I’m an android, [Olsen is] a witch – how does this work…”), that attitude never shows in their performances. They absolutely nailed Vision and Scarlet Witch’s romance in this movie, and they should receive awards for their work. I doubt they will, but they really, really should! 😀

Tony, too, did well in this film. He starts out hemming and hawing over the fact that he was wrong and “broke up the band” in Civil War, but the fact that he deliberately looks the other way when Vision goes to meet Wanda suggests he’s realized that the signing the Accords was a really bad idea. The fact that he also flies off to handle Thanos solo (more or less on purpose) only goes to show that he still hasn’t quite relinquished his irritating tendency to think/say/act like he can “fix” everything with his genius.

3 characters most likely to die in Avengers: Infinity War ...

But as the battle escalates and the true extent of the threat becomes more and more apparent, his arrogance melts away. Faced with the fact that his nightmare is real – and far worse than he thought – Tony rises to true heroism in his personal battle with Thanos. It’s a great moment (and a terrifying one), when the Mad Titan almost kills him. Strange’s bargain almost seems to be a cheat, as it interrupts Tony’s transformation and seeming achievement of the pinnacle of heroism.

It is, however, nothing of the sort. While Tony has reached a great height, his work is not yet done. He’s the resident super genius of the Avengers, which means that they need him to stop Thanos. Strange’s exchanging the Time Stone for his life makes plenty of sense on that level.

On a more personal one, which the good Sorcerer Supreme may have known as well, Tony hasn’t reached the peak of heroism yet. There is still some unfinished business he has to take care of back home before he is ready to face the final test. He has to patch things up with Steve.

As discussed in the posts about Cap and Tony’s character arcs in Civil War, most of the fallout from the final battle in that film lies squarely on Iron Man’s shoulders. He made the decision to sign the Accords; he fell for Thunderbolt Ross’ honeyed promises, and he is the one who forced the confrontation at the airport in Germany. Nothing Cap did was anything more or less than defensive counter maneuvers to block a literal or figurative punch.

Even when Steve avoided telling Tony about Bucky’s involvement in the murder of the senior Starks, while it wasn’t exactly right, it was certainly not comparable to what the younger man tried to do in Siberia. That entire fiasco, the rift between Tony and practically everyone else on the team, is his fault, not Cap’s. And he has to deal with that; he has to face it. Steve is more than ready to do make amends and move on….

…But when Tony had a chance to begin the catharsis and healing during Infinity War, he didn’t take it. His heroism on Titan is admirable (and Downey Jr.’s acting is fantastic), but it is not yet perfect. And although there are other factors leading up to the Avengers’ loss, his choices are a big part of why the team fails to stop the Mad Titan’s ambitions.

For Iron Man to become a true hero, a real modern knight, he has to face that fact. He has to admit he was “wr-r-r-ong,” to quote the Fonz, and he has to do it to Steve’s face. Cap is more than ready to let bygones be bygones, he just needs Tony to man up and say the word, none of which will happen if Tony is dead. And that’s a big part of why Strange gives the Mad Titan the Time Stone in exchange for Iron Man’s life.

Speaking of those left alive at the end of the movie, Chris Hemsworth pulled off a fantastic performance as the grieving, vengeance-hungry King of Asgard. Thor has been through a lot in a short amount of time, and though he bears up pretty well under it all for most of the film, it’s not hard to see him straining. He’s watched his home, his people, his friends, and his remaining family murdered for nothing. And it’s not hard to see how all of this is affecting him.

The really cool thing is how he shows it in small moments. Rubbing at his wrists with impatience when he thinks no one’s looking. Staring out the windows at nothing but the past. Avoiding eye contact or being a bit more terse and regal than he needs to be to make his point. The anger, pain, grief, and desire to avenge his losses at Thanos’ hands – it’s all there in the little gestures and glances he gives. This has to be one of his best performances yet.

Avengers 4 May Wrap Filming in January | Screen Rant

And that goes for the rest of the crew as well. Though they don’t get near enough screen time, the rest of the Avengers and Guardians each get their due. Whether it’s Gamora singing along to one of Quill’s songs at the same time he is or watching Bucky lift Rocket in the air so they can turn in a circle and cover all their bases, the heroes each get a moment to show how far they have come in ten years. It’s a beautiful thing to watch ….

…Which leads us to the biggest and best thing about the otherwise heart-wrenching finale for Infinity War. After all their hard work, the heroes are defeated, and more than half their numbers are erased. It is not at all uncommon to hear modern academics speculate lovingly about how we could save the planet if we murdered eighty or ninety percent of the population. There was a professor some years ago who openly hoped that a mutant Ebola virus would wipe out ninety percent of humanity in order to preserve the environment. (And yes, he received a standing ovation. Why do you ask?)

Infinity War takes these academics’ theories out of the classroom or lecture hall and explores them on the big screen with characters audiences everywhere have come to know and love deeply. Thanos has spent years systematically murdering fifty percent of numerous alien populations throughout the galaxy – up to and including the already halved Asgardian people, who have just lost their homeworld (which was apparently more sparsely inhabited than we thought, given the relatively small number of refugees who got loaded onto the Statesman at the end of Ragnarok).

Right out of the gate, Infinity War offers a very clear presentation of what the world would look like if those who desire the eradication of large numbers of human beings had their way. The Asgardians are practically on the verge of extinction; by Thanos’ own stated objectives, they should be safe from his culling.

But they are not. The Mad Titan walks aboard their ship, ostensibly searching for the Space Stone/Tesseract, and slaughters innocent civilians. Men, women, and children – none are spared, not even the (somewhat improbably) redeemed Loki. According to his mission parameters, there should be no reason for him to do this. Yet he wipes them all out without batting an eye anyway.

His actions put the lie to his rationale that in order to save the environment of the cosmos, he has to bring “balance” to a population that is already teetering on the edge of annihilation. Thanos is no savior, he’s a mass murderer. And those who espouse a similar worldview in real life are no less genocidal than he is.

Most importantly, the final shots for Infinity War and early footage for Endgame show the results of his policy. Panacea is not achieved throughout the universes; instead, chaos reigns. On Earth, planes crash into buildings, raising the death toll even higher as their remaining crews and passengers die in the resultant conflagrations. Uncontrolled vehicles crash into buildings and people, reducing the population again. Governments and infrastructure crumble, leading to anarchy as the rule of civilization dissolves. Food, gas, medicine, and electricity become luxuries as the factories and power plants which supplied them fall out of use, leading to mass starvation and death by disease.

The environment takes a hit with each loss as well. Fires rage from the plane and vehicle crashes; rains erode the carefully maintained terraces on farms and in parks, or lead to floods from dams that overflow with no one to open the channels that will send the water to other areas in a controlled manner. Pets starve when their owners don’t return to feed them, zoo animals die without the care of their handlers, as do animals in farms, labs, and animal shelters worldwide.

“But that’s not what killing eighty or ninety percent of the human race would do!” some cry. They are correct; wiping out more than fifty percent of the global population would make things worse. Entire cities would be fit only for ghosts, and the remaining people would not get to live in mansions with free Wi-Fi, running water, and endless supplies of food. They would have to go out and live in the heat and the cold, hunting and gathering and dying like their ancient ancestors did.

From what we see in both Endgame trailers, this has already happened. Clint is out killing Yakuza who have moved into the power vacuum in a city somewhere, while a refugee camp has been established around the Statue of Liberty, probably by the Avengers. They almost certainly set it up there because it was clean and provided easy access to a food source: fish, crabs, lobsters, and other sea creatures.

Thanos said he would go and watch the sun rise over a grateful universe after he had achieved his goals. But what kind of universe is thankful when half of the people that made it worth living in are turned to ash by a crazy man’s snap? The Titan is truly mad if, in the depths of his soul, he believes the cosmos is actually happy following his deeds. No platitudes of his will make up for the lost children, the vanished spouses, the beloved grandparents, or the acclaimed rulers. If Thanos were to go to New York expecting a warm welcome, he would have to powder more people as they rushed at him in a rage born of grief.

Unlike Loki, however, the Mad Titan has enough of an ego to believe that he can hear the crowds cheering from the fields of his new farm. He does not actually believe the people or the cosmos is appreciative of his actions. If he did, then he would go looking for praise. No, as Gamora said, his only love is for himself and his desires. Being alone on his farm like a“twisted Cincinnatus,” as someone said, is reward enough for his labors.

I, for one, can’t wait to see how the Avengers are going to bring him down. There is the chance that this will be the last hurrah for some of them, and if that is the case, I will be sorry to see them go – especially if they are given a poor send-off.  Or if they are replaced with lackluster characters (*cough* Carol Danvers *cough*). For the future of the Marvel Universes and audiences everywhere, I hope Endgame ends better than Infinity War did, with the team back together, the world safe, and Thanos gone for good.

Well, readers, it’s been a fantastic ten years of cinema. And it has to be said that, without them, I would not be here at Thoughts writing to all of you. It’s been a fun ride. I have no idea where things are going to go from here, but I know that everything leading up to this point has been great.

Until next time, readers:

Avengers, Assemble!

Avengers Endgame : la bande-annonce est enfin là, préparez ...

Avengers: Infinity War – A Review, Part 1

How Avengers 4 Is and Isn't Infinity War Part 2

Wow. I knew going in that this film would be intense, but… Whoa…

Yes, I know that I am very late in reviewing this movie. However, this blogger needed to process a lot of what she had seen in order to write a cogent analysis of the film. It’s not much of an excuse for leaving you hanging, readers, but it’s the truth. I had to do a lot of thinking about this film. It’s dense and not for the faint of heart.

This was a great movie. But there were some small items which bothered me while watching the film. These will be discussed today, while the more enjoyable aspects of the movie will be addressed later on.

Because Thanos got most of the screen time here (arrrgh!), I cannot do the characterization posts I enjoyed writing for Age of Ultron and Civil War. He took up too much screen time for more than a couple of the heroes to really stand out. So these reviews are probably going to just be lists of things I enjoyed/noticed in the film which point to the true, the good, and the beautiful.

All right, with that said, now it is time to get down to “tacks of brass” and tell you what I disliked about this movie. Most of these are minor quibbles, really; they do not detract from the film in any major way. But they were kind of annoying.

The first thing I had real trouble buying was Loki’s decision to save Thor after he told Thanos he could kill the King of Thunder. Someone who watched the film with me reminded this blogger that Loki wants to kill his brother himself, and it has to be said that there is some part of the Trickster which may be redeemable. There is good in him – somewhere. Still, although we saw that goodness on display more in Ragnarok than we have in prior installments, I’m not sure this film gave the transition proper justice. They didn’t do badly, but they might have been able to do better.

My next problem came with Pepper. As we see at the beginning of this movie, she is still trying to get Tony to abandon being Iron Man. My response to this is no, No, and NO!!! Good grief, what happened to the Pepper from The Avengers? The one who, like Penelope of old, understood that Tony had a responsibility to protect the Earth, not just himself and her? This selfish twit is a pale shadow of the Pepper Potts we saw in The Avengers and I AM NOT PLEASED WITH HER!!!

What Tony comes to realize here, and what Pepper has forgotten as of this movie, is Spider-Man’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Tony was not the first superhero, true, but the fact is that after he became Iron Man, he became accountable for more than himself. It is his job to defend America specifically and Earth as a whole from threats foreign and domestic.

Epicstream

If she truly loves Tony, then Pepper will have to learn to love all of him – including his alter ego. Despite what she and he (to a lesser degree) seem to think, the two are not separable; he is both Iron Man and Tony Stark. For him to abandon that responsibility destroys a good part of his identity.

This leads us, neatly enough, to my problem with Hawkeye’s mention in the movie. Believe it or not, I can actually handle the fact that he does not appear in Infinity War. It is disappointing but understandable; with all the other people running around in this film, the odds of him getting decent – if brief – screen time were pretty darn slim. So while I missed him, his lack of presence here was not the problem.

No, my problem was that the writers had him take a deal from the government. What the Sam Hill….? That makes no sense. None. I can see why they would need to do this for Scott Lang, given the plot for Ant-Man and the Wasp, but not for Hawkeye. Knowledge of Scott’s family is a matter of public record. There was no way for him to take Cassie, his ex-wife, and her new husband into hiding. In order to see his daughter in a safe, meaningful way, he would have had to capitulate and take a deal. This is why it makes perfect sense for Scott to be under house arrest in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

It does not make ANY sense for Hawkeye to be under house arrest during Infinity War, which is where Widow says he is. The whole point of Clint’s rebelling against the Accords was to protect his family, to keep them secret. That’s why he smacked the bars on his cell after Tony opened his big fat mouth in the Raft. The absolute last thing he would do would be to sign a deal with the government which kept him under house arrest, since this requires the government to look in him and his family regularly, just as they did with Scott.

Clint made it abundantly clear in Age of Ultron that he wanted knowledge of his family to stay off the record. Even after Tony blabbed about his family, it would have been more sensible (and easier) for Hawkeye and the Secret Avengers to keep his wife and children hidden. All they would have to do was move his family to a new location, either in the U.S. or by seeking asylum in Wakanda. Without a way to track Clint or the Secret Avengers, the government could not use the Barton family as bargaining chips. This would have at least enabled Clint to “retire” with them in relative safety and comfort, if not continue his Avenging career with the rest of the anti-Accords gang every now and then.

For the writers to subvert Clint’s choice like this really bugs me. It also contradicts his previous portrayal and plays directly into the stereotypical trap that Pepper has fallen into. Clint Barton is a father and a husband first and foremost, yes, but if he wants to keep his family’s lives secure, he has avoid letting the government know about them at the least. There are no two ways about this and the writers should have handled it better than they did.

New Avengers: Infinity War trailer knows that Black ...

One of my other issues with the film came at the end of the story, when the “Snapture” begins to take a universal effect. Most of the unnamed people who are erased in Wakanda are guys. It appears from the camera shots that almost all of the Dora Milaje – T’Challa’s bodyguard and ceremonial wives’ corps – are left standing. I guess the writers and directors figured they wouldn’t be able to get past the Hollywoond censors if they wiped out half the women warriors in Wakanda.

Personally, I think erasing Okoye rather than T’Challa might have made more sense to the narrative and had more of an impact on audiences. But, heck, what do I know? I’m just a fan.

Another point of contention I have with the film is Thanos’ sacrifice of Gamora to gain the Soul Stone. The idea, as expressed in the film, that this works because he “loves” her is…sticky in one sense but, in another, it works pretty well. As Gamora herself says, what Thanos feels for her is not true love. He loves her as a reflection of his own brilliance and glory, not for herself. Technically, because he does not truly love Gamora, throwing her off a cliff to her death should not “earn” him the Soul Stone.

On the other hand the Stone may not be able to determine the difference between real love and selfish love. It may recognize and respond to either type, or just to the fact that a soul has been offered to it. Any one of these three things could make it acquiesce to being taken by the sacrificer. There is no clarification given in the movie for how this works, though, so viewers don’t know which it is for certain.

My final complaints about the film were the three-on-one fight with Proxima Midnight and the scene where Gamora cries after she thinks she has killed Thanos. In a way, both of these things make sense. But the method in which they were accomplished left something to be desired for this viewer.

We will deal with the cat fight first. It has been shown throughout this film franchise that the male Avengers are naturally chivalrous. They tend to go easy on their female opponents. This is demonstrated best in Civil War when Scott Lang/Ant-Man sheepishly admits that he doesn’t want to hurt Natasha, who promptly does a number on him. Therefore, if you want a no-holds-barred fight with Proxima Midnight, sending the Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff, and Okoye after the leader of the Black Order means there will be no need to tear off the kid gloves.

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The quandary comes in the portrayal of Okoye and Natasha’s trading nods like equals. As far as we have seen, here and in previous films, the two have never met or spent much time together. These slight nods that hint at a friendship between the two therefore have no weight, since we never saw them together before this film came out.

More importantly, Natasha and Okoye are not equals. Okoye is a general, a soldier. War is her business and her element, as shown in Black Panther. The woman practically lives for the thrill of battle.

In contrast, Natasha is a super spy. She was raised to be a solo operative who got in and out of areas and scenarios no one else could. Subterfuge is her expertise and her greatest weapon, even now. Fighting alongside the Avengers does not make her a soldier, since as Tony said in The Avengers, they ARE NOT soldiers. They are, rather, para-military commandos. A situation arises, the Avengers ride in, dispatch the bad guys, pull the plug on their evil scheme(s), and go home. That is it.

Even when they end up in situation like that seen at the start of Age of Ultron, the team is operating in the manner that Special Forces units do. The field of combat there may be wider than the one Natasha was accustomed to when working for the KGB and SHIELD, but in form it is not that different. When she is in the field with the Avengers she is doing what she has always done the way that she has always done it.

Avengers: Infinity War 4k Ultra HD Wallpaper and ...

As we saw in Black Panther, Okoye has very little patience for the arts of subtlety and guile. She can’t keep up a cover identity for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, tops. Unlike the patient Widow spinning a web to ensnare a foe, Okoye is a tigress who hunts in the open because she revels in the fear she inspires in her opponents. The two are nothing alike, and to suggest that they are in any way similar through these minute gestures was a stupid move on the part of the writers. It completely upset the tempo of the otherwise magnificent fight with Proxima.

Finally, we come to Gamora crying over Thanos. While it is true that she hates Thanos for everything he did to her and everything he made her become, the fact is that she does share a relationship with him. In a twisted, dark way she owes him her life. There is no way for Gamora to really escape that fact, even though she wishes she could. This scene also makes it clear that she sincerely pities the Mad Titan for his blindness to real love and beauty. It makes total sense that she would start crying after “killing” him.

What does not make sense is that she didn’t see through his Reality Stone ruse. Nor does it make sense for her to break down so completely in this moment. And as an assassin, she ought to know that it is better to mourn in private, after she has made sure her target is really dead. The fact that she falls apart here shows she is letting her feelings rule her.

This is a weakness she cannot afford in this war, but which she gives into anyway. While it is understandable and excusable from our point of view, it is neither within the context of the story. Her breakdown here was more than a little annoying for that reason. The universe is at stake and yet she stops to fall on her knees and cry over Thanos? Doesn’t it make more sense to do that in her room AFTER she is sure that the universe is safe and daddy’s not coming back to kill half the cosmic population? *Sigh….*

These are, as I noted above, very small nitpicks with this film. On the whole, this movie is fantastic!!! And with Avengers: Endgame set to be released in April/May of this year, we won’t have that much longer to wait until we know how it all ends. Here’s hoping it is one of those finales where, as Samwise Gamgee’s gaffer would say, “…all’s well as ends better!”

‘Til next week – Avengers, Assemble!

Transformers: The Last Knight – A Review

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Yeah, yeah, I know, this review is waaay past a day late and a dollar short. But I have been busy, and the film was so poorly reviewed that watching it as soon as it hit DVD was not a priority for this blogger. Not until a friend decided to see it and asked that I join in to watch the (hopefully) entertaining film.

*Sigh.* Mi compadre liked the film; I have mixed feelings about it. There were elements/characters/scenes of The Last Knight which I enjoyed, and then there were things I did not like. I will list the problem parts to get them over and done with quickly before mentioning the positive aspects of the movie:

Problem #1: The Plot – As one reviewer said, if you want to watch this movie, enjoy the robot fight scenes and forget about the plot. Even I, a relatively well-informed Transformers fan who kept (most of) the plot for this film clear, found it switchbacked and retread ground too often. It’s like three or four of the seven people writing this story left in elements from one another’s original script when they should have excised or changed them. There is too much going on that either happens too fast or occurs too slowly.

Problem #2: Not Enough Optimus Prime and Bad Brainwashing – In a continuation of the modern trend to delegitimize heroes Optimus Prime, the noble leader and the father figure in the Autobot faction, gets brainwashed temporarily into attacking and killing some of his allies. Obviously, I didn’t like his being brainwashed to begin with, but I could have handled that if the filmmakers had at least convinced me that he was being influenced by another’s will after enduring severe torture.

However, from what little we see of Optimus before the end of the movie, it looks more like the villainess of the film just talks him into being bad. Having the good guys snap him out of it fast is fine, but how about a little lead up to his being mind-controlled? The Avengers had a MacGuffin (the Mind Stone) which allowed for instantaneous brainwashing, but the bad girl in Last Knight is only shown beating up on Optimus twice. Bottom line, we didn’t see enough of Optimus in this movie, and most of what we did see was negative in the extreme. That’s an automatic demerit in my book.

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Problem #3: Too Much Foul Language – Truth be told, this has been one of my main problems with the Transformers films from the get-go, along with the oversexualization of the main female characters. While Last Knight dropped the more explicit sex stuff, almost everyone in the film had a potty mouth, with the worst offender being Anthony Hopkins.

This is why the Transformers movies rank at the bottom of my entertainment media. The franchise started life as an innocent children’s show, and even in its darker TV incarnations, it isn’t anywhere near this foul. I have never understood, from the POV of a Transformers fan, why the writers decided to sexualize the franchise and allow the characters – human or not – to be foul-mouthed twerps. It’s like they cannot believe anyone would take a film like this seriously unless the humans in it were screaming epithets or hooking up every five scenes.

Hello, bozos, this was a children’s franchise!!! You should have been aiming to please the PG-13 to G rated audience. So what if the critics carp about the films being unrealistic? They are not and never were the ones you had to please to sell your product. Why can’t you respect Transformers fans as much as the guys running Marvel Studios have respected theirs?

Yes, I know this is a relatively useless aside, readers. But I have been holding that paragraph in for years. It is past time I let it out – and it feels soooo good to have done it at last!

Problem #4: Merlin as a Joke and Stanley Tucci Needs a Better Agent – Seriously, the best part I have ever seen Tucci play was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Every time I see him in a new film, he is either playing a foul-mouthed jerk or a washed-up annoyance. He should fire his agent or choose better parts.

Yes, it is true that Merlin appears in The Last Knight, which decided that tying the Transformers to the Pyramids and the moon landings wasn’t enough. Now they have to go back and add Tranformers to the Legends of King Arthur, since mankind is apparently too stupid to figure out knighthood on his own. Rather than being a wise, powerful, and benevolent magician, Merlin is portrayed in the beginning of this film as a drunk and a charlatan. Thanks but no thanks, Hasbro; I like my Merlin to be a respectable magician, not a souse. Go beg for someone else’s money.

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Problem #5: Quintessa as Transformer Goddess – Okay, first off, the Quintessons were aliens opposed to BOTH races of Transformers in the original stories, and it was their homeworld which was called Quintessa. Now we get this film revamp where there is only one Quintesson – a female, at that – who claims to be the Transformers’ deity, when even in the previous films it was the Transformers’ deity Primus that made the Autobots and Decepticons? *Author pinches nose and sighs.* Can someone please stop the revisionist train so I can get off now?

Problem #6: Rewriting the Timeline – It’s not as if the films’ series of events was hard to keep track of before the writers decided to redo everything from the ground up. What exactly is the purpose of re-aligning a timeline that you have practically killed already? Your circular logic is giving me a headache, Hollywood!

Problem #7: Planet-wide Devastation? You went with that trope AGAIN?!?! – In this film, the destruction of the moon and many major population centers really hits home in a bad way. Like the X-Men films, this movie focuses on nihilism and despair; although the heroes win in the end, the enormous loss of life and near global destruction makes their victory a Pyrrhic triumph. They lose more than they save – the film ends with more torn up cities, more catastrophic human body counts, and irreparable damage done to the face of the Earth.

This is another problem I have with the TF film franchise. Heroes in most stories always try to minimize the damage the bad guys inflict on innocent civilians. It is a mainstay of the Avengers films AND the Transformers TV shows. The fact that Hollywood has most of the Autobot/Decepticon confrontations occur in large population centers, where they make sure to show massive devastation and imply great loss of life, is directly anathema to the franchise’s roots. The Autobots are supposed to care about and work hard to protect humans, but the films never really demonstrate this – and, in a couple of cases, they directly oppose the idea. This is probably due to the filmmakers’ desire to make the movie franchise “more realistic” than the TV shows.

I’m sorry, but since when were we supposed to take ANYTHING in a movie seriously?! Films are supposed to be a form of escape wherein we (the audience) are encouraged to reach for heights of grace and heroism by following the example(s) of the hero(es). They are not and should not be used as vehicles for nihilism. If that is all you want to feed us in theaters, Hasbro, then you can kiss my money and precious time good-bye. There are much better things for me to spend both those things on.

Okay, with these seven big complaints covered, I can expound on what actually made this film worth my time. Most of the reason I was able to sit through this movie was Mark Walhberg’s performance as Cade Yeager. Whether you love Walhberg or not, the fact is that he did an excellent job in this film. He sold the audience on the idea that he was talking to living, thirty foot tall robots and not tennis balls on sticks. The scenes where he deals with the Autobots under his command/care are the closest this film comes to touching on why children around the world love the Transformers TV franchise(s).

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His character, Cade, has also softened somewhat since we saw him in Age of Extinction. (You can read my review of that film here, if you would like.) Watching this movie, you can almost feel the brotherly camaraderie he has come to share with the Autobots, especially Bee. His relationship with Optimus gets short shrift in this film, but that’s the fault of the writers, not Walhberg. Cade’s transformation (pun not intended) from down-on-his-luck-independent-inventor to trigger-happy Autobot ally and fugitive doesn’t feel particularly forced, either. He is doing what he needs to do to help the Autobots survive until Optimus returns and he will not let anyone – human or Decepticon – dissuade him from his purpose.

Once again, he gives us very few screaming and “freak out” moments than we saw in the previous movies, where Shia Labeuf was always having panic attacks during a battle. The gentleness and compassion he shows to a dying Cybertronian knight in the beginning of the film is especially touching. It cannot have been an easy scene to film, either, given that Wahlberg was probably talking to a lump of plastic and a green screen.

This leads to another great aspect of Cade’s character in the film: the title Last Knight is not a reference to Optimus Prime, but to Cade Yeager. The knightly attributes which allow Cade to help save the world become more and more obvious as the film progresses. It is really nice to finally have a “chaste” character in one of these movies, even though it is too little, too late. Walhberg pulls off a splendid performance here. I have virtually no complaints about his acting, even when he has to use foul language. Given the rest of his presentation, I can put up with that relatively easily.

In a similar vein, the two girls who appear in the film are not tarts used to titilate/“intrigue” the audience. But while the fourteen year old girl (Izabella) is fun, adding depth to Cade’s character and touching on the childhood wonder of the Transformers, I am not exactly sure her presence was truly needed to complete the film. She wasn’t a bad character, but I do not think she was necessary for the story to work.

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The adult woman in the story, Vivian, has the second-worst potty mouth in the film. Though she is (thankfully) not a trollop, she is a jerk with a chip on her shoulder. It is made abundantly clear from her first appearance onward that she hates men. Normally, that would grate on my nerves and, while I am not fond of her, it was really nice to FINALLY have a female jerk in a Transformers film who did most of the screaming. This meant that I could easily accept her; in a real situation where humans meet thirty foot tall mechanical humanoids, I am fairly sure it would be the women freaking out more often than the men.

Another nice touch to her character is that she is an Oxford professor. While Izabella is given the position of mechanic-in-training, the writers somehow got it into their heads that Vivian should not be mechanically savvy. (YAY!) While Vivian is a fighter, she is not a terribly great one. It is nice to see a strong woman who is rather pathetic at physical combat but who nevertheless has a will of steel. I will take a feminist Oxford professor who fights hard but improperly, who is fluent in medieval languages, and who knows history over the faux Amazonian stereotype any day.

That reminds me, one of the best things about the addition of Vivian to this film is a brief spat she and Cade share in Hopkins’ manor house. Having been “kidnapped” by a young Autobot on Hopkins’ orders so that she can help save the day, Vivian is not in a good mood when the explainations begin. She becomes especially upset when she sees her world-saving partner is a male American fugitive. Vivian tries to slap Cade down at once but he bites back at her, criticizing her education and her dress. “Well, then, perhaps you would like it better if I took [the dress] off?” she snaps waspishly. Clearly, Vivian is expecting Cade to become embarrassed by her retort and to stutter a rejection, giving her leverage against him.

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You can see that he almost falls for the bait – almost. To my infinite delight, Cade instead does a quick one-eighty degree turn and says, “Yes [I would].” He doesn’t actually mean it; if you look at him closely, you can see he is worried that she might carry out her threat to undress in front of everybody. But his decision not to accept Vivian’s abuse quietly leaves her gaping and temporarily at a loss for words. It was probably the best scene in the movie! 😀

This scene is also important because, as she continues to verbally spar with Cade, Vivian starts to grow and change. Cade’s continuous refusal to take her vocal mistreatment makes her soften; she becomes less abrasive and demonstrates more feminine characteristics the longer they work together. In a fascinating reversal of Hollywood trends, Cade is allowed to be a “manly man” and Vivian is allowed to become a real woman. She is not the Femi-Nazi, faux Amazon warrior we are fed too often these days in modern fiction, which is a really nice change – especially for a Transformers film.

Cade and Vivian’s character arcs, while slow, were the best in the film. Bumblebee was good and even Hot Rod, a franchise character I despise, was fun. (Can we get his time gun for the Avengers? They could really use a gizmo like while fighting Thanos!) Seeing so many Autobots hidden around the world was really nice, too, since we got brief glimpses of more Transformers as characters, not just gimmicks. It was a surprisingly touching addition to the film.

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Another nice thing about it was having Josh Duhamel return as Colonel Lennox. (His comment about lawyers and Decepticons was a scream!) He pulled off the weary soldier act very well; my only complaint is that he wasn’t given as much of a chance to show his faith in the Autobots as Cade was. Hopkins’ Transformer butler Cogman was fun, too, if a little foul. The “kidnapping” of Vivian by Hot Rod was a good scene as well.

This is all I can really think of to praise the film for, which isn’t much. As my list of complaints at the top of this post made clear, this movie really isn’t recommended. But that has less to do with the actors’ performances and more to do with the way the story was executed. I will probably watch this film again in the future at some point. But when I do, there will be a lot of scenes I skip, since most of the ones I liked had Cade in them. The rest of the show can go hang; Cade is the star attraction this go around, with Bumblebee a close second.

This is my opinion of Transformers: The Last Knight. It isn’t anywhere near as palatable as Age of Extinction, but it is an improvement over the first three films, and that says a lot about the quality of those movies. There is also some genuine character growth for the humans here, which is a nice change. If none of this makes you want to see Last Knight, though, don’t worry – I understand completely. That’s why I wrote this review; The Mithril Guardian is watching out for you, so that you don’t have to watch bad entertainment to learn something good from it. 😉

‘Til next time, readers – “Autobots, roll out!”

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Penelope – A Review

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Last year at some point, a friend happened to turn on the tag end of the film Penelope. Though convinced to watch the next running of the show, I was less than enthusiastic about it. Too often films have a premise that sounds interesting, only to devolve into lectures on how we should despair, kick the bucket, or otherwise lie down and die. (Yeah, not my fictional forte, thank you very much.)

Anyway, I sat down to watch Penelope, and soon ate my thoughts about how bad this movie was going to be.

Penelope is a fairytale. It starts back in the nineteenth century, when the heir to a rich or “blue blood” family has a fling with one of the servants. She ends up pregnant and he declares to his family his intention to marry her. Well, the family “soon shows him how silly this idea” is and he marries a different woman, a rich heiress and fellow blue blood. Heartbroken, the serving girl kills herself and their baby. The young woman’s mother, a witch, curses the family in a bout of vengeful fury, promising that the first daughter born to this family of “blue bloods” will have the ears and nose of a pig.

No one really pays attention to the curse, mostly because the family line is passed down through the men after this happens. Then a perfectly normal, healthy girl is born in the family in about the 1940s. So much for that curse, right?

Eh, not exactly. Turns out the mother had an affair on the side, and so the girl was not actually related to her “father.”

Then we come to the modern day, when Penelope is born. She is, technically, the firstborn daughter in the family since it was hexed. And she has the ears and nose of a pig, just like the witch promised.

Both Penelope’s parents are upset by this turn of events, but her mother takes it far worse than her father. She goes to extremes to protect Penelope from the nosy press, blinding a reporter (played by Peter Dinklage) in one eye when he hides in the house and tries to snap a photo of her and her daughter. In order to put a stop to all the spying, Penelope’s mother fakes her daugher’s death, going so far as to cremate her coffin in order to make the swarm of reporters leave them alone. Far-fetched as this plan may seem, it actually works. The reporters disperse and the family becomes reclusive after their daughter’s “death.”

However, none of this eases the mother’s fears that someone will discover her daughter is still alive. So like Rapunzel in her tower, Penelope is raised inside her palatial house for the next twenty years or so. She is not even allowed on the mansion’s grounds; her mother has pictures in her windows of day and night skies complete with hillsides and flowers, so she can see something other than the backyard every morning and every evening. Penelope has never been outside the house for more than a few minutes during her entire life.

Penelope’s mother has placed all her bets on the promise of a cure for the curse; her daughter will have the nose and ears of a pig until a “blue blood” accepts her as one of their own – i.e., until a boy from “old money” marries her. To that end, her mother hires a professional matchmaker after training Penelope in all the arts of being a suitable bride from the time she can toddle.

When her daughter reaches marriageable age, suitors are called into an empty room with a mirror above the fireplace. This mirror is a one way window; Penelope stands on the other side and talks to the suitor, who cannot see through the mirror. After the beau of the day has finished proposing his undying love for her, Penelope leaves her secret room to talk to him directly.

Every one of her suitors runs off in fright when they see her pig nose (her hair hides her ears). They jump out of the second floor window or they run out the front door in an attempt to escape her. The family’s butler has to chase them down and drag them back to the house after this so they can sign a non-disclosure agreement, keeping Penelope’s secret. Then the whole process begins again the next day.

But one day the butler is not fast enough to catch an escaping suitor, who blabs about Penelope to the whole world. Everyone laughs at him, of course, except for Peter Dinklage’s reporter. He has never seen Penelope’s face, but he does not believe the story that she died and was cremated. He also holds a personal grudge against her mother for blinding him in one eye.

So with this suitor’s haphazard help, Dinklage hires the down-on-his-luck son of a “blue blood” (James McAvoy) to go see Penelope and secretly take a photo of her. What no one counts on, however, is the young man actually falling in love with her through their mirror conversations.

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Penelope eventually leaves her secret room to see how he will react to her face-to-face. He does not run away like the others until he triggers the hidden camera on his person. But even that would not be enough to dissuade the smitten Penelope, proved when she begs him to marry her and lift the curse.

For a long, heartbreaking moment, her knight in shining armor stares at her. You can see he wants to say yes, that he does love her in spite of the curse. But something makes him say he cannot marry her, though it is obvious he really, truly wants to do so.

The rest of the story you will have to discover yourselves, readers. I have spoiled the first twenty to thirty minutes here already. Before I go I have to say that the acting in this film is superb. This has to be one of McAvoy’s best performances – better than his Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and far above his version of Professor X. (I say that because the X-Men movies are lousy, not as an attack on Mr. McAvoy.)

Most modern film fairytales are goofy and generally ruin or mock the genre. Penelope does not do that. It wears its fairytale label proudly, in my opinion, refusing to bow to the critics who try to make us think children’s stories are fluff and nonsense. It tells a great story which “kids from one to ninety-two” can enjoy and love. Even if romance films are not your thing, I think you ought to at least try Penelope. I did and, not only did I live to tell the tale, but I actually liked it and want to (someday) add it to my film collection.

Watch Penelope at your next opportunity, readers. It won’t kill you. ;P

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Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno – A Documentary

“A true warrior does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” (G.K. Chesterton)

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Twentieth century Westerns were not my only film fare growing up, readers. I saw a lot of World War II movies as well. The Longest Day, Sands of Iwo Jima, and many others played across my parents’ television screen when I was young. The films taught me to love and respect America and the Americans that make up our military better than any speech or essay could have.

I loved watching these World War II films. The sense of unity, of purpose, the will to fight and defeat evil, thrilled me. But after 9/11, I learned that the modern world was nothing like the one I saw in those movies about the “Greatest Generation.” It has taken me long years of study to learn how the “Greatest Generation” turned into the generation which protested the Vietnam War, but I am no longer confused about the gap and the change in the way that I once was.

By this circuitous route, we come to the subject of today’s post, the EWTN documentary Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno. Fr. Capodanno was a Catholic priest and Navy chaplain during Vietnam. He did not begin his ministry in the Navy; in fact, joining the military was the furthest thing from his mind when he entered the Maryknoll seminary in New York at the age of twenty.

Inspired as a boy by the stories of martyred missionaries who had left Maryknoll to preach to the Chinese, Fr. Capodanno entered the seminary and was ordained a priest. He was sent to Taiwan for some years, returning home to visit his family after that missionary stint. To his dismay, he learned his next assignment would not be back in his beloved Taiwan but in Hong Kong, which was not then part of Red China.

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Desperate to return to Taiwan, Fr. Capodanno wrote letters to his superiors asking to be transferred there or to be sent home for another assignment somewhere else. He continued to do this even after his requests were rejected. So it was with some surprise that his superiors received an abrupt, new request from the priest: he suddenly wanted to become a Navy chaplain, and he wanted to be assigned to the Marines serving in the jungles of Vietnam.

Well, any request to go to Vietnam would be surprising back in the ‘60s, when the War was being manhandled by politicians and protested vigorously by the academics, the media, and their unfortunate cohorts of young believers across U.S. campuses. Nevertheless, Fr. Capodanno’s new request was granted and he underwent a year of chaplain’s training before being assigned to the Marines. He died in combat September 4, 1967, giving the Last Rites to the Marines who died when his division was ambushed by the Viet Cong.

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I will not spoil any more of the documentary for you, readers. You can find it on DVD through EWTN, Amazon, or Ignatius Press. Toward the end of the film, I had to sniff a lot to keep from crying. Fr. Capodanno’s story of love and sacrifice is moving on its own, but that is only part of the reason why this blogger had to hold back tears.

You see, even when I did not understand the stories about Vietnam completely, I did realize that the men who had served in that war were different than the “Greatest Generation.” Slowly, by degrees, I began to comprehend how they were abused by the public after they came home.

What really stymied me, however, was why they were treated like this. Referring back to the top of this article, you will recall my mention of movies about World War II. Several of these were made before the War had even ended, yet our soldiers who were fighting overseas were being cheered to the echo nonetheless. We didn’t know for a while there whether or not we would win, but the movies of that era never wavered in their morale-boosting narrative that victory was within our grasp.

The incongruence between the lionization of the “Greatest Generation” and the attacks on the Vietnam generation made so little sense to me that I did not pay very much attention to it for quite some time. Learning more about Vietnam over the years, though, I cannot convey in words the profundity of my ire for the academic/journalistic complex who mistreated our men when they came home, nor for the politicians who seized on their narrative in order to remain in power.

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Now, of course, some of you will start yelling about the politics and the reasons why the Vietnam War was wrong. The politicians and people in charge of fighting the Viet Cong did not run the war effort well, I grant you; I believe a number of them actually wanted us to lose it. Their “mistakes” also gave the academics and journalists ample opportunity to attack and demoralize our military, making matters even worse. But none of this means the War itself was wrong.

More to the point, to borrow Fr. Capodanno’s answer to those who challenged him about the War’s politics, the affairs of state were no excuse to abuse our returning veterans. Our men were fighting, bleeding, and dying in Vietnam’s jungles. They were far from home, in a place they didn’t want to be, fighting for a cause no one clearly explained (the defeat of the Communists in Vietnam to preserve freedom there and in the rest of the world).

Yet the populace who should have respected them for their sacrifice was encouraged – nay, goaded – into treating them like trash when they came back. Our men returning from the Hell that was Vietnam were subsequently hounded and derided as cowards, monsters, and demons when they came home.

They were told they were more hideous than the enemy that tortured, maimed, and killed their brothers. They were told that they were worse than the Communists who used women and children as human shields, that they were as evil and cruel as the beasts who used children as suicide bombers, spies, and soldiers. They were treated as ticking time bombs that might go postal on innocent bystanders at any moment because they had been to Vietnam, where you could not tell who was friend and who was foe. They returned from hell to face a new hell; a hell where their families, friends, neighbors, and total strangers tortured them with words, actions, or petulant, suspicious silence.

Never again. I never want to see this happen to our armed forces again. For the rest of my life I will read these stories, hear these tales, and watch these documentaries with tears in my eyes. Those tears will not just be for the suffering of our men and the South Vietnamese during the war. No, they will be for the treatment our men received when they came home, and for the retribution wrought by the Viet Cong on the South Vietnamese after we left them to the Communists.

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Vietnam was not a lost war. It was a war that was thrown away, the one war where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – we, who had saved the world in World War II, threw away a war we had won! “When I went under, the world was at war,” Cap said in The Avengers. “I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

We lost a lot. We lost a whole hell of a lot, readers. And we lost it because we threw it away.

The sense of shame I feel for what we did to our military and the South Vietnamese becomes so intense at times that it almost makes me physically sick. They did not deserve this abuse – not a one of them earned it. We went from a nation of heroes – a nation with “the Greatest Generation” – to a nation of indecisive cowards in the space of twenty years.

Never again, readers. We cannot – we must not – let this happen ever again.

When you watch the documentary, you will see that Fr. Capodanno understood what I am telling you right now. The Grunt Padre, as his Marines affectionately dubbed him, died making sure his men were safe. In a time when the American people largely regarded them as no less evil than the Communists they fought, one Navy chaplain made a difference by treating the Marines under his care as the human beings they were. You cannot listen to a description of his life in Vietnam and not consider him a hero, readers. Hero is too small a word to encapsulate what Fr. Capodanno did for these men – far too small.

I hope you get the chance to watch this documentary. At some point, I also hope to read and review the book about Fr. Capodanno, called The Grunt Padre, so I can learn more about this chaplain I admire so much. Knowing how much Fr. Capodanno did for those Marines lifts some of the guilt from my shoulders. It is good to know that not everyone in the U.S. hated the military during Vietnam; that there were those who treated our men with the honor, respect, and the love they deserved even when doing so was not popular.

It also firms my determination never to fall into the trap so many others landed in during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Attack the U.S. military at your own peril here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever, readers. You will find that I do not accept such assaults. Period.

In closing I leave you with this video of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Hymn –

And with the prayer that God will bless you, the United States military, and the United States of America for many more years to come.

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Wind River – A Review

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For the most part, there is a general rule I have about films: I watch them (or their trailers) before I buy them. The last thing I want is to spend money on a film only to find out it is not worth the powder to dispose of it. Sometimes, however, I end up breaking my own rule. It is usually pretty bad when I do not like said film myself, but when I buy it as a present for someone else and we both have problems with it – oh, the mortification!

To be fair, Wind River is a good movie. It’s just not great. I will take on the plot deficits first to get the negativity out of the way before I get to the positive, because there IS a positive here. It just does not make my overeager mistake any less embarassing.

With few exceptions, modern Westerns do not excite or interest me. This is because it has been obvious for years now that Hollywood no longer respects or loves the Western; they mock the genre in general. Nevertheless, whenever I hear about a new “Western” coming out, my ears prick up and I pay attention. It does not usually take more than one viewing of the film’s trailer for me to decide whether or not the “Western” in question is a movie I want to watch.

This also explains why Wind River slipped past my defenses; I never really saw the trailers for the film. I read the description for it months after it came out (took that long for someone to actually write a proper report about it), and it sounded interesting, almost like an extended episode of Longmire. That is an impressive series which I can no longer watch and so, with this in mind, I got the film for a friend as a Christmas gift.

For the most part, I would say we were impressed with it. But there were problems with the story. If you do not want any spoilers for the movie, sorry, you are getting them. Here we go:

The premise for Wind River is that an Arapaho Indian girl is found raped and frozen to death out on the Wind River Reservation by a Fish and Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner). This brings up bad memories for him, since his own daughter died similarly three years ago. Plus, the current dead girl was his daughter’s best friend. So we have a one-two gut punch here, and a pretty compelling one at that; so far, so good.

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He alerts the Reservation police to his discovery and they call in the FBI. In their typically abstract, disinterested fashion, the Feds send in a young inexperienced agent from their Nevada office (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the girl’s death. Having recently transferred there from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Olsen’s character is far from prepared to deal with the Wyoming spring. They take her out and show her the body after getting her warm clothes. Once at the scene Renner’s character, Cory Lambert, positively identifies the dead girl (again).

Now we come to the disappointing parts of the film. One recurring difficulty in the movie was that the actors and actresses tended to speak Soto Voce. It meant we had to dial the sound up way too high for comfort to hear them, and even then they were hard to understand. Then we have the villains, identified as “oil field trash,” who are guarding a couple of nearby rigs which have been shut down.

This was a big, BIG sticking point for me and my friend. I knew of the plot point going in, and though it stuck in my craw, I was willing to watch the film anyway. My friend is more accustomed to the demonization of oil field workers than I am, so that was not mi compadre’s main difficulty with that part of the film (though it was still irritating). No, what got my amigo here was something else entirely.

During an after-film discussion, my friend explained that once oil rigs are started, they do not shut down until the rig strikes oil or gas. Only after this is it shut down and then dismantled to be moved to a different site or stored inactive for use at a future time and place. Drilling rigs are generally owned by third parties, who rent or lease them to a company or other corporate entity for the obvious purpose of drilling for and finding oil or natural gas. From the time the rigs are under contract, they cost everyone involved in running them constantly. This is whether they are moved from storage to active site, active site to active site, or from active site to storage. Lease or rent is due and payable, active or idle, by whatever entity is using the rig. Thus these rigs would not be set up, ready to go, and standing idle.

Yet in Wind River, this is exactly what is going on. There is no reason given for the rigs’ deactivation and there should be. Real rigs are run through rain, sleet, snow, or shine, in Wyoming and elsewhere. To have these two turned off on an active site for as long as the story implies is assinine because it would never happen in real life. Two idle rigs standing so close together anywhere in the world today is yet another affront to reality.

The next hitch with the story was the fact that none of the culprits scarpered after killing the dead girl’s boyfriend (guess why she was running away that night). They also all come back from town drunk on their snowmobiles. Uh, what? None of them have cars or trucks? None of them, after awakening from their drunken stupor, realize, “Oh bleep, we just killed a guy” and run for the border?

Yeah, right. One or two might have been stupid enough or mean enough to stick around and try to cover up the murder and the rape, but not the whole crew. Most people scram when they realize they have murdered someone, unintentionally or not. That did not happen in this story, and it should have.

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Next we have the O.K. Corral style standoff at the oil rigs. I can actually buy Olsen’s character getting everyone killed. It is (a) a typical, by-the-book rookie/junior mistake and (b), the Feds are all about throwing their weight around. In this case, they had Olsen’s character at least being sincere, so I can forgive her character a little for this fisaco.

What is unforgiveable is that the writers did not let the Wyoming deputies (whom they showed were obviously aware of immanent danger) protect themselves. This could have been done by placing one or two of the deputies in trailing or flanking positions for the rest of the law enforcement guys in case a problem arose. These might be jaded, cynical cops who are too accustomed to “getting no help” on the Res from the Feds, but that does NOT make them stupid or unwilling to preserve their lives. This was just typical, annoying Hollywood disdain here.

Another drawback for the film was that there was not enough for the main characters to do. This story takes place over the course of two or three days, and in that timeframe barely anything happens. Even as I watched the movie all I could think was, “Yes, I get that you want to convey Lambert’s grief, and you’re doing it really well. But come on – add a little extra dialogue, some banter, or some movement, a little action – SOMETHING to help carry this scene forward instead of letting it drag like this…”

The other big catch with the movie was the rape scene. Placed as it was in the film, it was utterly superfluous to the story. If it was truly necessary, the place to use it was at the earliest possible point in the film for the purpose of emotional impact. Its location before the gunfight wastes the opportunity. It would also have been much simpler and better if the writer(s) had skipped this and used Lambert’s forced confession from the bad guy at the climax of the movie to tell us what happened. We would have gotten the gist of the rape scene just fine with that; there was no need to show us what happened.

The fact that the writer(s) wasted film on the rape scene means they were either trying to make a point about how evil oil workers are, or they wanted to make a statement about how bad it is for Indian girls on the Res. Thanks, but I did not need this scene to know it was bad. The dead body near the beginning was a pretty big clue (which even the FBI could not miss), that things are bad out there; the movie really did not need this scene.

Something else important which the writer(s) for the film neglected to mention is that Federal law ends at the borders of every Indian Reservation in the country. If an Indian commits a crime – any crime – and gets back to the Res before he is caught, then the Feds cannot go in to get him without securing the help of the Reservation police. Their assistance – real or otherwise – must be obtained before a Fed can set foot on a Reservation.They also cannot wander around the Res looking for the culprit alone.

Likewise, you can literally do anything on an Indian Reservation and get away with it. The Reservation police are the only law and order on the Res, and they are either spread too thin to cover all the territory or they look the other way, allowing people to get away with whatever they are doing – except in certain cases, I am sure.

Another flaw in Wind River is that Renner’s character, Lambert, is apparently the only Fish and Wildlife hunter for the Wind River Reservation and the territory surrounding Lander, Wyoming. It also appears that he goes to Pineville a lot while on the job, since he was there with his wife on the night his own daughter was raped and froze to death.

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How could this be a problem for the movie? I did not understand it, either, until my friend pulled out a map to show me that Pineville is far too out of the way for an overnight trip, which is what was implied in the film. Thermopolis or another town closer to Lander would have been a better choice because it could have been reached within the stated timeframe.

This leads to another snag in the story: who in their right mind would leave their sixteen year old daughter home alone to babysit her five year old brother for the night? These days, misbehavior on the part of minors is encouraged. It is rare for anyone to leave their children home alone like the Lamberts supposedly did in Wind River. It would have been more sensible for the writer(s) of Wind River to have the Lamberts’ daughter be out at a party which got out of hand and ended badly, or something along those lines, than what we were told in the film.

Finally, we come to the point of intensity for the film. The climax for the movie was satisfying, but not as much as it could have been. As my friend said, Wind River could have been an update of The Searchers, showing a longer search over time and giving us more of a look at Wyoming’s scenery. (My friend would really have liked to seen Wyoming shown in all her glory through the four seasons.) The bad guy Lambert eventually does in could have been responsible not only for this girl’s death, but for the death of Lambert’s daughter as well. Taking him out would thus have been far more fulfilling for everyone involved. None of this is to say that the climax was bad. It just could have been better, like the rest of the plot for the movie.

You can see now, readers, why I feel embarrassed for getting Wind River for mi compadre without watching it first. After sifting the story a little, we are not left with much more than a carapace, a shell of what could have been. I felt more than a bit mortified after the first three or four conversations we had discussing this movie.

Still, my friend insists Wind River is a good film, and I did enjoy it. We both would have liked it more if these glaring plot holes and virtue signals had been absent or mended, but on the whole we actually came to the consensus that the film deserves three stars. Why?

For one thing, the acting by every member of the cast is superb. I do not often say this about a movie – I really do not – but the acting here was just that good. I have seen both Renner and Olsen in and out of the Avengers’ franchise, although I admit that that is where I like them best.

I have seen Renner in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and in advertisements for other movies. Frankly, while I liked Ghost Protocol and thought he was good in it, his performance there did not equal his work in the MCU. In Wind River, I think he managed to up his game; if the plot had been better, I would have enjoyed his performance even more than I did.

Olsen – I saw a little of her in the Godzilla remake. Blech, I hated it – not her, the film. My revulsion for the last Godzilla movie colored my appreciation for Olsen’s acting there. Not so in Wind River. She did a very, very good job in this film. Wind River should put her on half a dozen casting call lists at least.

Graham Greene was great as the world-weary, quietly cynical, yet still friendly Reservation police chief. I hated watching him die; for a minute there, I thought he might have been spared and that the description of the film had mistakenly listed him among the dead. No such luck – dang. He was really good; too good to croak.

The rest of the cast did a great job, too, absolutely phenominal. It will not get most of them put down for casting calls, unfortunately, but the fact is they all performed well. So the acting alone lands this movie, in my opinion, two full stars. And although we did not get to see near enough of Wyoming, I liked what I did see. Chalk up another half star for that. I should probably add that the bad guy getting his just desserts gives extra weight to this half a star.

I think, personally, that the subject matter earns the second half of the third star, along with the palpable conveyance of grief and loss. Like Longmire, Wind River tackled the issues on the Res. It did not do so in the same fearless manner that the TV series did, but that is because the writer(s) for the film played by Hollywood’s rules.

Longmire did not do this, which is why it got booted to Netflix from A&E. That series stared the rampant problems on the Res in the face and made its viewers do so, too. Wind River fell short of this mark, which is sad. While it certainly showed that the Feds do not care about the Indians on the Reservations (until the next election, of course), it also made it look like the rest of the country does not care about the people on the Res, either, and that is wrong. But the fact that anyone in Hollywood was willing to come within a hair’s breadth of admitting the real troubles on the Reservations in a film is something. Maybe it will get more people to pay attention to the Res.

We can but hope. I certainly will.

So, readers, this is my opinion of Wind River. It is worth watching – but not necessarily worth buying. If you love it, flaws and all, then go ahead and buy it. I will just sit here in my corner of the Internet and continue to suffer occasional, intense bouts of buyer’s remorse.

‘Til next time. 😉

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