“Some Say Freedom is Free, but I Tend to Disagree. . .” “Thank You for Your Service” – Movie Review

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“Thank You for Your Service” is a rated R movie adaptation of David Finkel’s best seller by the same name.  The movie is produced by Jon Kilik, best known for “The Hunger Games” movies.  Executive producers are Ann Ruark and Jane Evans. This is director and screenplay writer, Jason Hall’s first entry into the directorial arena and I don’t think it will go unnoticed by the Academy. (The 90th Annual Academy Awards will be on March 5, 2018.)  Hall also wrote the screenplay for “American Sniper.”  Last week on the “Harry” show. Harry Connick, Jr. asked why he wanted to make this movie.  Hall said that he wants people to understand the sacrifices our soldiers make.  He gets two thumbs up for that!

Based on true events , “Thank You for Your Service” is an eye-opening story about the unbelievable lack of a program for transitioning from soldier to civilian and the tragically deficient health care system in place for our combat veterans, especially when it comes to mental health.  The title can be construed as being sarcastic in that when veterans come home the military basically sends them home to navigate their way back into society with a “see ya later, thanks” attitude.

The movie follows the story of five soldiers that served an 11-month tour of duty  at Camp Rustamiyah in Iraq in 2007.

Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann

As the lead character, Miles Teller gives an astounding performance as Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann.  He comes home to his wife, Saskia, played by Haley Bennett, and their two children, one an infant son, from whom he is a bit detached, since he is meeting him for the first time – another subtle revelation of the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families.  Schumann returns not only with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD,) but feeling guilty for the death of his Sgt. First Class (SFC) and his friend’s handicapped state, even though he was given high honors for his actions during those same events.  Teller does a great job portraying the kind of friend you would want to have your back at home as well as on the battlefield.  There is no doubt this is the kind of man Schumann is.

Will Waller

Joe Cole plays Will, who the guys nicknamed “Chip,” probably because of the chip he appears to have on his shoulder. He is excited to get home to his fiance, but comes home to an empty house, the utilities cut off, no note, and his calls to her keep going straight to voicemail.  Despite the offer of support from his “brothers,” his depression gets the best of him adding to the guilty feelings of Schumann.

Specialist Sol Aieti

Beulah Koale gives an emotional performance as Specialist Sol Aieti, an American Samoan, who became an American citizen after enlisting.  He comes home to a pregnant fiance, Alea, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes.  He has brain damage caused by a head injury he got on the mission that lost SFC Doster.  He has PTSD and constant hallucinations of Doster (I’d call them “daymares” – if there was such a word.) He also displays the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE,) but the army won’t help him because they don’t seem to have a record of his being on that mission! As if that should matter – they knew he was stationed there! Though he’s virtually “thrown to the dogs” (pun intended) by the army, he is a loyal soldier that keeps saying, “the army saved my life.”  He is completely lost now and just wants to return to the battlefield.  It seems the soldiers don’t know how to define themselves other than being soldiers. I guess it’s a phenomenon similar to “Stockholm Syndrome;” they want to go back to a routine where even though they were in constant danger, their purpose was well-defined.

SFC James Doster

Amy Schumer gives an uncharacteristically serious and convincing performance as the grieving widow of SFC James Doster, played by Brad Beyer.  As I mentioned, Adam, Sol, and Will are all struggling with PTSD and are particularly plagued by memories of the death of SFC Doster and the events leading up to it. When they de-board the plane, she immediately rushes to them to ask if they were with her husband when he died, but they avoid communicating with her because they are burdened by the guilt that he is gone and they survived. This is a problem that most of us civilians, including military spouses do not understand.  These vets have seen so much death and evil that we cannot imagine and they harbor survivor’s guilt.  It’s a heavy load that they keep bottled-up inside and it causes many to commit suicide or turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. 

Michael Emory

Scott Haze plays Michael Emory, a soldier that was shot in the head during an ambush. Emory is severely handicapped and Schumann blames himself for dropping him while going down a flight of stairs trying to get him medical assistance. Though he probably has his own nightmares, his role is that of the optimist who is just grateful to be alive.

The guys realize that it is important for them to talk about what they are feeling. They seek help from their local base, but  are put on year-long waiting lists, so they turn to the VA for assistance where they are shamed by their superiors who don’t want them to “send the wrong message” to the young people newly enlisting.  So they try to battle their mental demons on their own.

Saskia, through Bennett’s performance, paints the picture of the supportive yet unaware spouse. She continually tries to  get him to open-up, but he can’t talk about it. She accompanies him to an appointment at the VA. A few points that stuck in my mind were when the VA Rep. told her, “there is no cure for trauma.” It is sad that the VA realizes that hundreds of thousands of veterans come back suffering from mental trauma, yet there are not enough resources to take care of those that come asking for help and if they don’t come asking for help, no one is checking on them.  (When we hear that the government is making “military cuts,” realize this is one of the areas that is “cut.”) It is tragic that nothing will cure them, but if they can get immediate and proper treatment, they can learn to cope. Additionally, in this scene we learn that Schumann has been bestowed many honors. As they are leaving his wife asks why he didn’t tell her that she was married to a hero. He doesn’t see himself that way, he’s so depressed and down on himself. Coincidentally, as I was writing this, on the TV in the background, I heard Dr. Phil being interviewed. They were talking about the heroism displayed by so many in the recent Vegas tragedy. Dr. Phil said, “I don’t think crises make heroes.  I think crises reveal who you were before it happened.” Probably 99% of our soldiers do not see themselves as heroes; they feel that they are just doing their job and being who they expect themselves to be. I guess you could substitute “war” for “crises” in Dr. Phil’s sentence and draw the conclusion that combat soldiers are born heroes.

The last image of the movie is the same image shown in the beginning – a vast array of dog tags slowly twirling and glistening like golden pendants. I think this is director Hall’s artistic way of driving home an important point – our men and women in the armed forces are our nation’s most precious jewels and we should admire, honor, and value them as such.

I found this movie to be deeply emotional and was infuriated to learn that not enough help is provided to our post 9/11 soldiers when they get home. While they are active duty, they “belong” to the government, but once they become civilians they are basically on their own. Every adult American, especially the family and friends of combat soldiers should see this movie.  There are so many movies that show the losses and victories of combat, but very few movies show the silent battles veterans face when they return to “the land of the free.”  Many look at our armed forces as video game characters and make thoughtless comments or ask shallow questions.  A cab driver in this movie asked, “did you kick their *sses?” Meanwhile, the soldier is trying to take in the sights and scents of freedom; the clean, fresh air that we civilians take for granted.  When they come home all in one piece, we have no idea what they’ve seen and had to endure.

Several years ago (probably around 2007) I had a friend in his mid-20s who just got home from Iraq and was working part-time. He had trouble sleeping and often called me late at night. He told me that he slept with a machete under his bed.  It was hard for me to comprehend why, when he was now home and safe.  He really couldn’t explain it to me, except to say that he was “messed-up.” Mental wounds are just as bad, if not worse than physical ones, but if you are not a mental health expert, they are impossible for the average person to understand. Mental illness can make it difficult to focus and thus render a person unable to work or handle everyday activities. This often gets misconstrued by family and friends as laziness. I know this from my own personal experience, but that is another story for another time.

I mentioned at the beginning that the movie title can be taken as sneering, however it can also be taken literally as reminding us that the first thing we should say, when we see our men and women in uniform, is – “Thank you for your service,” but it should be followed-up with a thoughtful question. Ask how they are feeling, what was it like, if they need any assistance, do they have a place to stay, and what it feels like to be home. Maybe they don’t have a home to go to and maybe we can help. They’ve bravely served us, now that they are back from combat, we need to think about how we can be of service to them.

As the credits roll, the somber singing by Bruce Springsteen of the traditional army chant known as the “Freedom Cadence,” really gets to the point  of the movie – “Some say freedom is free, but I tend to disagree, I say freedom is won by the barrell of a gun.” I think we need to remember that and stand tall and be reverent the next time the “National Anthem” is played.

If you are or know a soldier who is suffering from PTSD, CTE, depression, anxiety, anger, and/or other post-deployment or combat related mental health issues, please seek help.  Contact one of the below listed facilities.  As I close, let me say that I, personally, thank you for your bravery and service. – BMT

The Pathway Home, Inc., 100 California Drive, Madison Building, 2nd Fl. Yountville, CA 94599 – Telephone Number: (707) 948-3031 or email info@thepathwayhome.org – (This was a facility featured in the movie.)

or Cumberland River Behavioral Health at 1-(800) 273-8255

or one of the providers listed in this link: https://www.thankyouforyourservicemovie.com/veterans#MentalHealth

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TBT – Movie Review – “Bad Moms” – Now on DVD

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You may have missed it on the big screen, or know someone that did.  “Bad Moms” is now on DVD and a perfect gift for anyone who needs a good laugh; and who doesn’t?   Here’s my previously posted review.

Movie Review – “Bad Moms,” So Good, It’s BAD!

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If you want to buy it, right now Target has it for $16.99. You can also find it at Redbox and on Netflix.  A great movie to watch no matter what medium you choose. – BMT

Movie Review – “Kevin Hart: What Now” #HittingTheatersThisFriday

Kevin Hart, Ride Along Red Carpet Premiere, Sydney Australia

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I laughed so hard, I thought I was going to have a stroke!  True story – “Kevin Hart: What Now” is hilarious.  I really did feel as if I was going to bust blood vessels from laughing!

I purposely left a set in between me and the first group of people in my row (I would have given the seat up if someone needed it, but it never came to that) because I was worried that the people sitting next to me were going to get mad at me. “Reason why is” I can’t watch Kevin Hart and not crack-up and when I crack-up, it’s LOUD! However, there were two seats on the other side of me.  Two nice young women asked if they were open, so of course I said, “yes.” I struck up a conversation with them about how much I loved Kevin Hart.  Luckily, one of them (the one sitting closest to me) saw him live and was a big fan.  As soon as the movie began, I was so happy she sat next to me because Kevin did what he does best – – make us laugh!

Kevin was firing off one funny “true story” after another; each one funnier than the last and the two of us were screaming with laughter from the very first joke!  It was as if she was my “sista from another mista” because she laughed just as loud as I did, she held her stomach and moaned from the laughter pains, just like me!  She even sat up trying to get air, just like me!  The movie was so funny that so many times I laughed so hard that no sound came out, because I was losing oxygen (she did the same thing!) We weren’t just laughing, we were losing our minds and it was the best feeling ever!!  I can truthfully say, I never laughed so hard and so much at a movie, in my life and having a “laughing partner” felt so liberating!  Of course, the rest of the theater was laughing too, so there was no way they could get mad at me.  Honestly, you’d have to have been in a coma not to laugh.

“What Now” is somewhat of a documentary movie.  It is Kevin’s stand-up comedy routine, which he performed in front of a record-breaking, sold-out crowd of 50,000 at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 30, 2015. It was the first time in history that a comedian sold out a football stadium.  Kevin wants to make history again by breaking box-office records for this opening weekend by showing the film around the world.  If you follow @kevinhart4real, he’s asking everyone to help him make history this weekend. He’s using the hash tag – #ComedicRockStarShit for all posts related to “What Now.”

The movie can also fit into the action, drama, and comedy, movie genres.  It opens with a James Bond-like title sequence.  At first, you will think it’s an action comedy.  For the first ten minutes or so, it’s a comedic parody of a Bond movie, featuring Halle Berry as herself but as Kevin’s “Bond-girl.”  Kevin is agent 0054! This movie within the movie satirizes all of the cliché things that happen in spy movies.  For example, there’s a room labeled, something like “convenient changing room with clothes that fit Kevin Hart!”  There is even a bloody shootout scene, which is rather gross and actually made me and my “sista” cover our eyes.  Therefore, besides for the language, the bloody scene also makes this an adult only movie.

When the “mission” is accomplished, Halle and Kevin make it to the venue, where Kevin shoots up an elevator shaft onto the stage, and the concert begins.  It was so awesome  to see the aerial shots of the sold-out stadium!  Kevin teared-up when he took his final bows.  You can tell how grateful he is to have been able to go back to his hometown and sell out the stadium. It was as if that moment was when he realized he made it as a star!  It’s inspiring to see someone who has worked hard, realize his dream.  I also have a lot of respect for big stars who are not afraid to be humble.  My favorite part, which made me love Kevin even more, was just before he left the stage and thanked the crowd.  He told the audience to “look around,”  he said, “I see every race, ethnicity, and nationality possible.  I see some of everybody. We all came under the same roof and we laughed tonight.  If you can laugh together, you can live together; if you can live together, you can love together.  I live by those rules and I’ll be damned if I didn’t see that s**t here tonight. . . in my city I made history. . .and this has been the best night of my f**’n life. ..” You can actually find video of this moment posted by a fan on YouTube.  I didn’t post the link here because I try to keep my content PG-13.

When the Universal Pictures studio representative asked what I thought of the movie, I told him that I thought I was going to have a stroke and that I was so lucky the girl next to me laughed as loud as I did.  He replied, “everyone was laughing.”  They were; the room was roaring with laughter for the entire run of the film!  The stand-up routine is full of so many funny and animated stories about Kevin’s kids, his “lady,” his dad, and his friends, all prefaced with “true story.”  Kevin says he doesn’t lie, “unless the truth is not believable!” I don’t want to give away and jokes or punch lines, you have to see this movie for yourself.  Please remember it’s rated –R; it’s not for kids and if you get offended by foul language, then it’s not for you.  If you are a Kevin Hart fan, the answer to the question, “What Now?” is go buy your tickets!  “Kevin Hart: What Now” opens Friday! Don’t miss it! – BMT

P.S.  Don’t get up when the credits start rolling, there’s more movie! As always, please let me know what you think. – Beth

“Deepwater Horizon” – Movie Review

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Photo of movie screen taken by me before the movie.

“Deepwater Horizon” #deepwaterhorizonmovie dramatically tells the story of the Deepwater Horizon (#deepwaterhorizon) oil spill and explosion that occurred on April 20, 2010 about 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the technical cause of the oil well explosion is way over my head, so rather than bore you with the details and technicalities of the actual event, if you want a full background, I would direct you to the Wikipedia page – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill.

I am embarrassed to say that I barely remember hearing about this event. That may just be my ignorance or the fact that 2010 marked the beginning of some serious health issues for me. Perhaps I just wasn’t “tuned-in” to current events or maybe it didn’t get the news coverage it deserved due to the political nature of all things oil related??  I don’t know, but this story of the worst oil spill in U.S. History needs to be told and director, Peter Berg, and screenplay writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand do a great job telling it.

The cinematography is incredible. I thought it was especially effective that the movie began with the audio of a hearing asking Transocean employee, Mike Williams, to recount the events. As he gets to the point of the explosion, it goes quiet, we can feel Mike’s hesitation as he goes back to the dark place in his memory where he really doesn’t want to go, and the opening credits begin. Of course there are many scenes with injuries, blood, fire, and explosions that add the necessary “shock value,” but this movie is more than that. This movie takes a very personal approach. The camera focuses on their individual faces. We see that the workers are ordinary people, we learn a little about their personal lives and the loved ones that they leave behind every time they go out to sea.  We see that most of them have a good rapport with each other. They kid around and seem to work well together.  The movie gives more focus to the fact that the crew of 126 that was on board the Deepwater Horizon was just performing their daily routine when suddenly they became faced with an extraordinarily catastrophic chain of events. In a matter of hours, these average oil workers became superheroes, risking their lives to save the lives of their co-workers.

The acting is phenomenal.  Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, one of the heroes, who seemed to have a premonition that something would go wrong as he kissed his wife goodbye at the heliport just before he took-off to work, offshore, on the Deepwater Horizon for what was supposed to be 21 days.  Kurt Russell plays “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, essentially the captain of the rig. Mike and Mr. Jimmy work for Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon. John Makovich plays Donald Vidrine, one of the BP Oil Company representatives that smugly made some fatally disastrous decisions. You hate him (and BP) right away and you can sense that the crew doesn’t like him either. The Transocean crew seems resentful of the way BP, who (they make a point of stressing) is just “leasing” the rig, was exerting its control over the rig operations about which they knew very little. Those decisions were cost-driven and gave no priority to safety and the “human factor.”  Bottom line, it is evident that monetary greed is what caused this disaster.

I was especially moved by a particular scene – when the injured survivors are on board the rescue ship, after role is called, they all kneel down and recite the Lord’s Prayer.  It is rare, (especially in movies) but awesome when it happens, to see victims immediately giving thanks and praise to God, instead of asking “why?”. It was also very somber at the end of the movie to see the photos of the eleven crew members that died.

I think this movie is excellent. Another “must see”.  I highly recommend you buy your tickets early.  I saw this on the day of its third or fourth screening and people were turned-away because the theater was full.  Please go see Deepwater Horizon and let me know what you think. – BMT

P.S. Country Music Fans, there’s a cameo but well-done performance by Trace Adkins, who plays the father of one of the deceased crew members.

Review – Shades of Blue – American Drama Series on NBC

shades of blue screenShades-of-Blue Pilot Screening at Santikos Palladium

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Partners-in-Crime #shadesofblue

I was lucky to attend a screening, hosted by Hot 104.5, of the pilot for “Shades of Blue,” the new NBC Drama starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta with my partner-in-crime, my daughter! The producers provided free popcorn and drinks, a cool pair of blue shades and posters and a drawing ticket for a free flat screen TV to everyone in attendance. Some VIP attendees received free T-shirts as well.  I was not lucky enough to hold on to the winning ticket for the TV, but I did have the ticket in my hand.  I was tasked with passing tickets down the row to all those that posted their photos to social media using #shadesofblue and the winner was two seats away from me.  How do you know which ticket to keep for yourself and which to pass on?  I digress. . .

Shady Beginning

Ever since seeing the previews months ago, I’ve been (not so) patiently waiting to see this show.  JLo playing a police detective with Ray Liotta in a drama by executive producers Ryan Seacrest and Barry Levinson, who wouldn’t be excited?  How can you go wrong? Sometimes when the anticipation for a show or movie is so intense, when I finally get to see it, I tend to be disappointed. This show started out making me wonder if it was not going to be as good as I thought. I wasn’t sure it would hold my attention or if I’d want to add it to my DVR line-up along with “Law & Order SVU” and “Castle.” However, about 5 minutes in, perhaps after the first commercial break once it airs on TV, I was intrigued.  In the last minute I, along with everyone else in the room, was hooked by the heart-racing cliff hanger. Yes, it seems Shades of Blue will leave you wondering all week, “what will happen on the next episode?” It’s not your typical police drama where a crime is committed in the beginning of the episode and the detectives solve the crime and put away the bad guy by the end.

Shady Detectives

JLo plays Harlee Santos, a single mother working hard to be the best detective and parent, while struggling to keep her daughter in private school. Ray Liotta plays Matt Wozniak, her mentor, support system, and the leader of an underground extortion/money-laudering operation, which he believes is for “the greater good.” Detective Santos is being forced to work with the FBI.  As a single parent, I totally understand that sometimes the wrong choices seem right at the time because everything we do is with the best interests of our child(ren) in mind.

Shades of Blue is about the brotherhood of police officers, loyalty, family, selfishness, greed, and betrayal.  As one preview states, “even good cops do bad things.”

How everything unfolds is of course, the plot for this, not to be missed, show.  I think JLo’s performance is fantastic and the other actors do a great job as well.

See the official trailer – http://www.nbc.com/shades-of-blue/video/shades-of-blue-official-trailer/2932307

Shades-of-Blue Pilot Airs Thursday, January 7, 2016 on NBC at 10/9 p.m. Central

 

Watch it, and tell me what you think.  Post your comments below or on the Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/ReviewsoftheArtsSA   – BMT