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Patrick Wilson in Midway
AGC Studios

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Bombs away

Pervasive bad language blows holes in thrilling but flawed historical drama Midway

Seventy-five years ago, bombs weren’t dropped from drones flown by operators sitting behind joysticks in a high-tech war room thousands of miles away. No, you delivered them in person. You throttled your plane into a screaming nosedive straight down at the enemy ship floating below, released the payload at the last possible moment, then pulled back hard on the stick for a steep, blood-draining ascent away from the anti-aircraft guns blap!-blap!-blapping holes in your wings and fuselage.

Whew!

The new film Midway straps viewers into the cockpits of dogfights and dive-bombing runs in the naval battle that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Sadly, my kids won’t be flying along with Midway anytime soon. Too bad: It would be a heart-pounding reminder to them that our nation owes its freedom to the courage of military heroes such as pilot Dick Best (played by Ed Skrein), who “flies like he doesn’t care if he comes home.” 

The film’s violence won’t traumatize most teen viewers because there’s little human carnage. The hazy cigarette plumes won’t shock anyone, either. But the expletives come in a barrage exceeding anything I’ve heard before in a PG-13 film. Sure, sailors swear like sailors, but cutting out most of the bad language wouldn’t diminish the film’s realism.

The film has other flaws: choppy storytelling, subpar graphics from director Roland Emmerich (White House Down, Independence Day), and mostly unremarkable acting. The funny thing is, the foibles work together in a nostalgic sort of way, giving Midway the timbre of a classic war movie—if it’s OK to feel nostalgic about wars and movies of wars.

On the bright side, Patrick Wilson and Tadanobu Asano shine in their roles as American intelligence officer Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton and Japanese Rear Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi. Layton and Yamaguchi are brilliant strategists who each must outmaneuver a powerful enemy on the seas and also navigate unpredictable political waters. Their characters’ cool composure allows for nuanced performances.

On the not-so-bright side, whoever cast Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz and Dennis Quaid as Adm. William Halsey should perhaps be court-martialed. You can take Woody out of Cheers, but I still can’t take Cheers out of Woody. I also found it difficult to disassociate Quaid from the sloppy puppy face licks in the Dog’s Purpose film franchise. Neither actor exudes military brass.

The film also covers some of the major confrontations that led up to the June 4, 1942, battle on and around Midway Island: Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, early skirmishes near the Marshall Islands, and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. Midway lifts many of its characters from the pages of history and concludes with photos and facts about them. The film rightly lauds the bravery of the Japanese sailors who gave their lives for their country, too, at Midway.

The Bible doesn’t hold out much hope for military peace on earth before Christ returns. Until then, may there be warriors willing to defend our country as if they don’t care if they come home.

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Kimberley French/2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Taika Waititi (left) and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit
Kimberley French/2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Movies

Harebrained effort

Farcical Jojo Rabbit minimizes the crimes of the Holocaust

In his autobiography, Charlie Chaplin said if he had known the horrors of the concentration camps, he could not have made his 1940 satirical film The Great Dictator. Director Taika Waititi has no such reservations. In his new film Jojo Rabbit, marketed as an “anti-hate satire,” Waititi depicts the barbarians of the Holocaust as little more than buffoons. 

The story takes place during World War II. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old German boy who lives with his mother (Scarlett Johansson) and discovers that she has been hiding a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in the house. 

As Jojo talks with Elsa, his heart softens and the film could have broken through Waititi’s playing the Holocaust for laughs, but the director repeatedly falls back to portraying the Nazis as dummkopfs rather than demonic.

Some reviewers have played up several poignant plot twists, but I can’t see the concentration camps’ victims or their descendants laughing along with Jojo Rabbit. I hope modern audiences won’t, either. 

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Universal Pictures


Universal Pictures

Movies

Holiday cheer

A selfish young woman learns to love others in romantic comedy Last Christmas

Among the many genres that have suffered in our age of superhero domination, perhaps none has been harder hit than the romantic comedy.

If anyone can bring holiday romance back to the big screen in a big way, however, it’s screenwriter/actress Emma Thompson. In her latest, Last Christmas (rated PG-13 for language), Thompson steals every scene she’s in as the domineering, immigrant mother of the lovely but self-destructive Kate (Emilia Clarke).

We learn that Kate is promiscuous from the morning-after effects of her behavior, but the movie portrays this as all of a piece with her other bad choices, like drinking to excess and treating her friends and family with selfish disregard. Then she meets Tom (Henry Golding), who teaches her that finding true love isn’t the most important thing in life. Rather, it’s to give of yourself to others. 

Unlike most romantic comedies, almost nothing in Kate’s life changes to make her happy, except that under Tom’s influence, she begins to treat people with more generosity. She starts volunteering in a homeless shelter and takes her lonely mother out on the town. Meanwhile, her relationship with Tom unfolds almost solely through long walks through nighttime London, their physical affection limited to brief kisses and hand-holding.

Clarke plays a warrior princess on Game of Thrones, but as she proves here, she may be the most winsome comedic actress of her generation. Even when the story lags, she lights up the screen with her crinkle-eyed smile. Aside from brief pro-LGBT messaging through a minor character, it doesn’t lag often, though. Just when it feels as if a political agenda is going to gum up the works, Thompson comes in with a zinger that reminds us it’s human nature to blame others for our problems. And no one, not even a xenophobic ranter, is ultimately left out in the cold.

Some viewers will dislike a late twist in the story. But thankfully it does nothing to subtract from the overall feeling Last Christmas leaves us with—goodwill toward men.

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