All posts by Screen Zealots

FANATICAL ABOUT FILM! Movies are our religion and the theater our church. Our gods are named Tarantino, Anderson and Scorsese. We attend services 3-4 times a week and take our communion in the form of soda and popcorn. We offer up these reviews in hopes of pleasing our deities. We are a married couple and we are both passionate about movies, and we hope you’ll find it interesting to read our “he said, she said” viewpoints. Oftentimes we agree but, as evidenced by many a late night discussion shared among film fans, it’s more fun when we don’t. Please share your own comments on our reviews. We encourage all forms of respectful debate. We are, after all, “Fanatical About Film”! www.screenzealots.com

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Note: This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ve been a “Star Wars” fangirl since I was 4 years old, which means I tend to set astronomically high expectations for films in the franchise. There’s a certain level of storytelling and excitement that I expect from any movie that shares the name, and I often reserve a massive amount of healthy skepticism towards any and all sequels. To that end, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” may have seemingly insurmountable hurdles when it comes to pleasing diehard fans, once again splitting us into two camps à la “Rogue One” vs. “The Force Awakens.”

For me, “The Last Jedi” is not a colossal disappointment like “Rogue One,” but it’s also not an all-out expectations buster like “The Force Awakens” either. It’s as good as you’d expect and it’s as good as it needs to be, and that’s more than enough to appease discriminating fans from both ends of the spectrum.

This go around the talented Rian Johnson, a man well-suited to the Star Wars universe, steps in as the writer and director. I’m happy that Johnson brings his own style to the story and several of the large scale, eye-popping set pieces are executed with deft precision, but I left the theater unable to shake one clear opinion: he’s a great fit, but he’s no J.J. Abrams.

Numerous scenes are clouded with an aura of apprehension, giving the overall impression that Johnson was nervous about being handed the reigns to this project. Much of the film feels like he’s trying too hard not to disappoint fans or living in trepidation of taking one false step, often overloading parts of the story with unnecessary excess in an attempt to ensure we all ‘get our money’s worth.’ There’s a confidence that I feel is missing direction-wise, especially for a film with this level of significance.

All of this nervous energy manifests itself through awkward humor, adding fuel to the fire of the unwelcome Hollywood trend of trying to turn everything into a comedy. Some of the one-liners are funny enough to stick but the humor doesn’t feel organic and comes across as stiff and out of place. The series of uneven wisecracks sets an unpleasant tone for the dark places the story eventually goes, and I think that hurts the movie overall.

It’s a real challenge to craft a film review without revealing any specific plot details or spoilers, but never fear: the secrets are safe here. I can tell you that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) returns with a major role in this story, a grizzled man burdened with his existence as a legend and one who is increasingly unable to cope with his own failures. Luke lives like a human version of Yoda and Obi-Wan rolled into one, a wise old hermit with a daily routine that’s a bore for the man who may very well be the last Jedi. There’s a satisfying balance between the back and forth chapters of each character’s story, with Luke and Rey (Daisy Ridley) partnered up for most of the first half, to trigger happy flyboy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), conflicted villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), scenery chewing Genral Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), heroic ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and Mr. Personality himself, BB-8. The story seamlessly introduces potentially iconic new characters to the galaxy, with the very best being Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and petty thief DJ (Benicio Del Toro). I was most disappointed in Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), a throwaway part for an actress who deserves better.

The movie starts out in a grand Hollywood fashion with a deliciously over-the-top (and CGI-heavy) opening action sequence that gradually unfolds into a fundamental character study between those on the Dark Side and our heroes leading the Rebellion. There’s a lot of jumping back and forth between multiple story lines and the rapid-fire reintroduction of our favorite big names from “The Force Awakens” builds excitement with a breakneck speed.

The plot is fresh and new yet remains faithful to the Star Wars films of the past but for the most part, this film is going to prove to be a frustrating exercise for Star Wars enthusiasts. While you are going to get answers, they may not be the answers you’re hoping for. (Is that nonspecific enough for those of you worried about spoilers)?

Johnson aims high with his screenplay and tackles heavy themes like the crushing business of war and the shattering sorrow that can come from losing all hope, but he ends on the idea that we should abandon fighting what we hate and instead focus our attention on saving what we love.

The film is disappointing in its overuse of CGI rather than practical effects, creating visuals that may be sleek and modern looking yet sometimes feel choppy and disjointed (especially towards the beginning of the film). Even worse is the downright weird decision to intersperse pointless computer animated characters like big-eyed fluffball Porgs and “crystal critter” wolves who serve no purpose except to look cool and sell toys. It’s a not-so-subtle attempt to keep kids interested (hello, circa 1983 Ewoks!) because just when the film feels like it starts to lag, it becomes a case of “hey, look over there! More doe-eyed Porgs!

While it’s much easier to point out the film’s faults, there’s still a whole lot to love about “The Last Jedi.” The characters are strong and well-written, especially Rose (seriously, I am fangirl crushing so hard on her right now). Carrie Fisher’s untimely death is handled with great grace and dignity, and the fact that she’s gone in real life makes many of her scenes as Princess Leia haunting yet eerily appropriate. There are lots of fun Easter egg surprises for longtime fans that are bookended with a handful of trademark stand up and cheer moments. And get ready to hang on to your hats and lightsabers because last third of the film is particularly strong when it becomes a nearly edge-of-your-seat, nail biting display of joyous blockbuster escapism.

Overall this is a solid entry in the Star Wars lineage that should please fans of all ages.

“Justice League”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

No matter on which side of comic book nerddom you fall, there’s no getting around comparing the DC Universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, DC may have Superman and Batman, but let’s face facts: they don’t have the mega-popular X-Men, Thor, or Deadpool. At least “Justice League” is slightly better than last year’s “Suicide Squad.”

In this wannabe “Avengers” movie, the paper-paper-thin characters feel like pale versions of their far superior Marvel counterparts. There’s the Tony Stark-like Batman (Ben Affleck), the Captain America esque Superman (Henry Cavill), and a less interesting Ironman called Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Even The Flash (Ezra Miller) is reminiscent of Marvel’s new reboot of a slightly annoying teen Spiderman. When superheroes can’t stand on their own and only serve as constant reminders that, yeah, the DC characters kind of suck, the film never really stands much of a chance.

The plot is more of the same: a group of superheroes come together to save the planet from some evil CGI monsters / aliens. There’s nothing original here, but the biggest challenge the film faces is that these characters have no chemistry. Like bordering on zero chemistry. Individually they may work phenomenally but together, they’re barely ‘just okay.’

The best character here is Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), yet all of the pro-feminism strides Wonder Woman made in her movie earlier this year are all but stripped away. It’s awesome when she fights off the bad guys but after every strong scene of her kicking butt, there’s some joke or wisecrack at the expense of her good looks. This male chauvinist angle aside, I do applaud writers Chris Terrio and supernerd Joss Whedon for taking Aquaman (Jason Momoa) in the only direction he could really go — they turn him into a whiskey-drinking, wannabe whale riding badass. The sincerity behind the camp is absolutely hilarious, and for all the right reasons.

It’s fun enough but not memorable nor exciting in the slightest. The majority of the attempts at humor fall flat. The special effects are mostly laughable and for a film with a huge budget like this, downright inexcusable. And as with every single other superhero film nowadays, it ends with an overly long, cartoonish action sequence that’s cut so fast you can’t tell what is going on. Everything about the project feels like a dopey caricature, harkening back to the candy-colored, silly 1990s-era “Batman” movies, only with darker cinematography. It’s mediocre, but it’s not awful.

When “it’s not that bad” is a sign of quality, it’s time for DC to do better.

“Murder on the Orient Express”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Stylish and incredibly well acted, Kenneth Branagh‘s retelling of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the famous 1934 novel written by world renowned author Agatha Christie, is a fine piece of solid storytelling. Branagh’s talky whodunit harkens back to the days of old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking when movie stars wore lavish costumes, the production design was rich with detail, and films had a visual richness because they were actually shot on 70mm film (as Branagh did here).

This well-made vanity project makes only slight changes to Christie’s original work, managing to make the familiar seem new. The well-known murder mystery takes place in the confined space of the Orient Express train, where thirteen strangers are stranded due to an avalanche. When one particularly sinister passenger (Johnny Depp) is murdered, mastermind detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) must piece together clues and solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The ensemble players are top notch in every respect and are all perfectly cast. There’s the talkative widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), aristocrat Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), personal accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), stern professor Gerhard (Willem Dafoe), proper governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), humble Spanish missionary Pilar (Penélope Cruz), the elegant Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), and a charming doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), just for starters.

The role call is large, which means we only briefly get to meet and attempt to dissect the characters and their likely motivations. Branagh makes a point of boosting his own ego by making his Poirot the real star and relegates his top-shelf supporting cast to brief snippets of screen time. This results in a sometimes frustrating exercise because these are complex characters that you’ll want to get to know better, yet you’re constantly pushed away.

Although the audience is kept at a distance, the film is simply gorgeous and it’s hard not to appreciate its handsome cinematography and opulent direction. It’s very orderly and neat, rich in a refined elegance; a stylish and suspenseful thriller and integrity tale of the moral gray zone of seeking justice through revenge. The riddle will keep you engaged and the filmmaking style is grand. If you’re seeking old Hollywood glamour, you’ll find it here.

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Roman J. Israel Esq.” certainly is an ambitious mess. Director Dan Gilroy has a knack for making oddball films (“Nightcrawler”) but here he rambles around, seemingly lost, switching in tone and style so frequently that the end result has no clear direction. What kind of movie is this supposed to be?

Denzel Washington plays civil rights attorney Roman, a human encyclopedia who can recite every legal code from memory. He’s stuck in the late 1960s / early 1970s and when his law partner suddenly dies, Roman is recruited to join up at the high dollar law firm run by slick and ambitious attorney George (Colin Farrell). What follows is a totally bizarre and completely sloppy character study about the criminal justice system, political revolution, legal activism, and human fallacy.

Unconventional storytelling can be effective but here it’s lost amid a sea of uninspired performances. Farrell seems to be going through the motions in a surprisingly sterile turn, and Washington gives an off-kilter performance that, while more than competent, is wholly out of character. He is physically effective as a hulking presence whose distressing personality is swallowed only by his large afro and frumpy clothing, but his peculiar mannerisms of a psychologically and emotionally disturbed man come across as a little over the top at times. There are a couple of flashes of brilliance in both the performances, script and direction, but the highlight still is the distinct character that Washington creates onscreen. As with most of the leading men characters Gilroy has penned, Roman is creepy yet oddly sympathetic.

The plot, while basic, isn’t really a bad one, but the other shoe doesn’t drop until long after you’ve lost interest. The nuances in the story are incredibly detailed, yet audiences are left to their own devices as far as filling in the blanks to other parts of Roman’s backstory. It’s a real shame that this film isn’t more focused on its own finish line.

“The Post”

LOUISA:  3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

What does it say about us as a society that “The Post,” director Steven Spielberg‘s insightful and intense historical retelling of the Nixon White House’s attempt to silence the press, is sadly topical today? The 1970s period piece is astonishingly timely in the era of Trump, making it not only a relevant drama but also a type of psychological horror about censorship and the First Amendment.

The film depicts the true story of the unthinkable legal battle between The New York Times and the United States government after the paper reported on a massive cover-up of secrets about the Vietnam War from a study commissioned by Kennedy and Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The New York Times was subsequently banned from publishing the classified material (which was stolen by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) and sent to Times reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain)).

After some expert investigative reporting, journalists at The Washington Post got their hands on these top secret documents (which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers), and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) made the gutsy decision to publish them. The entire news team fearlessly risked the future of the newspaper and braved threats of going to jail in a bold fight for the freedom of the press, rocketing The Post to its current status as a relevant powerhouse of significant reporting.

This is precisely the kind of story Spielberg excels at telling, a big, historical drama that’s handsomely directed and sharply written with an ensemble cast who dive straight into the deep end of in the Oscar pool. Streep and Hanks lend an effortless credibility to two colleagues whose relationship is one that’s built on cold banter with an ever-so-slight sprinkling of mutual respect. Rhys, Greenwood, and Tracy Letts (as Fritz Beebe) are equally strong. Often the trouble with such a large cast of pedigreed talent is that performances tend to get lost, meaning actors have to work twice as hard to stand out. Surprisingly, the actor who rises to the top is Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk runs the gamut of range and is outstanding.

It’s nice to see that Spielberg hasn’t lost his flair for directing either. He lights many scenes with cool grays and blues, an effective contrast to his signature sweeping, fluid camera movements that accurately capture the stress and excitement of a buzzing newsroom. I appreciate that this isn’t a dumbed-down film; a working knowledge of history is required. In chasing his desire to make yet another ‘Movie That Matters,’ Spielberg plays it a little too safe with predictability, particularly in the scenes that focus on the business side of a dying newspaper versus the straight history of the event (causing the story to feel like two different movies in one).

How frightening to think of the myriad parallels to the Trump administration attempting to exert its own control over the media, selling the public ludicrous lies at press conferences and through Twitter, while their hands are constantly poking and prodding in the pie of honest journalists the world over. Our own president has gone so far as to call reporters the “enemy of the American people,” something that is chilling when you examine the present day parallels to Nixon that are depicted here.

This is the kind of film that red states hate, one that’s filled with historically accurate scenarios that’ll surely make them scream liberal elitism. Spielberg’s utter detest of Trump intermittently becomes a little too obvious, especially in his heavy-handed direction towards the end, but this is an important story that deserves and needs to be told in this distressing time of “fake news.”

“The Post” expresses the intoxicating euphoria of speaking the truth and having the courage to expose the lie, even if you’re on the losing side of a Goliath. The film’s message is more important now than ever, and I hope we won’t see history like this repeat itself.

“I Love You, Daddy”

LOUISA: 1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

As a critic, I try to distance myself from an actor or filmmaker’s personal life because I find it unfair to punish all of the other cast and crew who worked tirelessly on a film, but the subject matter of the Louis C.K. co-written and directed “I Love You, Daddy” makes it damn near impossible. The Orchard (the studio behind the movie) hastily pulled it from theaters, and now I can see why they made this incredibly good move.

The film feels like a disturbing prophecy of Louis C.K.’s recent unmasking regarding his admitted abuse of power and sexual harassment of women. There’s an ugly, icky, and cringe-worthy undertone to the project now, its story existing in the heavy shadow of the director’s own scandal. Perhaps you can say that C.K. writes what he knows, with tone-deaf gags that objectify women, a character with a penchant for dating underage girls, and several lines encouraging people not to believe sexual predator rumors (yes, really). In what was likely meant to be a provocative, brutal look at the entertainment industry instead comes off and downright gross and appalling given what we now know about the man.

The story centers around television producer Glen (C.K.) and his spoiled teenage daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz). Glen idolizes legendary film director (and reported pedophile) Leslie (John Malkovich), but he starts to worry when China insists on spending time with the man. The supporting cast is largely female, including Glen’s ex-wife Aura (Helen Hunt), ex-girlfriend Maggie (Pamela Adlon), movie star Grace (Rose Byrne), and his production partner Paula (Edie Falco). Charlie Day shows up as sarcastic actor Ralph and has one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire film (again, due to what we now know about C.K.’s behavior), as he pantomimes exactly what C.K. has admitted to doing in his office in front of women. Yuck.

The characters are insufferable, a gaggle of rich and privileged white people who crack jokes at the expense of Jews and African-Americans, and try to wring inappropriate laughs out of sexual harassment antics and animal cruelty. The film is packed with irritating insider Hollywood references too, making it the type of film that Hollywood types love: arty black and white cinematography, mentions of the business side of the entertainment industry, and the pet project of a (formerly) hot comedian. Oops.

Content aside, the film is technically a misfire. Instead of presenting an original vision, C.K. comes across as a wannabe Woody Allen with a copycat score and monochromatic cinematography. The film is poorly directed with sloppy camera movements too, like he took a master class in bad sitcom directing.

Misogyny rears its ugly head throughout, and there’s a particularly unpleasant riff on feminism and female empowerment that just plain makes me angry and makes my blood boil to think C.K. himself penned it. By the end of the film, Glenn eventually apologizes to all of the women in his life but for them (and for me), it’s far too late.

DVD Roundup: December

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Here’s a handy review recap of movies that will be released for home viewing.

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Highly Recommended

Worthy Rentals

You Can Do Better

 

Skip It

“Daddy’s Home 2”

LOUISA: 1 STAR
MATT:     1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Christmas is the time of year when craptacular yuletide entertainment like “Daddy’s Home 2” is forced upon the moviegoing public, slung like a bucket of slop into your local cineplex by money-hungry studio suits. Think of it as the cinematic version of a lump of coal in your stocking.

This unnecessary, formulaic sack of disappointment has few laughs, is excessively mean-spirited, and has repeated disturbing, tone-deaf attempts to make comedy out of generally unpleasant situations like teaching a young boy how to grope women, joking about dead hookers, laughing at 10 year olds getting drunk off spiked eggnog, and giving a little girl a hunting rifle on a dare.

The film is barely 90 minutes long yet when it’s over, you’ll feel as though you just spent three weeks in a secluded cabin with your red state cousin who wears a ‘Country Thunder’ t-shirt and rants about his ideas to make ‘Murica great again.

Formerly dueling co-dads Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) are back, and this time they join forces so their kids can have — wait for it — the perfect Christmas! As is the norm with most Hollywood sequels, the film tries to make things interesting by parading out — wait for it again — the men’s own daddies! Dusty’s dad Kurt (Mel Gibson) is a macho misogynist while Brad’s dad Don (John Lithgow) is overly emotional and slightly goofy. Can you believe the night and day difference in the two dads? I know I can’t!

Of course the dream of snowflakes and candy canes is swiftly ruined by the complete and utter idiocy of slapstick antics like characters falling down, getting hit in the face, getting hit in the groin, falling down, getting hit in the face, falling down, getting electrocuted, getting hit in the ear, falling down, getting hit in the head, falling down, falling down again, and getting punched in the stomach. We don’t need no stinking script, it’s like the movie writes itself!

There are a couple of decent jokes sprinkled around that miraculously don’t land with a thud (including a pretty fantastic one-liner about divorce and improv), but it’s mostly dumb and nonsensical pratfalls of the most inane variety that are played for laughs — and the laughs never come. The film is devoid of all merriment and holiday fun, and the cast (and audience) deserves far better than this overstuffed turkey of a movie.

MATT SAYS:

“Daddy’s Home 2” is a movie designed for idiots. Specifically. As in laboratory-tested, focus-grouped, workshopped and engineered to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In the very best comedies, jokes are either constructed (with the film carefully laying the foundation that leads to the payoff) or they’re experiential (relying on the audience’s outside knowledge about the world). In movies like “Daddy’s Home 2,” you get neither. Instead, a joke is someone getting hit in the face with a dodgeball. Or a snowball. Or a tree. Or a kid on a swing. Or Christmas decorations. For movies like this one, the film treats it as the absolute height of hilarity for a person to get hit with something or fall down. “OH!” or “OUCH!,” the audience exclaims. And sitting among them, I feel my hope for the future of humanity quickly draining away. This is “Ow My Balls!” as blockbuster entertainment.

All of that being said, the movie’s not unwatchable. Maybe it’s because I found myself being so amused at how effectively this laugh-cue extravaganza appeared to work on my fellow audience members. Maybe it’s because Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, and Mel Gibson are still eminently watchable, even in a poor excuse for a comedy like this one. Or maybe it’S because the movie tries so shamelessly to ingratiate itself to the public as a classic Christmas movie like  “Christmas Vacation,” “Elf,” or “Surviving Christmas” (Louisa and I continue our quest to single-handedly make “Surviving Christmas” a beloved holiday movie). It’s probably all of these things.

“Lady Bird”

LOUISA: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Garden variety coming of age films are so prevalent that it’s all the more refreshing when something truly personal and original like “Lady Bird” comes along. The small scale intimacy of the story about a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood in Sacramento feels raw and real, its cozy focus creating a universal anecdote that relives (with bittersweet affection) a part of life that’s filled with constantly fluctuating highs and lows. This is exactly the type of indie filmmaking that we need more of, and the awkwardly charming Greta Gerwig has hit a home run with her equally awkwardly charming directorial debut.

The film gives an unromantic glimpse into middle class life in 2002, where we meet Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), her recently laid off and depressed dad (Tracy Letts), and her hardworking, steadfast mom (Laurie Metcalf). The film is perfectly cast, with Ronan and Metcalf being the real standouts (the two are at their best when pushed into blow-up clashes between mother and daughter, an emotional tug of war between a teen impatient to break away from a hometown that’s beneath her and a mother so desperately hanging on that she’s unable to express her love and disappointment). It’s apparent the actors felt emotionally connected to the material while on set, and their performances bring a biting honesty and empathy to the family dynamics of Gerwig’s screenplay.

Gerwig has said the film is semi-autobiographical and she writes with an authentic voice, taking great care with her story (a story told with the hindsight of being a grown up). She brings a confident wisdom, an earnest insight, and a fresh voice through a witty and bright script that mirrors her true-to-life, free spirited personality. It’s as if the film exists within its own glowing aura. With Gerwig at the helm, the film has a particular hipster quirkiness written all over it, yet its sunny disposition and sharp humor is abundant with sincerity and avoids falling into the trap of being overly cynical or jaded.

The film is so observant that I could totally and wholly relate to our adolescent heroine through a realism that instantly transported me to the past. While I grew up in a different decade, some of the situations seemed like actual pages ripped out of my own high school experience. There are plenty of moments in a teenage girl’s life where the trivial becomes momentous and the momentous becomes devastating, and they are presented here with a poignant and compassionate vibrancy that I’ve rarely seen so accurately captured on film.

“Thank You for Your Service”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m drawn to war movies that simultaneously pay tribute to our veterans yet have a staunch anti-war message, and “Thank You for Your Service” is one to add to the list of other films in that same vein (“The Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “Fury”). This sobering look at soldiers returning from war and the horrific emotional impact of combat suffers only briefly from flashes of predictability and overall presents a realistic portrait of PTSD.

Based on a true story from the 2013 novel of the same title by David Finkel, the film follows a trio of soldiers (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole) returning from Iraq. It starts off like every other war movie as the men struggle to integrate back into civilian life. Their children barely know them, and their wives (Haley Bennett, Erin Darke) hardly recognize them anymore with their stark changes in personality. What’s shocking is that the film manages to avoid most of the usual ‘soldiers coming home’ clichés, instead painting a haunting and authentic portrait of the mental struggles of veterans who wish aloud they were disfigured or even dead rather than having to live a life trapped in a constant cycle of self-doubt and severe depression.

This is a gripping story that’s intimate and beautifully filmed. It’s a story that’s bleak, dramatic, and compelling, and it’s incredibly well acted (this is easily one of Teller’s best performances). Teller and his co-star Koale excel at portraying the sensibilities of the modern soldier, paying tribute to the men (and women) who put forth a stalwart exterior yet bury an emotional fury of pain, blame, and regret.

The story is emphatically human and intimate, not the type of film with a rah-rah patriotic message or preachy ‘Christian values’ propaganda viewpoints. In fact, this is one of the few movies about the military that doesn’t resort to any overt religious imagery. Now that’s something we should all appreciate no matter our beliefs.

This is a thought provoking and eye-opening film that presents an unflinching look at the traumatic aftermath of the tortuous mental anguish and residual torment suffered by many of our veterans. After every war there are soldiers who return carrying debilitating guilt to the point where they can no longer function as regular human beings. It’s a sadly relevant topic that explores how America fails her forgotten heroes. Shame on our country for abandoning these brave men and women who return home beaten and battered yet are turned away and unable to get basic psychological help. We have to do better and we have to be better than to let them suffer this way.

Warning for animal lovers: there is a very graphic and very disturbing dog fighting scene, so prepare yourself. It works well as a metaphor for a soldier’s wartime mentality so I understand why it was included, but it’s tough to sit through. And of course, there are plenty of disturbing, bloody war scenes involving humans too.