“Last Flag Flying” film review

An all-star cast takes audiences on a memory journey of war, loss, friendship, and patriotism as genuine human emotions are dealt with through comedy and grief. Amazon Studios hits a homer again with the release of Last Flag Flying distributed by Lionsgate. Now in select theaters, writer-director Richard Linklater crafts an incredible motion picture that organically deals with the loss of a loved one during a time of war through the stages of grief and irreverent comedy between friends. While this film is currently flying under the radar, don’t allow that to dissuade you from watching this incredible war film. I cannot remember the last time that I saw a film that felt so genuine. Watching this film, I truly felt like a fly on the wall, watching a Vietnam vet deal with the loss of his son and reconnecting with some of the closest friends he ever had in his life. Last Flag Flying is a subgenre of war movies that places the camera at a distance from the characters and allows them to mourn and laugh on screen without interference from censors and other outsiders. While not a conventional war movie, the topic of war is found underlying many diegetic components. Dialogue driven, this film provides social commentary on patriotism, God, and friendship. Bring your listening ear to this movie because the context of the tough subject matter contains subtle yet powerful messages that highlight otherwise unstated emotions. Sometimes the best way to go through the stages of grief is to throw caution to the wind and allow humor to work its powerful remedy.

Three Vietnam war veterans reunite for a different kind of mission that forces them to deal with the present and the past. When Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrel) arrives at the dive bar that belongs to former comrade Sal Nealson (Bryan Cranston), he asks his Marine brother to go with him without naming where. Sal drives Shepherd to a old country church now pastored by their Marine brother Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). When Shepherd doesn’t touch his pale cobbler, the group realizes there is something wrong. It’s then the Shepherd reveals that his son was killed outside of Baghdad, and wants his two Marine brothers to go with him to bury his son at Arlington. Along the journey, the three former military comrades are forced to come to terms with their shared past that continues to shape their present lives by discussing tough topics such as grief, God, war, honesty, and addiction.

The sheer storytelling beauty of Last Flag Flying is found in the solid writing made evident through the excellent direction and A-list cast (and one surprising cameo that I won’t mention because it will detract from the brief but powerful screen presence). While it may appear like a somber tragedy on the surface, beneath that surface of sadness beats the heart of dark but respectful comedy that takes audiences on the memory journey right along side the characters. War movies about the loss of loved ones is not something new; but this film allows the characters to go through the stages of grief in organic ways that paints a motion picture of how human these emotions are. Human. Truly human. At times, there are no holds barred when three very different voices all converge on the same topic. You have the grieving father, a reverend, and foul-mouthed barkeep discussing everything, just as friends in real life often do. In many ways, these three former military comrades could not be any different in their present states; but at one time, they were inseparable and very much alike. While the focus of the film could have been on Shepherd’s loss or the politics of war, the focus is clearly on what makes us human and how one genuinely has to deal with loss due to war. Not that discussions of politics and religion are not found in this film–they are–but the discussions and arguments between these friends are used as tools to comment on the human condition. Because we never see combat footage, the expositional dialogue about war and politics adds incredible weight and a little mystery to the events in the film.

Before you begin to think that Linklater uses flashbacks to connect the present to the past, think again. While that would have been the easy, lazy way of accomplishing that task, he chooses to connect the present to the past through exceptional exposition between characters that prompt the audience to engage their own emotions to connect the pieces of the story together. Because we never shift between the past and present, the main story is always the main story. When constructing strong characters as we have this this film, it is the responsibility of the actors (though proper direction) to not allow the actor to get in the way of the character. Honestly, there are times that I see the individual actors eclipse the respective character, but most of the time, the audience will see the characters themselves throughout the dark comedy. The cinematography is simple, but perfect for the story within this motion picture. Linklater uses no gimmicks to tell this thought provoking story. The movie has an intimate feel to it because you can likely identify with one of the lead or supporting characters, especially when they are talking about “Disneyland” in Vietnam (you’ll just have to watch to understand why that’s in quotes). So incredibly genuine. No pretense about any of the characters in the film.

The content of this film truly reflects the tenor of the times in which we live. Topics of war, politics, and religion seem to be inundating us from all angles. It takes a special film to deal with each of those respectfully, candidly, and effectively. The trifecta of voices in this film allows the thought provoking conversations to transcend the screen and enter the minds of the audience. While working through his grief, there were times that Shepherd could have gone on an anti-military or anti-American rant, but he never speaks a negative word against anyone, though he is sometimes in immense pain. Patriotism, God, and the human condition are shown and discussed in quite unconventional and maybe even controversial ways; yet, the manner in which these topics are discussed, as it relates to Shepherd’s loss, are absolutely perfect. In a seemingly binary world where you are either a red-blooded patriot or you’re anti-American, with no room for nuance or discussion, this film provides the platform to begin to realize that we are first human before we take sides.

Although I did not care for Linklater’s Boyhood, I can honestly tell you that this film is one that you don’t want to miss. Whether you are in a military family or not, this film offers a glimpse into a world that many people have to face on a daily basis. The genuine, organic approach to the hard topics in this film allows the humanity to shine through. Not speaking for ALL veterans, but the vets that were in the screening last night had high praise for the film. And the rest of us had many positive remarks and feedback for the screener hosts.

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“The Big Short” movie review

BigShortThe scariest non-horror movie ever! Paramount Pictures’ The Big Short, based on the best selling novel by Michael Lewis, is the star-studded film that meticulously recreates the course of events that led to the worst financial crisis to hit the United States, and by extension the world, since the Great Depression. It isn’t often that when I leave a movie that I instantly feel like I need to watch it again, but this is definitely one of them! Furthermore, this is a fantastic film to show any business or financial class on the graduate level. Brilliantly casted and directed, this film will have your utmost attention the entire time. In fact, when it’s over, you will most likely want it to go on. Screenwriters Adam McKay (also the director) and Charles Randolph create a movie with such realism and candor that you will be able to truly understand the foundational problems that aided in creating the mortgage-backed security crisis which led to the housing meltdown and the loss of millions of jobs. The scariest part is, at the end of the movie, you will read that starting in 2015 that big banks are once again engaging in similar behaviors under a new name. The utter greed, absurdity, and naivety on display in this movie will leave you astounded.

The Bg Short is a biographical documentary-like drama that goes behind the headlines and years before the height of the financial crisis (now referred to as the Great Recession) and reveals the actions of big banks and front-line mortgage officers alike that contributed and eventually causes the housing meltdown. After one major hedge fund investor discovers that the big banks are buying up and selling bad mortgages, he takes actions that create a ripple effect amongst a small group of hedge fund financial investors that begin to sound the alarm that big banks refused to listen and believe. Against the odds, this small group of investors attempt to warn the big banks that the US financial system, and by extension the world, is in grave danger. This film follows several key players in this movement and sheds light on what was really happening behind closed doors.

If you want to gain a better understanding of what caused the housing meltdown and financial crisis, then plan to see this movie. Or, if you are just looking for a fantastic movie with suspense, mystery, and action, then plant see this movie. It is of no surprise as to how this movie has received Oscar nominations. The phenomenal cast brought these recent historical figures to life in only a way that a cinematic story can do. Full of intellectual action, this movie successfully delivers a powerful message with a brilliant story. Many times, the best stories are true ones, and it doesn’t really get any truer or more visceral than this one. Not often can a movie capture a historic series of events with such accuracy whilst delivering a cinematic experience. More than a documentary, this film possesses a brilliant approach to the visual storytelling of a real modern-day crisis that isn’t that far removed from today.

The combination of mostly an objective perspective with a healthy helping of subjective points-of-view makes this a unique experience. Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but imagine that t almost plays out as something fabricated, made up for a gripping and dynamic plot; but the fact of the matter is that this really happened. Moreover, if the big banks continue in their ways and not learn from their mistakes, it could happen again. Although this is definitely a visually driven story, there are times that there is commentary or further information in the form of text or actors breaking the fourth wall. Ordinarily, I don’t typically like moves where the characters speak directly to the camera or audience, but the manner run which the asides were written into this movie worked extremely well.

I will keep this review short because I definitely want to encourage people who want to gain a better understanding of the financial crisis to see this movie and experience it for themselves. You will definitely not be disappointed.