Posted by Ken Burke On November - 1 - 2014 0 Comment

119453_galThere are a lot of examples of terrible parenting and troubled family structures on display in your local cinemas at present (in most cases for the films I’m about to note, although the last one may have finally reached the end of its road by the time I got around to seeing it and writing these comments), but if you look at them from the standpoint of observation and learning what not to do rather than as examples of how a family is best constructed then there are some useful lessons to be learned, even if the structure of the lesson-plans could use a little help at times.  All of these are noted in my most recent detailed review, so, with my standard Spoiler Alert Notice firmly in place I’ll refer you there for more information on each of these but start my brief comments here with the one just opening in many markets, White Bird in a Blizzard.  Here, Shailene Woodley is on one hand a typical horny teenager (getting as much as she can from her neighbor/boyfriend) but on the other is disrupted by the strange, sudden disappearance of her odd, angry, and stifling mother.  In flashbacks we see how Mom (played marvelously by Eva Green) has come to hate her marriage and life, using her daughter as a means of expressing her own frustrated disgust; of course, there’s more to it than that as Kat returns from her first year at college with much more interest in what happened to her missing parent and why.  This is an odd story, with what will be perceived as either fascinating or wildly over the top performances (a touch of David Lynch permeates it) that you’ll either embrace or reject (the former for me).  I doubt this one will be playing too widely and you’ll find a lot of negative reviews of it, but I encourage you to seek it out anyway.

123586_galThe trailer for St. Vincent will likely set you up for an uproarious comedy with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, which you’ll get some of in the actual movie but not as much as you’d expect with these two headlining the action.  Actually, in addition to the dominant on-screen presence of Murray the major other character here is the McCarthy’s character’s son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), offering us a great feature-length debut, with a promising career ahead of him.  What’s not as promising in this story, though, is how the anticipated clash between two neighbors turns somewhat dramatic, somewhat sentimental as a mother in the process of divorce and the attempt to make a living for herself and her son is required to turn to her screw-life, gimme-another-drink (that I can’t afford to pay for) new babysitter while she puts in long hours at a local hospital.  This problematical situation does produce a good number of laughs, but that’s not really where this vehicle is headed so if you’re expecting just sustained grumpiness from Murray you might want to at least skim over my review before deciding to pay for what you’ll actually be getting when”Saint” Vincent brings this extended family together in the culminating events (which includes some effective supporting work from Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts).

124651_galI have to extend a bit my overall family metaphor for these comments to include the other two cinematic offerings to call to your attention, both of which deal with historic wars which still resonate today as our society struggles to find any effective strategy for the seemingly never-ending commitment we’ve made to help bring stability to clashing factions in the Middle East, as well as continue to attempt to contain terrorists who are creating havoc for others now but likely have us planned as future targets.  The first of these contextual history lessons, Fury, takes us back to WW II, which we continue to celebrate as a time of noble sacrifice of the Allies to contain and destroy the global threat presented by the Axis powers.  This time the setting is the final days of that war in Germany as American troops, focused on a tank squad—which functions as a forced-together family—led by Brad Pitt’s no-nonsense, kill-‘em-all character (even nicknamed “Wardaddy”) has to indoctrinate a new crew member with no combat training to the harsh realities of life on the battlefield where death can strike with or without warning, brutality is the only strategy for survival, and what’s considered heroic by some is lived as maniacal by others.  Fury certainly doesn’t glorify war but it does remind us how vicious a person must be to survive in such conditions, laying the groundwork for those of us back home to better understand—from the experience of a conflict that we still celebrate the need for and the result of—to understand better what happens to those who are sent to do the dirty work that politicians decree.

119936_galThat brings us to the other war-related film to note this week, a magnificent documentary, Last Days in Vietnam (the one that’s now been playing the longest and may need to be later located on video if it’s too late to find it in your area), which details what happened between the treaty terms of the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and the fall of Saigon in spring of 1975.  This look back to what is generally considered a debacle for U.S. foreign policy and military operations should provide a sobering lesson for our current attempts to participate in any sort of stability strategy in the Middle East, as it shows the inevitable chaos that occurs once our mighty war machine is withdrawn from the region.  Despite the assurances in the cease-fire agreements that South Vietnam would choose its own fate regarding unification or not with the North, as well as the conditions that North Vietnam was to cease hostilities in the South or face returning U.S. military involvement, none of that came to pass (ironically, as some comment in this film, because of the departure of Richard Nixon as President due to the Watergate scandal), so the main focus of this documentary is on the attempts to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible as part of the final American withdrawal to save them from sure execution by the new rulers (here, my family metaphor gets stretched to the limit in looking at our government as functioning as a sort of parental surrogate for South Vietnam, but I think it’s a defendable analogy, especially in the dysfunctional manner in which we reacted to the inevitable crisis that was created when thousands of our “stepchildren” were left behind to a terrible fate).  It’s a grim, sad story, but presented in a most compelling fashion with extensive testimony from many involved in this almost-forgotten situation.

Your comments on any of this are always welcome, either here, at the review blog site, in the LinkedIn Movie Addicts and World Cinema Critics discussions, or sent directly to me at

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