Last Flag Flying Review

After summer months of superheroes, minions, and talking animals, I often find myself yearning for human stories from the cinema by autumn. Thankfully, directors like Richard Linklater step up to the camera and provide us with such films on a regular basis. I loved his recent entries Before Midnight, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some. These films allow us to spend time with humans, walk in their shoes, and become better for the experience. Linklater’s latest entry, Last Flag Flying, while not quite as strong, continues this tradition and is a beautiful depiction of male friendship in America.

Last Flag Flying is billed as an ‘unofficial sequel’ to the film The Last Detail with Jack Nicholson. Set in 2003, the film follows three Vietnam War veterans played by Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne; Cicely Tyson also has a lovely small role as the mother of one of their marine corps friends. These three men haven’t spoken since the war but are reunited when Carell’s son is killed in the war in Iraq, brought together because Carell purposely seeks them out. Evidently, he doesn’t have anyone else to assist him with this difficult task or, at least, it is never really explained why they lost touch or why he needed them in particular.

At first, they are planning to go to Arlington, and then events take them all up to Delaware and further. All along the way, the men talk about war, faith (Fishburne plays a minister), women, raising kids, and everything else. This is where the movie shines, as expected. The three actors have wonderful chemistry and Richard Linklater is a master at realistic dialogue. It felt emotionally true to the way men deal with friendship and support one another in these difficult circumstances – especially men who are not used to supporting each other.

We also see J. Quinton Johnson as a young marine, an honest voice of the government, who knew Carell’s son. The rest of the military is painting a glossy picture of heroism but he is willing to tell the truth to a grieving father.

Some viewers become frustrated with Linklater’s thin plots and consequently may actually find that Last Flag Flying has more structure, and therefore is more satisfying. However, I felt the film grew a little repetitive at times with the men learning the same lessons over and over again. Also, Bryan Cranston’s character bordered on caricature at times, and his ‘tough guy’ persona got a little old.

In spite of that, there is much to like in Last Flag Flying. The ending particularly worked well and had me tearing up. I also appreciate that it is not an anti-war or pro-nationalism film, but is instead focused on these three men and their friendship, and that is definitely worth watching.

Overall Grade: B

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Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day Review

alexanderWhen I saw the trailer to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I was very annoyed.  The reason is I love the book by Judith Viorst it is based on so much.

ALEXANDER_TERRIBLE_HORRIBLEWhat’s special about the book is it validates a child’s feelings.  That Alexander can have a bad day full of negative emotions and that’s ok. I feel like too often we silence children and want them to stop pouting or crying instead of listening to their concerns and feelings.  It’s the same reason I love Charlie Brown because Shultz allowed his child character to be down and depressed on occasion.

The book Alexander ends saying “Today has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  My Mom says some days are like that…even in Australia”

What a perfect and lovely message for kids.

The trailer for the movie version of Alex seemed to forget the message by promising silly slapstick and a family having a ‘cursed’ day instead of an ordinary child having an ordinary bad day.

Now I have seen the movie and I have to give it some props.  It is not as bad as I thought it would be.  (If you’ve been reading the blog it is a total Shoney’s moment).  In fact, I can even admit it is a decent live action family comedy- something not made all that often any more.

Alexander has his terrible day where everything is going wrong- nobody is going to come to his birthday because a cool kid is throwing a party, he gets gum in his hair, doesn’t get to work on Australia for the big report and more.

alexander4Alexander is played by the likable child actor Ed Oxenbould.  The whole cast is very likable including Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as Alexander’s parents.  It feels like a real family and they have a lovely chemistry together.

While Alexander’s day is rotten and nobody seems to understand him (that did call back to the book), everything is going great for the rest of the family.  Frustrated Alexander wishes on a candle that his family would know what it feels like to have a terrible day.

Then the next day comes and it is a horrible day for the family and of course everything seems to be happening on that day including a book unveiling  involving Dick Van Dyke that goes wrong, a job  interview for Carrel, prom for the oldest boy, a play for the girl and Alexander’s birthday.  That’s a lot for one day but you go with it.

I guess what makes all of hijinks on day 2 palatable is they do feel semi-realistic-  Carell can’t find a sitter, baby eats a marker, girl gets sick, boy fails driving test ect. And like I said there is a chemistry and love between the cast which forgives a lot of silly slapstick.

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The funniest scene is by far Jennifer Coolidge as a driver inspector who gives Alexander’s brother Anthony his driving test. It reminded me of the scene in Clueless when Dion goes on the freeway for the first time.

The movie ends with a sincere and sweet moment for the family which feels earned and not as sentimental as you might think.

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I wish they had been bolder like  Where the Wild Things Are and really told the darker tale hidden in the book.  It would have been so refreshing and exciting but as a pleasant family comedy it’s not half bad.

They are smart to not have a villain which would have dragged the whole thing down. (I was worried Garner’s boss played by Megan Mullally was going to be the villain but she’s just part of the overall bad day).  The bad day is the villain with perhaps a bratty high school prom girl thrown in for laughs.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayIf you are wondering the humor is kind of juvenile but aside from a kangaroo scene it is all grounded in reality and not painful to watch like a Home Alone  movie.  I chuckled on a number of occasions and I think kids will really find it funny.  There aren’t that many comedies outside of animation you can go to as a family and Alexander is such a film.

There is some cartoon style violence but not much and some vomit and other gross scenes.  The Thunder from Down Under dancers appear as a joke but do not strip which is a little strange for a Disney film.  The word penis is also used 4 times in a scene but aside from that it is a pretty tame PG.

So, I have to give them some credit.  A movie I was sure I would hate I enjoyed.  It’s not as funny or as clever as Spongebob or Penguins but it’s still entertaining and worth a rental. I’m not trying to oversell it but it was just better than I expected it to be.

I’d say give it a shot especially if you are having one of those days…

And remember “some days are just like that. Even in Australia”

That said the book is better. I recommend all parents have it and read it regularly to their kids.

Overall Grade- B  The book gets an A+