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Today’s Google Doodle Salutes Sergei Eisenstein

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Today’s Google Doodle pays tribute to one of the great visionaries of the early days of movies, Russian director Sergei Eisenstein on the 120th anniversary of his birth.

The earliest films were pretty much just using the camera as though it was seated in the audience of a play, with some close-ups. Eisenstein was hugely influential in the development of “montage” story-telling, with cuts back and forth to different points of view. His classic “Odessa Steps” sequence from his film “Battleship Potemkin” is still studied today.

This scene in “The Untouchables” pays tribute to it.

You can learn more about Eisenstein here:

It is interesting to note that his father, Mikhail Eisenstein, was an architect whose majestic and imaginative work is still on display in Riga, Latvia.

Most Valuable Players: Actors Who Appeared More than One Top 2017 Film

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Copyright Sony PIctures Classics

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothee Chalamet, Sally Hawkins, Lucas Hedges, Alison Brie, and Caleb Landry Jones are among the actors who appeared in more than one 2017 awards contender. Some are well-known actors we are seeing in a new light, like Bob Odenkirk, or well-known actors who just keep being great like Nicole Kidman and Robin Wright. Others are reliable stalwarts like Stuhlbarg, Tracy Letts, and Bill Camp. Others seem to have come out of nowhere to astonish us, like Chalamet and Jones. Indiewire has a great gallery of last year’s MVPs.

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017

12 Strong

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Portrayal of misogynistic regime
Violence/ Scariness: Extended wartime violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
If it was fiction, you’d dismiss it as too far-fetched. But this recently declassified military mission following 9/11, with a tiny Special Forces group, just twelve men, led by an officer who had never been in combat, were sent to Afghanistan to take out a Taliban outpost. They were vastly overmatched in terms of men and weapons. And, most improbable of all, they had to travel by horseback. Men trained to use the very latest of technology were riding the mode transportation used by knights and cowboys. These guys are the best of the best, nothing but courage, patriotism, skill, and determination all the way through. Think of them as The Clean or rather Sandy Dozen.

This film begins with a brief reminder of the terrorist attacks leading up to the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. And then, as in all films of men about to go into danger, we see happy families, just enough to make sure we care about these loving husbands and fathers. We know that Captain Nelson (Chris Hemsworth, back to being mortal after “Thor: Ragnarok” but no less heroic) is not going to be able to keep his promise to pick that adorable ladybug-drawing daughter after school, and pretty soon he knows it, too.

There are wives who bravely say that this is what they signed up for. One says, “Some wives cry; I clean,” as she scrubs her oven. Another looks at her husband grimly, insisting he give their son the bad news himself. Nelson has to undo his plans for a desk job to go back to his team. He also has to prove himself to his commanding officer, who selects him over five other teams because he seems to have the best understanding of the challenges, especially the weather that will make their mission impossible if they don’t complete it before winter makes the route impassable.

And then the twelve are on their way with just the briefest and sketchiest debrief from a CIA officer. There are three warlords in the area who all oppose the Taliban but otherwise are in mortal combat with each other. One of the challenges for the American team will be to keep that fragile alliance in place as they need the support of all of them to reach the outpost, liberating several locations along the way.

It is hard to follow at times. There are so many “the whole world depends on this next impossible thing” moments, so much bro talk, so much tech talk, so many reminders of how many days “in country,” so many similar-looking explosions and shoot-outs. But Hemsworth, Shannon, and Pena create real, relatable and yet heroic characters, and seeing them ride into battle on horseback against daunting odds is genuinely moving and inspiring. The most intriguing part is the developing relationship between Nelson and his local counterpart, General Dostum (Navid Negahban). The outcome revealed before the credits is appropriately both reassuring and disturbing.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive wartime peril and violence including guns and explosions with many characters injured and killed, some grisly and disturbing images, references to child abuse, strong language, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: What is the difference between a soldier, a warrior, and a warlord? How did Nelson and Dostum learn to trust one another? What can we tell about the man by the way they said goodbye to their families?

If you like this, try: the book by Doug Stanton and the movies “Act of Valor,” “Lone Survivor” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”

Forever My Girl

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for language
Profanity: Some mild language
Nudity/ Sex: References to groupies, pregnancy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcohol abuse, reference to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, scene in hospital, child in peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018

Copyright 2017 Forever My Girl
Well, there is a brief song by Travis Tritt. And actor Alex Roe is personable and engaging even in the preposterously imagined role of Liam Page, a country singer whose every moment is obsessed over by zillions of fans and all of the magazines sold at grocery store checkout counters. But that can’t make up for the syrupy Nicholas Sparks wannabe storyline, clunky dialogue (we are told three times in the first seven minutes that hometown boy Liam is on the brink of stardom) and the excruciatingly chirpy child at its heart.

Liam Page runs out on his wedding, leaving Josie (Jessica Rothe) in their Louisiana hometown and going off to pursue a career in music. Eight years later, he is is a country superstar, performing in arenas and chased by fans as though he is a Beatle. A would-be groupie accidentally breaks his vintage cell phone, and he runs to the store barefoot offering $10,000 to get it repaired. Under the duct tape and the bent antenna there is a voicemail he just cannot lose (or, apparently, download to another phone). This is, of course, documented by fans on their (up to date) cell phones and a major news story.

Liam is a mess, drinking too much, behind on the songs he owes his record label. When he finds out that his hometown best friend has been killed in an accident, he returns, to stand outside the church during the funeral, unable to bring himself to go inside. He gets a grim greeting from the preacher, who is his father, and a punch in the stomach from Josie. But it turns out that Josie has a seven year old daughter, and it does not take a math whiz to figure out that Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson) unfortunately conceived as 90 percent precocious sass with gratingly quippy commentary about the “stats on surviving an accident in a convertible — they are low, staggeringly low.” “What happened to Mom’s rose garden?” Liam asks his father in case we are missing the metaphor. Don’t worry, no one possibly could.

The town (Georgia playing the part of Louisiana) is like the setting for a Hallmark channel Christmas movie starring Hannah Montana, with twinkly lights and bustling businesses on Main Street, and just filled with good neighbors who are endlessly supportive and kind and unanimous in their rejection of the hometown boy who jilted Josie. We know where this is all going, but it is still jarring when Josie goes from a Taylor Swiftian “we are never ever getting back together” to “I want to go on a magical superstar date!”

Listen, Nicholas Sparks is already Nicholas Sparks lite. You can’t really take it any further or, I should say, make it more shallow than that. Pretty people with pretty problems will always be playing on a screen somewhere, but this one is better suited for watching while folding laundry.

Parents should know that this film includes drinking and alcohol abuse, reference to drug use, sad parental death, offscreen fatal accident, mild references to groupies and pregancy, and some language.

Family discussion: Why did Liam leave Josie? Should she forgive him? Why?

If you like this, try: “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” “The Lucky One” and “Dear John”

Mira Singer on the Theme of Failure in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”

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Mira Singer has an exceptionally thoughtful essay on the theme of failure in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” NOTE: To be read after seeing the films as there are spoilers.

Master Yoda, the wisest character in the Star Wars universe, says, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” The film doesn’t just state this message — it proves it. Each of the characters’ failures leads to important lessons, character development, and thematic revelation. There is an inverse relationship between the success of the characters’ plans and the lessons they learn, which is the way life often works.

It is only because the characters fail that they learn what they learn and grow the way they do. What they want is different from what they need. Separating character want and need is a classic storytelling technique that this movie executes successfully — the characters pursue what they want, and they don’t get it. Instead, they get what they need.

FURTHER SPOILERS: I note that there were several films about retreat by the good guys this year including three different movies about the real-life Dunkirk rescue (“Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Their Finest”), “The Last Jedi,” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” I will have to think about what this signifies.