Midway: It’s A Hard Movie to Make

Roland Emmerich takes a shot at telling the story of one of the most important battles in the history of the world, but it’s a tough story to tell.

SUMMARY

The movie tries to narrate the story of the Battle of Midway. It starts shortly before WWII with the US Naval attache Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) discussing the possibility of war with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa). The Admiral warns Layton that if the US tried to stop their oil supply, Japan would have to start a war. On December 7, 1941, this becomes prescient, with Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, something Layton tried to warn the White House about. The US enters WWII and Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) takes over command of the US Pacific Fleet, which is now greatly reduced by the Japanese attack. 

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Also Dennis Quaid as Bull Halsey until he gets shingles and leaves. Really.

In April 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) leads a bombing raid on Tokyo that convinces the Japanese to try to solidify their position in the Coral Sea. Layton has cryptographers working around the clock under Commander Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown) to try and crack the Japanese code as to a crucial target known as AF, which they determine to be Midway. In preparation to ambush the Japanese, the US concentrates all of its aircraft carriers and battleships, expecting the Japanese to launch an attack on ground troops on June 4, 1942, which will leave them vulnerable to reprisal from the sea. 

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Yeah, it does resemble a certain movie about Pearl Harbor… called Pearl Harbor

On the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese launch the attack. After the US fails to successfully hit any aircraft carriers from the ground, a US submarine, the USS Enterprise, locates the Japanese fleet, including all of its carriers, and attempts to torpedo them. They’re unsuccessful, and the Japanese command the battleship Arashi to stay behind and keep the sub pinned down so the fleet can escape. However, Commander C. Wade McClusky (Luke Evans), spots the Arashi and, on a hunch, follows it to the fleet. While the Japanese try to re-arm to fight the US Naval fleet, McClusky and Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) manage to bomb the fleet, taking down two of the carriers, while other squadrons take down a third. Best manages to rearm and take another run and hits the last of Japan’s four carriers. With the Japanese fleet now in ruins, the US has essentially shifted the tide of the war in the Pacific.

END SUMMARY

The Battle of Midway was one of the most influential days in the history of the modern world. While the Japanese still had 8 aircraft carriers left after the battle, four more than the US Pacific Fleet, they lost almost half of the skilled maintenance workers in their navy. As the Japanese Navy focused more heavily on fewer, highly-trained individuals compared to the American Navy, this was a major loss that slowed the progress of the Japanese long enough for the US to finally start producing larger carriers in 1943. At that point, US Manufacturing and training just flat-out outpaced the numbers that the Japanese could produce. Moreover, it proved that the Japanese were not the unstoppable Naval force that they were viewed as at the time. 

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More ships means more explosions. More explosions means more wins.

The problem is that this battle requires a LOT of explanation in order to drive home the significance and, well, that eats up time. It requires a lot of characters, which eats up storytelling. It doesn’t end the war, and the Japanese devastate the Americans after at Savo Island, so even though it seems happy, it doesn’t resolve a ton. That’s probably why the movie just never really finds its feet. It has to show so much and so many people and still make the actual battle look reasonable that it just can’t spend the time and energy to get us fully emotionally invested in anyone. Hell, it’s hard to say who exactly the movie is following because many of the people that we follow die during the film. I think it’s McClusky’s, Best’s, and Layton’s film, but that’s still at least 3 protagonists, one of whom barely sees the others, and there are at least a half-dozen deuteragonists and, of course, the antagonist Yamamoto. There are just too many moving parts in this movie, because it’s trying to tell the whole story of a major event. 

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Hell, I can’t even remember which guy this is and he’s like 5th in the film.

There’s also the random subplot of the Doolittle Raid which eats up about 20 minutes and mostly seems to be there so that the ending can include a mention of how much the Japanese massacred the Chinese, probably because this movie was largely funded by a Chinese company. While the US mostly remembers all the stuff the Germans did, the Chinese remember how many people were massacred during Japan’s occupation of the country, and this movie is a less-than-subtle reminder for the audience.

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I mean, this would be an interesting film on its own, we don’t need it as a subplot.

Despite the fact that this is the most expensive independent film ever made, the effects aren’t always at their best. Roland Emmerich knows explosions, but it bothered me a lot that all the ships at Pearl Harbor were mostly empty during the initial bombing run. Not that I wanted to see a lot of people die, but it still made the scene ring false. When the actual battle happens, it looks good, but it’s also noticeable that most of the attack scenes tend to be very isolated and focused only on one attacker and a target for the purpose of budget. 

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Yeah, this doesn’t look very good and this was already in another movie.

The acting ranges from great (Wilson) to “clearly there for the money” (Harrelson) to bad (Skrein), and all of that is pretty standard for Roland Emmerich’s direction. Like I said, the plot’s super light on emotion and that meant that the acting needed to lift more weight and it doesn’t. There are also a few weird changes that I don’t quite get. For example, the movie accurately shows Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) getting captured, but he’s killed by the Japanese tying him to an anchor and throwing him overboard. In real life, he was killed… by tying him to a water-filled kerosene can and throwing him overboard. That’s just a weird change that I honestly was annoyed by, even though I’m probably the only one. There are a ton of little inaccuracies like that and they build up, because… Jesus, guys, just read a few books.

Overall, not a bad movie, but it’s trying to capture a really complicated moment in time and it makes it feel unfocused. The fact that the director doesn’t exactly pull out the best performances doesn’t help. I think more people need to know about Midway, but this is not the film for it.

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Netflix Review: The Highwaymen – Rewriting Cinematic History (Spoiler-Free)

Two of the best actors of the last century partner together to take out two of the most famous criminals in American history.

SUMMARY

It’s the 1930s and outlaw couple Bonnie and Clyde (Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert) break several of their associates out of prison. In response, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) hires former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to track down the pair, since the FBI has been ineffective and overloaded with bureaucracy. Hamer’s former partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) joins him. While Hamer is fairly well-off, having married into money, and interested in justice, Gault is broke and needs the money. The pair try to track down the Barrow Gang through the country while dealing with the FBI’s disdain and the fact that their particular brand of law enforcement is going to the wayside.

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They’re in 4 of my top 20 favorite films.

END SUMMARY

I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that Bonnie and Clyde die brutally, given that A) it’s one of the most famous scenes on film and B) it’s what happened in real life. What’s interesting is that the film knows that we know that and treats the pair differently than most focal points would be. Bonnie and Clyde aren’t in a ton of the movie and, even when they are, they are mostly kept out of focus or shot without showing their full figures. All of the majesty and romance that was given to them in the film Bonnie and Clyde by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway is stripped away and all we really see of them is the aftermath of their crimes: Dead bodies and broken families.

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God, such a great scene, but so very, very horrifying.

The film really goes out of its way to rebut the depiction of Bonnie and Clyde as a modern-day Robin Hood while also pointing out that so many people were truly willing to overlook everything the pair did in the name of spiting the wealthy. In real life, and mostly in the film, Bonnie and Clyde killed at least nine police officers and a handful of civilians. At some shootouts they would fire hundreds of rounds into public areas without consideration of casualties. The film recounts some of their more horrible offenses, like murdering a gas station worker for $4.50 and murdering a family man on his way home to see his kids in order to steal his car. Despite this, women are shown to be dressing like Bonnie and poor folks are more than willing to cover for them. They have massive mobs of rabid fans which the pair even uses to keep law enforcement away from them. As it happened in real life, the pair had 35,000 attendees at their funerals, a number that, at the time, was almost unimaginable. Despite being cold-blooded killers, they were worshipped because they hurt the banks. Granted, the banks, too, are given a very negative treatment in the film, which, let’s be honest, is completely justified by the things they were willing to do to people during the 1930s. Even Gault’s home is shown being sold by the bank. However, it’s so horrifying to realize that people genuinely wanted to celebrate these two just because they stood against someone they hated. It’s like backing Jack the Ripper because you don’t like prostitutes.

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This is a real mob trying to loot their corpses.

This film really is interesting, because it presents the two leads as the opposite of the pair who they’re fighting against. Hamer and Gault might both be there for different reasons, at least at first, but neither of them is looking for fame, mostly because they had it in the past and found that the things they were known for were distasteful in the long run. While they both lived and died in relative obscurity compared to the two people they ended up killing, they’re more deserving of acclaim than Bonnie and Clyde, particularly for acknowledging their bad deeds. Ultimately, the ending of the film stands in opposition to the romanticized claims of the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway film.

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… Okay, they don’t exactly look like their counterparts.

I fully recommend watching it after watching the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde to get the full effect.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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49) Thanksgiving Orphans (Cheers)

Cheers takes place in a dive bar, because, ultimately, all of the characters are people who need to be in a dive bar. They’re a collection of failures. Sam (Ted Danson), the owner/bartender, drank himself out of a major league career. Carla (Rhea Perlman), the waitress, hates her family and most people in general, both in the bar and out of it. Diane (Shelley Long), the other waitress and Sam’s ex, is a constant failure as an intellectual, and really only stays at the bar because it’s the only environment in which she is the smartest person… unless you count Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who’s only there because he’s alone (and, at this point, divorced once and left at the altar once). Norm (George Wendt), probably TV’s biggest alcoholic that isn’t animated, is there to escape his wife, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is there because he’s an oft-wrong know-it-all who lives with his mother. Woody (Woody Harrelson) is the closest thing to a success, because he’s so stupid that he is coming close to living to his potential. Plus, his girlfriend is super rich… and also dumb.

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Some of these people weren’t in this episode. But ignore them.

SUMMARY

In this episode, the cast’s failures are highlighted, when it’s pointed out that everyone is alone at Thanksgiving: Sam’s fiance is gone for the week, Norm’s wife is at her mother’s and left him alone, Cliff’s mother is volunteering, and Carla’s kids are at her ex-husband’s house. Carla invites everyone over to her house, making it one of the first episodes to be set someplace other than the bar. Once they’re all there together, however, they largely behave exactly as they normally do. They watch sports, rag on each other, reminisce about the times their lives had promise, and Diane crashes the party dressed up like a Pilgrim. Okay, one of those is unique, but still within Diane’s normal behavior. As expected of a group of people who have mostly messed up their lives to this point, everything about the day goes wrong. Everyone is sad about their personal states, the food fails to get cooked, Diane makes everyone wait too long for dinner, and the whole evening starts to fall apart, right up until the food fight starts.

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The Losers Club

The food fight is the definition of the word catharsis on Cheers, both for the characters and for the actors. They get to do exactly what a group of losers who serve as a surrogate family have always wanted to do to one-another: Pelt each other with yams. Everyone is angry at everyone else, but also angry at themselves and their lives, and they all just really need to do something to destroy their status quo. This isn’t really a negative, because they’re doing it surrounded by the only people who will understand. To cap off the fight, a pie thrown at Sam by Diane misses and hit’s Norm’s wife Vera, who has shown up at that moment. Vera, whose face is never shown in the run of the show thanks to that pie, immediately ends the festivities by telling Norm to take her home.

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This episode is a fun reminder that, while it is cliché, it’s true, family is not just blood, but heart.

PREVIOUS – 50: Dexter

NEXT – 48: The Wire

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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