What2Watch: Memorialized on screen

With a history back to the mid-1800s, we in the United States have been commemorating Memorial Day on the last Monday in May since 1971. This is a day to solemnly remember those who have served and given everything to this country in the armed forces. While we should certainly celebrate the freedom they have helped us retain, we should also make sure to take the time out of our holiday for honoring the fallen, something I’ve certainly overlooked a time or two over the years.

Neither my wife nor I grew up in military families, both just having a handful of close relatives that served in any branch. Our families do, however, have a healthy respect for those who choose to serve. I mention this to say I really have no firsthand knowledge of the military. One thing I do know for certain is that military life is complicated. Inevitably, war and politics are interwoven into the everyday life of a soldier, whether they want it to be there or not. Separating personal beliefs of politics and war from the human beings that make up our military is also difficult, but something we all must strive to do, particularly on a day like Memorial Day.

With this in mind, I put together a collection of military-minded movies to choose from for your Memorial Day viewing:

MOVIE: Last Flag Flying (2017, R, 124 min, watch on: Prime)

I would doubt the names Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne immediately come to mind when thinking about the cast of a war movie, however they lead this cast as veterans who served in Vietnam together. Carrell’s character ‘Doc’ loses his son, who was serving as a Marine in Afghanistan, and seeks out two men he served with to help him navigate how best to memorialize the fallen soldier. They learn the military hasn’t been honest with ‘Doc’ about how his son died, so instead of a burial at Arlington, they start a road trip back home to New Hampshire. On the journey, the three attempt to reconcile their own military past with the current situation and come to some difficult realizations. Honoring those who have served is central to the story and the way it’s told is quite compelling.

MOVIE: Memorial Day (2012, R, 104 min, watch on: DVD, Prime)

While the title makes this movie seem a shoo-in for this list, my viewing of it honestly left me pining for what could’ve been. With some better acting and a plot that tied things together in a more meaningful way, this would’ve been an amazing movie. However, there is a story worth hearing here, really reinforcing the idea that the stories behind the things we keep are far more valuable than the items themselves. Strafing through time, the storyline in this movie follows the military careers of a grandfather, Bud, who served in WWII and a grandson, Kyle, who served in an ambiguous Middle East setting. Connecting the timelines together is a visit when young Kyle finds Bud’s footlocker and chooses three items from it, with Bud then telling the stories of why they are important. Both have tales of losing comrades in the harsh realities of war. After watching the movie, I strongly encourage a second watch with the commentary track on as it added so much understanding to what they were trying to do.

MOVIE: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944, NR, 138 min, watch on: DVD)

If you’re looking to honor the Greatest Generation this Memorial Day, I suggest this movie as it is one of the most historically accurate films that has come out of Hollywood. Though there are some propaganda vibes, to be expected as it was released while the US was still embroiled in both fronts of WWII, the core of the movie is just looking at the Herculean efforts of the pilots who took on the Doolittle Raid. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle brought the crews of twenty-four B-25 Mitchell bombers together to try taking off on a very shortened runway. Soon, the pilots learned they would launch their bombers off the deck of an aircraft carrier for a surprise attack on Tokyo… and I could excitedly go on, but watching it is far more interesting. Everything about it is awe-inspiring, mesmerizing, tragic and inspirational. Eighty airmen were involved, only seven died during or as a direct result of the raid and, surprisingly, sixty-one of them survived the war. None of them are still with us today, but their service and sacrifice were certainly memorable.

So, which one is What2Watch? That’s up to you! Each of these movies has something great to offer your Memorial Day remembrances and would be a worthy choice.

Kent Kraft is someone who has always loved movies and the worlds they can transport you to if you’re willing. More than twenty years ago, he married this love of movies with his love of writing and has a personal archive of more than 700 reviews of movies and their special features. Now living in Laurium, he is loving bringing his movie thoughts to a local discourse.


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