Mike at the Movies: Midway and More

Midway (PG-13)

Midway was the pivotal battle in the Pacific during WWII. Following the disaster at Pearl Harbor, the American forces, particularly the Navy, had to reassemble. They did, within two months, and struck back at the Japanese navy at the spot in the Pacific called Midway. It wasn’t even an island; it was an atoll.

The star of the film, Ed Skrein, portrays Dick Best, dive-bomber pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy Cross. As portrayed in the film, he was one of the lucky ones to survive the dive-bombing tactic as the defensive fire around the Japanese fleet was considerable. His wife, Ann (Mandy Moore), represents all of the wives of the time, forced to suffer at home and wonder, when word came of “heavy casualties” among the pilots, whether her marriage had ended.

Fortunately for the believability of the film, the brass was represented by under-played characters: Woody Harrelson as Adm. Nimitz, Dennis Quaid as Adm. Halsey and Patrick Wilson as Rear Adm. Edwin Layton, who was in a way the real hero of the battle. As the head intelligence officer, he believed in his staff and his cryptologists, headed by a wry civilian in a sweater.

Washington brass predicted the Coral Islands for the big attack, and Layton said it would be Midway, which allowed the Navy to plan the ambush that won the day. Another factor was the return to battle of the carrier Yorktown from drydock to fix repairs from Pearl Harbor, the only American carrier lost in the battle.

The battle scenes are frequent and horrific. In ways an old-fashioned WWII film, its scope and focus on real pilots from the war makes this an excellent vehicle for younger folks to learn about how we got here. The film is also a reminder for older folks who have had to digest hyperbole instead of accomplishment in recent years.

Last Christmas (PG-13)

This is in a way a very American romcom except for a turn it takes near the end that throws everything you thought you knew into a tizzy. Olivia Clarke stars as Kate or Katerina. She is cuteness personified but also a very cynical and somewhat horrible assistant at a Christmas shop owned by a Chinese woman who calls herself Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate literally bumps into the handsome Tom Webster (Henry Golding) of whom Santa says: “You like men tall, handsome and translucent.” That statement takes on a significant meaning late in the film.

Kate’s family, headed by Emma Thompson as Petra, is a mess. Yugoslavian, they are dominated by Petra’s belief that British authorities are going to throw them out. Kate’s only sister is a lesbian, estranged because of her jealousy of Kate. It seems that Kate had a heart transplant several years before and sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) believes Kate has been favored ever since.

Eventually, Kate realizes that Tom may not be the end deal. “I’m not going to heal my heart and then give it to someone who will break it,” she says.

Kate descends into homelessness until she meets Tom and is sheltered for a night at his flat, a spare bachelor flat with no room for hanky-panky. His influence on her, though remote since he often disappears, is excellent. She starts to get outside herself, goes to a shelter to first sing and raise money for them, then works full-time there. She organizes a benefit show.

Then the story turns strange, and you have to make up your own mind as to what it means. The film has a bittersweet ending that will answer no questions for you, though an enigmatic bench may hold some clues.

Olivia Clarke is a true charmer—sort of a British young Meg Ryan with a good voice. The film is fine for the entire family and great for the holidays.

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