Marvel Studios, who gave us blockbusters Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, launches its newest endeavor--'Guardians of the Galaxy'!

A sneak peek....

'Guardians of the Galaxy is directed by almost 44-year old James Gunn (birthday is August 5) and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close as Nova Prime Rael and Benicio Del Toro as The Collector.

The film is Rated PG-13.

Here's the official Marvel 'Guardian of the Galaxy' website.

 

I was having difficulty finding my son, Ross, through the maze of blue coats and ties. With a deep feeling of both pride and respect overwhelming me, my search expanded across the vast parade grounds at a faster pace. I was so proud of Ross for setting his sights on a goal and achieving it--not only as his father but also as an Air Force officer charged with going to war with these young patriots standing before me.

For nearly two decades, Ross had watched the Air Force life in action as my dependent. Now he was independent--and putting on the blue uniform, ready to answer the same call to duty his Old Man has responded to over the many years.

My search continued at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, (the official “Gateway to the Air Force”) looking for my nineteen year old, who’d just became one of our nation’s newest U.S. Air Force airmen on active-duty.

Forty-eight hours earlier I arrived into San Antonio International airport following a 7,000-mile flight from South Korea. My parents, who could not hide their excitement for their grandson’s upcoming graduation from Basic Training, joined me in the River City. Dad, a Russian linguist who served in the U.S. Air Force, returned to Lackland Air Force Base for the first time in 62 years and the Korean War. Now on this particular day, we had a family gathering of 3 generations of U.S. Air Force airmen; all with different jobs, responsibilities, and period of service in our nation’s history…but all with a sense of duty and sacrifice.

The Three Airmen

Wingmen.

I weaved between the handfuls of airman standing at parade rest, narrowing down my search for Ross and his flight still in formation. Wait, there he is! Ahead of me by about 30 feet--with twelve happy family reunions taking place between us--I forged ahead, my distinctive "all business" walk charging; determined and laser-focused on one thing: my son.

As I drew closer to now Airman King, both of us wearing matching Service Dress uniforms, I called out to him. He immediately recognized me out the right-corner of his eyes, approaching fast from his 2 o’clock position. He popped to attention immediately. I reached out with my right hand to shake his hand but Airman Ross had already started the saluting motion with his right hand.

I’m sure Airman Ross E. King, my wonderful treasure presently "on loan" to our great country, thought he was saluting his father--a military officer. But the opposite was true. I was saluting him.

His first salute in the Air Force was with me on that November day in 2012. And my last salute in the Air Force took place last month with now Airman First Class Ross King, a second after he placed the retirement pin upon my Service Dress uniform.  That final act on active-duty marked the family’s Air Force torch formally being handed from the 2nd generation of service to our 3rd.

Fly, Fight and Win!

***

King was commissioned in 1990 at Oregon State University and retired from active-duty in June of this year. During his career, Colonel King flew a number of U.S. aircraft, to include the C-130 and EC-130 aircraft. He is an expert in electronic attack and cyberspace warfare.

Note to readers: This was an excerpt from the unpublished novel titled 'My Wild View Yonder - Memoirs of an Air Force Officer & Pilot' by retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Patrick King.

TAG: 'Between Showtimes'

As most of you know, I started doing movie reviews a few years ago on Facebook.  Since then, my reviewing has grown into this REEL BRIEF website and publications for media outlets.  With over 100 movie reviews, I thought it would be a good time to look at my grading criteria--to give you an idea of how I determine the 'Hits' from the 'Misses' on the big screen.

Lets look inside the numbers at a few of my grades...

During my first 100 movie reviews I've given out exactly five A+ grades (for 5%).  Just five.  Here are those movies that got perfection.

'Waiting for Superman' (2010)

'Secretariat' (2010)

'Moneyball' (2011)

'Safety Not Guaranteed' (2012)

'Dallas Buyers Club' (2013)

Likewise, the lowest grade I've given to a movie over the years has been a "D" (4%).  Here are those four "D" graded culprits:

'Trouble With the Curve' (2012)

'Django Unchained' (2012)

'August: Osage County' (2013)

'Single Moms Club' (2014)

That list of "D" rated movies does not including the "D+" variety--which I did assign to the Robert Redford film 'All Is Lost' (2013).

Below is a short-list of the things I look for in a movie that affects my theater experience and its assigned grade:

1.  Entertainment Value. The telltale indicator of a movie's accomphishment or not is whether I look at my watch during the film. If I do check the time it also doesn't necessarily mean bad news every time.  In fact, it can be a good sign...movies that I'm enjoying and really hate to see end, often cause me to want to see how much running time is remaining.

2.  Did the ending surprise me, and make sense?  The end of a movie is as important as the first 2+ hour journey to get there.  A director that can tie up loose ends, send viewers home shocked, or feeling good, and make the finish believable earn high marks.  I sense this overall feeling for a film, based upon its finale, even before I get to the theater's parking lot.

3.  As I leave the movie theater, do I feel cheated by the film?  Did I get my money's worth from the film?  Many times, particularly with sequels and trilogies, I sense that the director and screenplay writers "mailed in their work" after the original movie or don't do their due diligence to continue to put excellence on-screen.  Instead, they just check the box and expect viewers to want to keep coming back for more--but expecting less.  I expect more AND better with each sequel or series addition.  Are you listening Marvel and 'Planet of the Apes' writers?

4.  Character Development.  Does the film take the time to fully and appropriately tell the story.  And the main ingredient to storytelling is filling in the blanks with realistic characters that we can relate to and understand.  A director that skips character development fails to fully invest audiences into his or her story.  This makes the picture less effective.

5.  Solid acting.  Exceptional performances--especially from the leading characters--is a must for a film to warrant an "A" letter grade. Outstanding acting in a movie can overcome many of the film's other flaws--but not to the point of making it an A+ movie.

6.  Presentation.  Over emphasis on special effects (re: Michael Bay, 'Transformers') can stymie on-screen performances and distract viewers from the story itself.  Cinematography is also a wonderful thing.  It brings us, the moviegoers, into the scene to watch the film lucidly right before our very eyes.  Computer generated imagery (CGI) can be very effective if introduced in the right places for the right amount of screen time.

7.  Heartfelt.  Did a movie grab me and want to talk about it immediately with those I'm with? Or leave me wanting to call someone to discuss it?  Happy, sad, thrilling, edge-of-theater-seat suspenseful, informative--all of these emotions and thoughts play an important part in a movie's success and grade.  A film doesn't have to make me happy as long as it's believable and creates an emotional connection to viewers.

8.  Did the movie have an ending?  A movie must have an ending.  Period. Now, the director may want to have a character walk off into the sunset and leave it to moviegoers to make their own conclusions on the future's trappings..but there must be a walk into the sunset. Remember the ending to 'Castaway' with Tom Hanks' character?  Perfect.  He meets a woman in a truck and the rest is history--whatever each of us believes takes place in Hanks' life after the credits roll.

9.  Good writing.  A script is the most important part of a successful film--it takes the story and the director's touch and puts it down on paper. The screenplay and script are the foundation of a house.  The best actors and actresses can deliver their lines with an Academy Award performance.  But if the script doesn't tell the story in an effective and realistic manner, than all is lost. Seriously. See Robert Redford's experience in 'All Is Lost' for example.

10.  Direction.  The plot and way the story is told must make sense and be understood to viewers in a believable way.  Excellent direction makes storytelling come alive.  Every director would love to make 6 hour films.  Unfortunately, they only get 2-3 hours max.  Stuff must be cut out from the final product.  Great directors can still take us on an adventure within 150 minutes. There's a reason that most Oscar nominated movies also have their directors up for Best Director.

What do you look for in a movie?  How do you determine if you got your money's worth at the theater?  Does a movie need to tie up loose ends at the end to be good?

TAG - Between Showtimes

 

A Most Wanted Man

The late, 4-time Oscar nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman provides us with another gripping keystone performance in ‘A Most Wanted Man’--the last film appearance for Hoffman before his accidental death earlier this year from drug intoxication. Unfortunately, Hoffman’s role as the leader a German spy agency was the only remarkable screen presence. This yawner from director Anton Corbijn leaves viewers more informed on the underground funding for terrorist cells but fails to captivate and draw in audiences due to its shallow support characters and weak storyline.

A Most Wanted Man 2

Hoffman’s character, Gunter Bachmann, heads a small group of German spies tasked with counterterrorism intelligence gathering inside the city of Hamburg--the epicenter from where terrorists plotted and planned the attacks on the U.S. during 9/11. Hoffman’s Bachmann must balance chasing and catching smaller terrorist targets with restraint and gaining additional intelligence in the hopes of netting even bigger al Qaeda fish.

Director Corbijn nimbly highlights the challenges of enticing ordinary people to assist government agencies in getting the upper hand against terrorist organizations. The problem is that this film doesn’t give Rachel McAdams’ lawyer, or Willem Dafoe’s banking exec character, the space or time to fully develop into the plot and solidify the storyline. Another incomplete theme transpires when Corbijn attempts to depict how well different spy agencies play together and share information in today’s covert world. Hoffman’s professional courtesy with a CIA operative (played by Robin Wright) could have been further developed but was fragmented and largely untapped.

Without stronger backup support on screen, Hoffman is left dragging on cigarette after cigarette in almost every scene. When the super spook isn’t smoking he’s slowly contemplating terrorist money trails--perhaps too cautiously, voiding any chance for excitement on the big screen until the movie’s final scene. With bourbon in his hand and little screen action to raise audiences’ pulse rates, the film battles boredom before finally dissipating into what feels like a nightcap for viewers. The pace slows to the point that every scene with Hoffman turns into a constant reminder of the gigantic acting talent we lost in real life--and wasted in this film.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film role is persuading and powerful to watch--but the movie ultimately falls victim to an incomplete story with weak supporting characters. Catching terrorists is supposed to be dramatic and suspenseful on film, not a dull chase following bank accounts and paper money. ‘A Most Wanted Man’ squandered the perfect chance to showcase a phenomenal cast led by Academy Award winner Hoffman...a missed opportunity that we won’t ever again see with his shocking death. It’s appropriate that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last word on film is an expletive shouted in a fit of emotion, a result of the film’s only excitement and drama. Perhaps he knew that his edgy finale still wasn’t enough to bring merit to this movie.

Grade: C

'A Most Wanted Man' is Rated R with a running time of 2 hours.

A Most Wanted Man 3

 

 

'Homefront' stars James Statham ("The Expendables" trilogy) as a former DEA agent retired into the back woods of Louisiana with his young daughter following an "incident" undercover during his last job.  Real-life martial artist Statham puts his hand-to-hand skills to use early (and often) in this action movie.

Homefront 2

James Franco wears the bad-guy role very well while Winona Ryder continues her movie death spiral following success in 2010's  "Black Swan".

Homefront

The film's screenplay was developed by Sylvester Stallone based off the novel by Chuck Logan.  So this movie won't challenge anyone's cerebrum, but it does give viewers the opportunity to watch some bad people get their arses handed to them.  And in this crazy world of evil-doers, it cleanses the palate nicely in that regard.  In fact, I'm going to tag this film under "Feel Good".

Not a poor rental choice to kill an hour and forty minutes.  It's available for rent at Amazon, Flixster, Netflix and iTunes.

Grade: C+

"Homefront" is Rated R.

Dreams do come true.

WATCH here:  Go Blue!

I've always loved these ESPN "Make-A-Wish" tributes--allowing us to see moments of happiness shine in places often too dark for us healthy ones to fathom.  They also help each of us in the busy, sometimes difficult world, re-cage our life's compasses to what's really important.

You can find more ESPN "My Wish" videos here.

Begin Again 2

This film provides the perfect mix of music and relationships, blending both with equal parts of raw emotion thrown in for good measure. Viewers looking for a splendid date night movie or an up-close view of the music industry’s research and development side of the house will find “Begin Again” a very satisfying summer soundtrack and film experience.

Director John Carney, who brought us the surprise 2006 hit “Once” using unknown film stars singing an Oscar-winning tune, attempts to capture much of that same success and winning formula in this adventure. Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (for 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice”) is a familiar screen presence playing the role of a British songwriter for her boyfriend (portrayed by real-life singer Adam Levine). Admirably, Carney gets both Knightley and Levine to venture outside their normal day-to-day comfort zones—actress Knightley showing off her singing chops for the first time on the big-screen while Maroon 5 lead vocalist Levine uses “Begin Again” to launch a potential film career.

Begin Again 3

“Begin Again” is a compelling and rich movie that takes viewers along the artistic music path from talent discovery to chart-topping success. It examines the behind-the-scenes struggles of a record-label exec (Mark Ruffalo) that has hit rock bottom personally and professionally. And what a challenge life is for him—with his employment, marriage and fatherhood all hanging in the balance. Ruffalo’s stellar midlife crisis performance as the character Dan will easily make viewers forget he ever wore green paint as The Hulk in “Marvel’s The Avengers” (2012).

It’s the believability and realism in “Begin Again” that separates this film from so many other romantic dramas and comedies. Director Carney’s movie modus operandi is to let his storylines take a natural and acceptable course in a film—even if that means final scenes don’t tie up loose ends or conclude with happy endings for all involved. Carney sides with reality and any tiebreakers towards the end of the film usually sway in the direction of life’s real uncertainties—leaving the audience to find their own movie wrap.

Begin Again 4

Although Oscar history tells us that films debuting before September have an uphill battle to gain Academy Award nominations, “Begin Again” has several things going for it. Ruffalo, an Oscar nominee for 2010’s “The Kids Are All Right” and a real-life brain tumor survivor, achieves his finest performance ever in film. “Begin Again” gives a chorus of music throughout, but after the last note is sung, this movie is about Ruffalo and his character, Dan. Ruffalo’s inspiring and brilliant effort deserves an Oscar nod in the Best Actor category. Likewise, a strong supporting cast that includes previous Oscar nominees Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) as Dan’s teenage daughter and Catherine Keener (“Being John Malkovich”) playing his wife flawlessly cover any acting shortcomings from film novice Levine. The entire ensemble successfully sells the realism behind the microphone while Carney avoids any awkward gimmicks or faux pas in the relationship between Ruffalo and Knightley.

“Begin Again” easily makes my Top 10 List for 2014 films. Exceptional performances, particularly Ruffalo’s as the ear of the music industry, reward filmgoers with a realistic storyline of relationships and turning one’s life around after setbacks. Knightley’s first-ever singing gig may not have been pitch perfect during every ballad, but she kept the storyline interesting and plausible. Carney, much like his successful Irish music drama “Once”, provides an encore that’s very watchable to viewers due to its realistic depiction of life. The film and its conclusion—which continue as credits roll—allow us to eavesdrop and listen in to how music is discovered but also made, promoted and sold. “Begin Again” is great movie to add to your summer playlist!

Grade: A

"Begin Again" is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes.

Please excuse this momentary look back to 2008, but this French infantryman's views of our American troops in Afghanistan is still true today and remains a classic read:

“We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while – they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army – one that the movies brought to the public as series showing “ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events”. Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent – from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.

Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine – they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them – we are wimps, even the strongest of us – and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted : their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity lack of privacy and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland – everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors ! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark – only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered – everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all – always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the ennemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting : they just charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later – which cuts any pussyfooting short.

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is – from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America’s army’s deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers”.

***

My French isn't that good, so I'll have to leave it to others to interpret the goods and authenticate.

The pilot's log book. Perhaps no other endeavor or job requires an individual to track such oddities.

Not only do pilots have to log every flight from departure location to destination, but also account for the time it took us to get there...right down to the navigator's arse in accuracy--or .1 hours (six minutes for you non-math types).

We must also explain in our log books what exactly we were doing to contribute to that Orville and Wilbur Wright moment. Were we acting, and I do use that word loosely, as First Pilot--actively controlling the aircraft (to include auto pilot operation)--or really acting, as the Copilot who just occupies a front row seat with a set of controls, but isn't controlling the aircraft (usually the non-flying pilot works the radios/checklists and handles communication to Air Traffic Controllers). With multiple destinations the pilots will normally swap duties after each leg of the trip to allow the other pilot the chance to miss radio calls or blame mysterious crosswinds for bumpy landings.

Instructor pilots must log the time they provide instruction to a student pilot. Evaluator pilots who give pilots their annual check rides must also log that evaluator time in their log book. Both of these qualifications provide pilots with valuable log entries that represent their expertise and experience in flying.

Our log books entries must also reflect the conditions experienced during every flight. Any part of the flight that took place during night conditions is recorded. Ever wonder why newspapers and newscasts show the official sunset and sunrise times? For us pilots. The same occurs for flying in clouds or other external conditions requiring pilots to primarily reference flight instruments in order to maintain aircraft attitude. Gotta log that time too.

I always fill out my log book immediately after engine shutdown. Since I have to fill out a similar form in the aircraft maintenance log, I use this time to make sure my log book reflects the same information.

My first entry in my log book describes my maiden voyage as "pre-flight, taxi, run-up, 4-basics, shutdown". The date is July 6, 1984 and I was in high school at the time. This introductory flight in Eugene, Oregon, lasted a whole .9 hours (54 minutes) and I'm sure my flight instructor moved the stick (or "yoke" as we call it) the entire time as I just hung on for dear life.

Most of the time I put the name of the other pilot I flew with in the "remarks" section of my log book. This gives me the opportunity to go back and double-check the fight records that the Air Force keeps on all it's pilots. It's also good to look back and remember all the guys and gals I've flown with over the years. The only time I didn't list the other pilots in my log book was when I was an instructor pilot at the C-130 schoolhouse. During those sorties, I could have 3 student pilots flying with me on one flight, all rotating into the other seat between takeoffs and landings. Without their grade books in my hand, they were called "hey, you're next in the seat. Get ready."

May 2, 1998. A flight from Aviano Air Base in Italy to Lajes Field, in the Azores, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic. Remarks say "tail swap", indicating we were swapping this Hercules with another C-130. The flight lasted 7.1 hours and additional remarks describe that night's dinner; "swordfish at the Pescador Restaurant". That was great swordfish. Highly recommend it.

The "Remarks" section also provides a glimpse into my flights that didn't go quite as planned and were cut short due to emergencies. A C-130 flight in 1996 that lasted only 18 minutes because of a "prop over speed on take-off". Just long enough to fly a radar approach and run the After Take-off, Prop Malfunction, Engine Shutdown Procedure (ESP), Descent, and Before Landing checklists. Other short flights that were the result of in-flight problems include "ESP #4 for RPM" (translation: Engine Shutdown Procedure for #4 propeller outside of allowable RPM limits), "fuel leak", "wheel well overheat", "ESP #2 for high oil temp", "decoupled prop", along with a dozen other aircraft problems.

A March 29, 1998 log entry only says "NASTY WX!" in the Remarks section. This C-130 flight originated at Minneapolis-St Paul Int'l Airport (MSP) and we were doing a local test flight in the northern section of Minnesota. I decided to cut the mission short and return early to MSP due to approaching thunderstorms. However, the thunderstorms were building up in several directions and air traffic controllers were stacking aircraft into holding patterns. I had a great navigator on-board and with his eyes on the radar scope we were able to skirt around these storms with his vectors. We were the first aircraft to get by the storms and actually land at MSP that afternoon.

Log entries that are bare on specifics and listed as "local" flights to keep the real destinations unknown are either special forces missions or rapid-response flights for higher headquarters. Both of which don't need reminders written about in my log book in order for this pilot to remember them and where we were operating at.

Most pilots look to their log books for only the total hours they've accumulated over the years. When I approached 3,000 hours I thought is was a good milestone. However, as the flying hours have continued since then, I now look at my log book as a source of many great stories with many great people. We've travelled all over the world and seen great places, mostly on Uncle Sam's dime. Yes, there's been some interesting and perhaps stressful moments along the way, but the success of the missions and being able to take part in so many operations makes up for all the days sweat flowed from my David Clark covered head.

Take a look at your log book and see where life's journey has taken you. It may be a photo or scrap book, archives from a blog, or even letters from long ago...but all a memory book to you, logging your journey through life.

Logbook

My log book.

***

King was commissioned in 1990 at Oregon State University and retired from active-duty in June of this year. During his career, Colonel King flew a number of U.S. aircraft, to include the C-130 and EC-130 aircraft. He is an expert in electronic attack and cyberspace warfare.

Note to readers: This was an excerpt from 'My Wild View Yonder - Memoirs of an Air Force Officer & Pilot' by retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Patrick King. 'The Pilot's Logbook' was originally written by Colonel King in 2007 following his deployment to the Middle East and was republished in national magazines.