Forget Rihanna – Battleship’s True Star? Real-Life Wounded Iraq Veteran Greg Gadson

Rarely does a movie make you want to leap to your feet in support of our military men and women, as the new film Battleship does, at least when it unabashedly celebrates our soldiers.

But did you know one of its unlikely stars is a real-life veteran who was seriously injured in Iraq?

The poster may highlight Oscar nominee Liam Neeson, pop star Rihanna and heartthrob Taylor Kitsch.

But they’re not the real stars.

Greg Gadson, a true American hero who portrays a wounded veteran, deserves the title.

Gadson’s career brought him from the streets of Iraq to theaters nationwide. According to a recent USA Today article, Gadson was a lieutenant colonel with the Second Battalion and 32nd Field Artillery in Iraq until a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle on the way home from a memorial service. A few days after the attack, he awoke at Walter Reed Hospital with his legs amputated above the knees.

The soldier didn’t believe that people outside of the military would be interested in him but once his story received coverage, he got the recognition he deserved.

Battleship director Peter Berg was one of the people who expressed interest in Gadson. According to the article, Berg was “overwhelmed by Gadson’s story” and “tried for three weeks to offer him a part in the movie.”

That role—which Gadson, despite his initial doubts, eventually accepted– offered the young veteran a chance to portray a soldier struggling with his injuries. While the majority of the film focuses on the fight between Navy ships and the aliens that have landed in the ocean, one of the main subplots focuses on Gadson’s character.

Gadson plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a wounded veteran recovering from the battlefield. He is working with an inspiring physical therapist named Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) on his recovery. In her, he confides his innermost insecurities. “I’m half a man and half a man ain’t enough to be a soldier,” he says. But eventually, he’s given a chance to prove that his warrior spirit hasn’t suffered despite his physical limitations.

Casting Gadson in the role of a weary veteran struggling with his disability was an inspired choice. He truly represents the best of our nation’s military.

Perhaps Gadson deserved a better film. From the lackluster first act to the lame cliché-ridden dialogue, this blockbuster has a lot of obvious weaknesses.

But its greatest strength is its patriotic spirit and its focus on our nation’s military heroes, including a butt-kicking platoon of older veterans. Like this year’s Act of Valor, Battleship unabashedly praises our troops.

Greg Gadson’s remarkable story proves that you can never keep a good soldier down.

Review: ‘Pirates’ Swashbuckles into the Fun Zone for Parents and Kids

Pirates have had their share of onscreen appearances over the past few years. For one, Johnny Depp—whose eccentric personality as Jack Sparrow in 2003’s The Pirates of the Carribbean earned him an Oscar nomination—has become the face of pirates for many theatergoers.

But last weekend, another face of piracy arrived in theaters and this time both parents and young children will be able to enjoy a tale of adventure on the high seas.

The Pirates: Band of Misfits, a feature that relies on stop-motion animation, is a rare treat. It’s a high-quality animated film that wasn’t created by Pixar. Instead, the movie was created by directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, who brought audiences 2000’s delightful Chicken Run.

Pirates tells the story of the naïve but empathetic Pirate Captain, whose quirky crew is full of intriguing characters. Voiced by Hugh Grant, this captain has his eye on one particular prize and it’s probably not the prize you imagine. Instead of seeking gold and treasure, his goal is to win the highly sought-after “Pirate of the Year Award,” a recognition that has alluded him for years. He’s like the Susan Lucci of the pirate kingdom. Although his ragtag gang supports his endeavor, his rivals for the prize mock his ineptitude.

So the Captain takes an adventure that will hopefully bring him to the prize. Along the way, this sensitive seaman comes into contact with the despised Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) and– oddly enough—author Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Victoria is known “as the enemy of pirates everywhere” so the Captain and his crew must disguise themselves in her presence or face a near-certain death. The scenes involving Darwin are played for laughs as the author plans to use the Captain’s pet parrot to his own advantage. Watching Darwin appear onscreen, I assumed that the film would focus on his evolutionary research. Instead, it settles for a few sly references to his work and earns a few guffaws along the way.

One of the best things about this film is the creative ways that it incorporates humor into  its endearing story. From the pirates’ attempts to disguise themselves in the company of Victoria to the Pirate Captain’s botched plan to steal money from other ships to a silent monkey’s cue cards that tell audiences what he’s thinking, Pirates inventively earns its laughs time and again.

Children will enjoy the film’s wonderful animation while parents will enjoy its quirky brand of comedy. Additionally, the movie also subtly packs in a strong moral message about the value of friendship over fame.

At one point, towards the end of the film, the Pirate Captains says, “It’s only impossible if you stop to think about it.” It’s a sentiment played for laughs but more valuable than a punch line. With so many children’s films aiming to achieve a low bar and just attract kids into the theater, Pirates is full of surprises.

Movies like this are rare but not impossible to find. “Stop thinking about it” and check out this family film today.

October Baby Star John Schneider Asks You to Keep an Open Mind

Some movies make it big because their cast is packed with A-list celebrities. Others films boast an eager fan base willing to wait in line to catch a midnight screening of ‘the next big thing.’ And then other movies come out of nowhere and find success by simply telling a strong story.

October Baby is one of those films.

It won’t receive the publicity of a Mirror Mirror and it doesn’t have the diehard fans like The Hunger Games , but Baby has been very successful in its first two weekends of release. In fact, when it was released against Games, it had the second-highest-per-screen average and despite its limited number of screens, was one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of the weekend.

I talked to Dukes of Hazard star John Schneider about the film on its release date and even then, he realized the power of the film. “I’ve actually never been involved in something that is…it’s hard to say ‘taking off’ cause it’s only opening today but it seems like it’s gonna take off,” he said.

Not only was he pleased with the film’s momentum but he was also delighted with the film itself. “I’ve never been so impressed with a final product as I have been when I first sat down and saw October Baby,” he said.

A college student named Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) learns two hard truths as the story begins. First, she was adopted by the couple she’d always believed were her birth parents. Secondly, she learns that her life-long health problems stem from the failed abortion performed on her.

Schneider plays her loving but flawed father Jacob, who has hidden that harsh truth from his daughter. Jacob’s flaws were something that appealed to the Smallville actor. When I asked him about what he looks for in a role, he said that his characters “have to be flawed, they have to have some sort of a gripe, and they have to be honestly, truthfully who they are.”

And Baby focuses a lot on honesty and integrity but this isn’t simply the message movie that some make it out to be, according to Schneider. While many see Baby as strictly a pro-life film, Schneider disagrees. He doesn’t see the movie as being either for or against abortion. “I see it as a forgiveness and healing film,” he said.

But he says that the movie offers up “a different perspective.” “I’d never heard of abortion survivors” before reading the script, he said. And he was so surprised by the concept that he had to reread the page where the concept was introduced.

Schneider didn’t discuss the politics of the movie with me but he told me that those who would automatically reject the concept because of its focus on an abortion survivor should keep an open mind about seeing the film. Schneider—who said that he doesn’t believe that “there’s anything such thing as a Republican or a Democrat anymore”—was quick to note how much he enjoyed debating politics with Bill Maher on the show Politically Incorrect and hopes that people continue to engage in thoughtful discussions, even about controversial subjects and he hopes that Baby can lead to such a conversation.

“I would love to be privy to the conversations in the car on the way home” after seeing the movie, he said.

In terms of how well the film fares as a creative achievement, I enjoyed the movie despite a few of its blatant flaws. The production value isn’t great and some of the characters are more superficial than satisfying but overall, I enjoyed Baby and would recommend it to others, especially those willing to keep an open mind about such a controversial topic.

Schmaltz and Sap in The Vow

A vow– as defined by– is “a solemn promise, pledge or personal commitment.” With Valentine’s Day a few short days away, many married couples will likely be thinking about their own wedding vows. Fortunately, most couples won’t have to overcome the obstacle that Kim and Krickett Carpenter had to face in real life. When the couple was in a car accident, Krickett lost her all of the memories of her husband and Kim had to win back the woman he once married. “The Vow” tells their story.

Unfortunately, though, the drama settles for schmaltz and clichés over uniqueness and personality so real-life couples will probably want to steer clear.

As “The Vow” begins, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are deeply in love. They depart a movie theater, seemingly inseparable. Their night, however, takes a drastic turn when their vehicle is hit by another car– leaving Leo physically injured and Paige’s life changed forever. She can’t remember that Leo is her husband. In fact, she can’t remember her relationship with Leo at all.

Her mind reverts back to when she was studying law in college– a time when she was closer to her parents and engaged to another man.

Despite her parent’s disapproval and Paige’s opportunistic former fiancé, Leo starts his relationship with her over again trying to woo her like he once did. Trying to maintain the vow that he made to her during a romantic wedding ceremony.

The story’s fatal flaw, however, is that it takes a unique story and adds in all of the cliched obstacles that usually appear in movies like this. There are Paige’s parents—played by Sam Neill and Jessica Lange—who immediately dislike Leo, after meeting him for the first time in the hospital. Paige’s father even tells Leo at one point that he should get a divorce! Much of the tension with the parents, it should be noted, were added for dramatic effect, not because they are part of the true-life story.

Of course, with the disapproving parents, there’s also the “other man” who stands in the way on the main couple. In this situation, that man is Jeremy, played by Scott Speedman. Although Paige and Jeremy broke up a long time ago, he sees an opportunity in Paige’s amnesia to reconnect.

Added to those inane plot devices, the story is full of contrived schmaltzy moments that should leave viewers rolling their eyes. Both Paige and Leo—for instance—wrote their wedding vows on restaurant menus but didn’t realize that until the ceremony—how cute! Also, when he passes gas in a car, she closes the window. Okay, that last part isn’t cute. It’s just disgusting. But the film tries so hard with these mushy moments that it’s sometimes unbearable to watch.

To be sure, the story’s premise has value and many women will likely appreciate the idea of a married man making his wife fall in love with him again. But that is all this story offers. None of the characters is particularly interesting and the plot is trite and predictable. People should take a vow not to see this movie.

“The Vow” is rated PG-13 for some nudity and sexual content. It also contains some profanity and an intense sequence that shows the car accident.


Review: The Woman in Black

It looks like Daniel Radcliffe has grown up. At least in his choice of roles.

Now that the eighth film of the “Harry Potter” series has come and gone, the young British actor seems to be on the verge of a new chapter in his career. He has already earned notice for his work onstage in plays like “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and “Equus.”

But with the new movie, “The Woman in Black,” Radcliffe has tried something new. He tries his hand at horror in this story of a widower who finds himself unraveling a mystery in a haunted small town.

The story, which is based on the novel by Susan Hill, opens with three young girls who—all of a sudden—climb onto their window ledges together and jump to their deaths. These young girls are haunted by something but viewers aren’t sure what it is.

Years later, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe)—a widower father and up-and-coming lawyer —arrives in town to settle a woman’s estate. The house where she lived, though, is haunted and many townspeople warn Kipps to stay aware. The young attorney ignores them, choosing instead to spend more time in the abandoned home. He even opts to stay in the house overnight despite nearly everyone’s insistence that he leave the town immediately.

The ghost who has been haunting the town and her former home is—as the title suggests– a woman dressed all in black. For years, local children have been dying mysteriously and many believe that the ghost is responsible. “Don’t go chasing shadows, Arthur,” one local tells the main character to no avail. In his attempt to settle the estate, Arthur finds himself drawn into the mystery of why the woman in black continues to haunt the local families.

The film is full of creepy scenes as title character terrorizes Kipps and the locals. Unfortunately, these sequences settle too easily for easy thrills. Instead of genuine suspense or real terror, the film scares audiences with a combination of creepy music and gotcha moments where people and things pop out at the main character. These scenes may work for some viewers but for others, these moments merely hide the fact that there is no depth to the story itself.

No compelling narrative or characters exist to compel audiences to care who lives and who dies.

In terms of Radliffe himself, the role seems too big for him at this point in the career. With a young child—who looks to be about 6 or 7 years old—Radcliffe feels way too young. The young performer was always going to grow up as an actor but “The Woman in Black” asks him to grow up too quickly. The actor went from playing a teenage wizard into paying a 20-something widower. Actors like Drew Barrymore graduated from being child stars into taking on more adult roles but they did it in a couple of years, not a few months.

Radcliffe should have started out slowly instead of taking on a role that was originally written for someone in their late 20’s.

Overall, “The Woman in Black” is a disappointing ghost story. If the characters had been more-dimensional or the scares had been more than simply “gotcha” moments, this story could have soared but this thriller settles for much less.

The Woman in Black is rated PG-13 for scary moments and violent images of death.

‘Red Tails’ aims at Tuskegee Story but Never Soars

Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. have experience playing members of the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition to their roles in the new film “Red Tails,” a story of the famed African-American pilots of World War II, they have each played airmen before– in “Hart’s War” and in the HBO film, “The Tuskegee Airmen,” respectively. These actors dressed up as airmen, spoke like airmen and learned the basics of flight training as the real Tuskegee Airmen did.

Of course, these actors can never know what it was really like to be a pilot in the first completely African-American aerial unit in the military. Only an actual airman could know and the “Red Tails” producers were smart enough to bring in experts like Dr. Roscoe Brown—one of the original Tuskegee Airmen—to work on this production.

Patheos spoke to Dr. Brown and the cast of “Red Tails” in Washington DC about their work in the film and their efforts to tell this important story.

Written by John Ripley and Aaron McGruder, the film tells the story of a group of anxious young African-American pilots during World War II hoping to engage in more combat. These pilots have been trained and are ready to fight but are often passed over for the toughest assignments because the color of their skin overshadows the extent of their ability and patriotism.

Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and Tristan Wilds portray some of these young pilots while veteran actors Howard and Gooding Jr. play their commanders. These commanders fight against the establishment—personified by the uptight Colonel William Mortamus (Bryan Cranston)—and eventually get the pilots an opportunity to prove their skills in the air.

As Dr. Brown was quick to note, he has been working with other members of the Tuskegee Airmen for about “30 years to get this project off the ground.” He said that several of these veterans “wrote a script back in the 70’s that we thought was going to be portrayed” but then “the head of a studio got fired” and the project was dropped. Thankfully, legendary producer George Lucas was interested in the subject and visited a Tuskegee organization about twenty years ago, putting the project back on track.

In addition to that early visit, the Tuskegee Airmen were involved in the actual film production with four airmen serving on set to make sure that the story was accurately portrayed. And the actors themselves were eager to tell this story. Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr.—who has played military officers in films such as “Pearl Harbor” and “Men of Honor” —said that he jumped at the chance to do the film: “I like to say that this is my love letter to the armed services no matter what branch you’re in.”

The airmen, Brown argued, were not simply fighting a war against the enemy but against  prejudice as well. “[The Unit] felt as African-Americans that if we did well, the larger society would recognize the stupidity of segregation and desegregate.”

These men fought valiantly with their lives and as British actor David Orelowa—who learned about the Airmen by reading the script itself—stated, “So many of the incredible things you see in the film…were based on things that actually happened.”

The actors and the director of this film had good intentions in telling this story onscreen. Unfortunately, the story never measures up to the interesting subject material. With action sequences that lack excitement and characters that lack intrigue, it’s difficult to truly enjoy “Red Tails.” The film is a reasonable effort to tell a remarkable true story and should be credited as such. As a movie, it leaves moviegoers disappointed and knowing that the airmen deserved a stronger tribute than this patriotic—but ultimately underwhelming—film.

“Red Tails” is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and combat.

Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah Get Their Worship On in ‘Joyful Noise’

“I pray every day that God will let me be a blessing and a light in the world,” the legendary singer Dolly Parton told Patheos in a New York conversation about her new film, “Joyful Noise.” Although this is her first live action movie in a long time, Parton was happy to join the cast of this comedy, which never shies away from its religious message.  “I’d been praying hard for something good,” Parton said, and with “Noise,” she seems to have found it.

The film tells the story of two dueling women in a small Southern community eager to revitalize the local church choir. Parton plays G.G. Sparrow, the widowed wife of the former choirmaster, and Queen Latifah stars as Vi Rose Hill, another singer who becomes the new choir director. When the local pastor threatens to shut the choir down,

these two women fight to save it as a major singing competition approaches. Added to the tension between them is the arrival into town of Sparrow’s grandson (Jeremy Jordan), who starts dating Hill’s daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer).

Although Latifah and Parton spend much of the movie with their manicured nails at each other’s throats, in real life, the actresses are quite fond of one another and had a blast as they discussed the film’s religious messages together. Both noted that one of the most distinctive things about this film is the fact that it never shies away from discussing faith or Jesus Christ.

These two Oscar nominees are women of faith and were glad to be a part of this production, partly because of its religious undertones. Latifah said that she “appreciated being part of a film where the word God was used.” She said that as an actress who has been working for a number of years in the business, “it was just refreshing to do a movie that is based in Christianity for a change…”

Perhaps more films about faith aren’t made, Latifah said, because film studios are often trying to broaden their films’ appeal as much as possible to find the largest audience possible. “Everyone is trying to placate to every… religious or non-religious person,” she said, adding that the studios are often focused on the money that the film could bring in. Of course, “Joyful Noise” runs the risk of alienating viewers who aren’t interested in seeing a Christian message depicted onscreen but Parton has some advice for those people: don’t go. “If those who don’t want to be involved in it just don’t need to go,” she said.

Ironically, writer/director Todd Graff isn’t a Christian himself. He’s Jewish but grew up in a religiously-musical household. When writing the film, he envisioned Parton in the role of GG but was hesitant about the idea. “I wrote it for her,” Graff said, “except she hadn’t made a movie in twenty years.”  Parton signed onto the film, noting that the role was “tailor-made” for her. She noted, “How else would you explain it? This Jewish guy writing about Jesus…” She added, “God was good to me… He’s worked through the Jews before.”

The film is rated PG-13 for some profanity and several references to a choir member sleeping with a fellow singer that leads to his untimely death. There are only a few brief references to this situation but this silly and out-of-place storyline isn’t enough to diminish the film’s positive message and its great musical moments.

“Noise” may not be a great film but it’s a solid one that is worth taking a look at. The scenes of Latifah and Parton facing off against each other are especially well-done. I only wish that the film would have focused on them more and less on some of the silly supporting players.

Despite its flaws, though, “Noise” is still a joyful time at the theater. It opens this Friday in theaters nationwide.


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is Cliched but Fun

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” the fourth installment in this long-running series, arrives in theaters five years after the previous film and fifteen years after the original.

Despite that, this series still has a lot of life to it. With several new cast members and some thrilling action sequences, “Protocol” shows that Ethan Hunt shouldn’t consider retirement anytime soon.

Tom Cruise—whose jumping on Oprah’s coach distracted attention from “MI3”—is back in the lead role. This time, he’s being held captive in a Russian prison after his wife’s death. However, when a secret mission goes awry, a group of fellow secret agents helps Hunt escape and the team go in search of Russian nuclear codes. A bombing at the Kremlin slows down their plan and the team eventually embarks on a rogue mission to clear their name and prevent a nuclear war.

The plot is simple and full of clichés about the potential for a World War III. The story, however, merely exists to set in motion a series of thrilling action sequences. But those sequences more than make up for the major holes in the plot.

But viewers often don’t go into a “Mission Impossible” movie looking for a deep story. They go in looking for a good time and “MI4” provides it.

Whether Hunt is fighting a group of fellow prisoners as he’s trying to escape or when he’s battling gravity while climbing up the glass windows of a skyscraper, this story engages the audience with great effects and neat gadgets. Some obstacles that get into Hunt’s way are a little over the top including a sandstorm that chases him throughout a city but such ridiculousness is simply part of the fun.

Simon Pegg, as computer whiz Benji, provides welcome comic relief to the proceedings and Paula Patton is a solid pick as an agent bent on revenge who helps Hunt escape.

Jeremy Renner also joins the cast as an intelligence analyst named Brandt but his character feels completely out of place. Oftentimes, the script gives him little to do but doubt that Hunt’s far-fetched plans will actually work. He’s particularly aggravating in one scene when he counts down the minutes until a mission is set to begin. Renner is a fine actor but he doesn’t seem to belong in an action blockbuster like this and the script does him few favors.

However, the film works as a fun adventure story. Being a “Mission Impossible” story, it does have its convoluted moments and its overdramatic declarative statements along the way. “We have to do it now and we have to do it together,” Hunt declares in one of the script’s weakest moments.

But if the movie’s goal was to create a fun action movie with Cruise doing a fine job in the lead, I would say “mission accomplished.”

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is rated PG-13 for intense action. It has no sexual content.