3 Days – 11 Movies

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I can’t wait to do this again.

With the encouragement from friends in Philadelphia who have been doing this for years, my wife and I spent three days last weekend at the 23rd Philadelphia Film Festival.

From Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, we saw 11 films. The opening evening we saw two, the next day four, then three, and finally two before we had to head home.

We saw big films, small ones, foreign films, US films, well known actors, first time ones, small stories and big ones, and a few with similar themes. The two or three times a director, producer, or actor spoke and answered questions following a film, we enjoyed that and learned something about what we had just seen. The length of the films varied from 82-134 minutes, plus we saw one short (21 minutes); so I guess that actually makes 12 films in all.

We bought a weekend pass which gave us first entry into any film we wanted to see. Generally, there were five time slots a day, with three different films in each time slot. The printed program pretty accurately described each film, and as a result, and in concert with our friends, we chose the 11 listed below, which I have rated and mini-reviewed.

Excellent – *****

  • Mommy
  • The Imitation Game
  • Clouds of Sils Maria
  • GETT, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Very Good or Good – ****1/2 or ****

  • Two Days, One Night
  • The Way He Looks
  • St. Vincent
  • Manos Sucias
  • Glass Chin
  • Cracks in Concrete

Not So Good – ***

  • Birdman

***                ***                   ***                   ***                   ***

mommy.MV5BNjYxMzA3Mzk4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM5Nzk3MTE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_Mommy *****

This Canadian film was the longest one we saw, and perhaps because it came closest to the work I did in my professional life, I was particularly intrigued by it.

It’s the story of a single mother Diane (Anne Dorval) whose out of control and very disturbed son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) is kicked out of an institution for setting a fire in the cafeteria. She brings him home and tries to manage his behaviors and life. She gets unexpected help from a neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clement).

The three performances are outstanding, particularly Pilon’s.

Mommy was the co-recipient of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes this year.

Imitation.MV5BNDkwNTEyMzkzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTAwNzk3MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_The Imitation Game *****

This USA/UK film is quite closely based on a true story, and what a story it is.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), genius, eccentric, gay, obsessive, brilliant mathematician, is hired by the British government during WWII to join a team that is trying to break Germany’s Enigma code. If successful at doing so, they can change the course of the war.

The story of what Turing does both during the war and after it is over has only recently been told.

If you don’t know anything about Turing, put The Imitation Game on your ‘to see list.’ Actually, even if you know about him (and know that what he did helped usher in the age of the computer), I suspect you will learn from the film.

It was the winner of the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Clouds..MV5BMjMzNzc4OTg0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQwODU3MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_Clouds of Sils Maria *****

Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is convinced to return to the play that made her famous many years earlier, this time not as the young star (Choloe Grace Moritz) but as the older woman.

Much of the film involves a story within a story as  Binoche rehearses for the play with the help of her personal, young assistant Valentin (Kristen Stewart) who has her own strong views about acting, aging, and life.

Wonderful acting, a good script, and excellent photography make for a fine film.

GETT.MV5BMjI3MTMxNDc3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA3MjA4MTE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem *****

Viviane (Ronit Ikabetz) has been unhappily married to Elisha (Simon Abkarian) for many years and now lives apart from him and her child, though she continues to pay her portion of the mortgage and to cook for her family each day.

But Elisha will not give her a GETT, the (his) permission for a divorce. Vivane goes to the Rabbinacal Court, the only legal authority that can settle her case.  For the next five years, we follow the ‘trial’ of Viviane Amsalem.

All action in the film takes place in a small courtroom with a handful of wonderful actors. Their performances are riveting, and the photography adds immeasurable to the telling of this story.

This film took the top prize at the Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) and will be Israeli’s submission for Best Foreign Film at the next Oscars.

two days.32ce9f2a-035d-41af-8394-9eff9a89e84d-460x276Two Days, One Night ****1/2

I liked this Belgium/French film much more than Ellen did.

It is the story of Sandra (Marion Cotillard) who after being out of work because of sickness is supposed to return to work at a solar power plant. Her company decides to give her coworkers a choice: get their annual bonuses and Sandra loses her job. Or Sandra returns and they get no bonuses. Her coworkers vote to keep their bonuses.

With the encouragement of a female coworker and the decision of a manager, Sandra is given the opportunity for another vote. What Sandra does over the weekend preceding the vote, with the encouragement of her husband, and what happens on Monday is the drama of this film.

It’s Sandra’s story but also the story of her coworkers and their struggles with whether to forgo their much needed and expected bonuses or to support a coworker at a loss to their income.

124394_galThe Way He Looks ****1/2

A coming of age story set in Brazil, focused on a blind teenager who is struggling to gain independence from his worrying and controlling family.

Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and Giovani (Tess Amorinm) are schoolmates and best friends. A new student Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives and that’s where the complications arise as Leonardo and Gabriel gradually become aware of their feelings for each other.

Good performances by all three young actors in a small, somewhat understated film that adds a slight twist on the common theme of a first love.

ccc.5767Cracks in Concrete ****

An Austrian/German film that tells the story of a father, who has been released after serving a 20-year sentence for having killed someone.

Following his release, Ertan (Muratham Muslu) is not allowed to contact his former wife, but when he sees that their son Mikail (Alechan Tagaev), now a teenager is headed for trouble, he tries to get involved and help. Initially, Ertan tries to help from a distance but eventually is drawn into the world that has captured his son.

Good photography, good acting, particularly from the Mikail, and an ending that we did not see coming made this a good choice for all of us who saw it.

Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Portrait Studio - Day 3Glass Chin ****

Portrayed as a boxing film, Glass Chin has almost no fight scenes. Rather, it is the story of a former boxer’s life after his career ended when he lost a fight at Madison Square Garden.

In an effort to regain some recognition and a role for himself in the world (a better life than he currently has), he (Corey Stoll as Bud Gordon) goes to work for a shady deal maker (Billy Crudup as J.J.). And that’s where he runs into trouble.

Good acting and a good story make for a very good film in this 87 minute, low budget gem.

St. vincent.MV5BMjA2MTU4MDI3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY1NTA1MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_St. Vincent ****

Bill Murray being Bill Murray.

Yes. He’s still around, and he can still carry a film.

In this story he plays the role of hard drinking, gambling, and largely broke man (Vincent) who finds himself babysitting for 12-year-old Oliver (Chris Dowd) whose recently divorced, hard working mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) has just moved in next door.

It won’t spoil the film to tell you that some good things happen between Vincent and Oliver, and there are lessons in this film for all of us. There are good performances by Murray and the young Dowd.

manos.41ee6b4e18ed7e95a3faa1e980000f43_largeManos Sucias ****

I suspect that this short (82 minute) Columbian/Spanish film will not make it to American theaters unless it wins some award. It is the first film for this director, Josef Wladyka, and it’s a good one.

With some echoes of Cracks in Concrete (see above), it tells the story of an elder brother Jacobo who tries to help out his younger sibling Delio who has become involved in the drug trade. Both brothers want to escape from their difficult life in rural Columbia.

The heart of the film portrays what happens as they take on the task of delivering a large shipment of cocaine.

Neither brother is a professional actor, but they, and the story of their journey and their relationship, give the audience a good sense of what life is like in a corner of the world most of us knowing nothing about.

124336_galBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)***

There was a lot of excitement about this Opening Night film. Critics seemed to love the film.

Not so much me.

It’s the story of an aging, formerly successful actor who is trying produce (and star in) a Broadway play as a way of restoring his career and fame. Michael Keaton plays the lead role, and Edward Norton plays the role of a younger actor who threatens to take the limelight from Keaton (shades of Clouds of Sils Maria, above). Both Keaton and Norton are terrific, as are the supporting actors and actresses.

Most of the action takes place on and behind stage in a Broadway theater, and some above Broadway as Keaton (Riggan/Birdman) ‘flies’ around New York City as well as displays others ‘magical’ powers. That was where the director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) lost me. Ellen (my spouse) was less generous, saying the film was “overwrought, repetitious, and pretentious.”

 

Two films we didn’t get to see but which others seemed to find particularly worthy were Breathe and Girlhood. Girlhood apparently has been a favorite at various recent International Film Festivals.

MillersTime Book Lovers – An Early Reminder

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The New Yorker cover for it’s Oct. 20 Fall Library issue reminds me (gives me an excuse) to remind MillersTime readers that in December I look forward to your sending the titles of the books you’ve most enjoyed reading in 2014.

As in the past, here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easy:

* When I ask for your Favorite Reads of 2014, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?

* You are welcome to send just one title or up to a half dozen or so.

* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).

* If you are willing, please write a sentence or two about why each particular book made it to your list for this year. If you prefer not to add this, no problem, but I’ve found readers enjoy the comments and use them in choosing books to read for the coming year.

* Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.

* Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2014, just ones that you read over the past year.

* Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) by Dec. 20 so I will be able to post the entire list at the end of the year.

To see last year’s list, click on this link: The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2013.

“The Good Lie”

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The Good Lie *** (out of *****)

I’ve long followed the harrowing journey of “The Lost Boys of Sudan” and their lives subsequent to their 1,000 mile walk to safety. Maybe one of the most powerful books I’ve read, and certainly one of my favorite reads a few years ago, was What Is the What, by Dave Eggers. It’s a novel that reads like a true story. Actually, it’s based on the real life story of a Sudanese refugee, a young boy separated from his family during the Sudanese Civil War. (If you’ve never read it, add it to your ‘to read’ list.)

When I heard about the film The Good Lie, I knew I would see it. Then I learned that it was not a documentary but a Hollywood film starring Reese Witherspoon. Still, early reviews said it was true to what occurred in Sudan and what happens when some of these refugees are brought to the US.

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Another Baseball Contest Winner

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2014 MillersTime Baseball Contest #3: What will the Washington Nationals’ record be this year? Tie Breakers: Will they make the playoffs, and how far will they go?

Six contestants were close — Ed Scholl, Peter Shimm, Tiffany Lopez, Nick Nyhart, Steve Begleiter, and Nelson Romerez – missing the Nats’ regular season record by one game.  Not bad.

However, four contestants got the season record, 96-66, exactly: Dan Fischer, Elizabeth Tilis, Nick Fels, and Bill Trost.

Dan said they’d lose in the NLCS. Elizabeth said they’d lose in the 1st round. Nick said they’d lose in the World Series. Bill said the Nats would lose to the Dodgers.

So, Elizabeth Tilis (that’s a ‘familiar’ name, someone, no doubt, who benefited from good parenting) wins and gets two tickets to a 2015 Nats’ game of her choice.

For the other two contests, we will have to await the conclusion of the World Series.

**                  **                  **                  **                  **                  **

Meanwhile, two more terrific articles to draw to your attention, particularly for those of you whose teams are no longer in the WS chase. MillersTime readers tipped me off to these articles:

The Dead Ball Century: Why Is Baseball Always Dying? – by Brian Curtis, Grantland/The Triangle, Oct. 7, 2014 (Thanx MWK)

Managers Are Playing Less Small Ball Than Ever – by Ross Benes, Deadspin/Regressing, Oct. 6, 2015 (Thanx BT)

 

Why the Nats’ Season Is Over

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Why did they lose three out of four games to the Giants after having the most wins in the National League in 2014?

It wasn’t their pitching. (Nat’s ERA – 1.23, Giants – 1.60)

It wasn’t their fielding. (Each team made one costly miscue -Nats’ Fielding Pct. – .993, Giants – .994)

It wasn’t the managing (Despite what you read or think about Game 2 & 4).

Here’s why:

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Back to the Movies

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Baseball has been consuming much of my time recently, but I haven’t totally ignored my interest in the movies. We’ve seen two films this fall in our Cinema Club, one worth putting on your list, the other one, not so much.

Force.MV5BMjQ4NzY0ODg0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjY3OTc2MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Force Majeure ***

A story about a family on a ski vacation in the French Alps. When a ‘controlled” avalanche occurs, there is a serious disruption in the family, which plays out over the balance of this two-hour film.

I’m not sure I can put my finger on what it was about Force Majerue that I found lacking, but this story about a marriage and a family never quite seemed real to me, tho parts of it were both funny and insightful.

Our movie club audience gave it a 70% rating (good or excellent) and 78% would recommend it for others to see. I’m not in that 78%.

Too many better films are either in the theaters or soon will be.

Rudderless.MV5BMjQwNTI2MTA0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc1NzkzMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Rudderless ****

Here is one that is worthy of your attention.

It’s the story of a father whose life has been suddenly shattered by the death of his son.

Unable to come to terms with what has happened, Sam (wonderfully played by Billy Crudup) checks out of his life as an advertising executive and lives a largely isolated existence until he discovers songs that had been written by his son.

Good acting and good music combine to make Rudderless an engaging film about a subject that most of us, fortunately, don’t have to face.

Rudderless opens nationwide next week.

DC Short Film Festival

I made it to two 90 minute showings of short films, ranging from six minutes to about 20 minutes each. At least a third of the 18 ones I saw were good or excellent (to use the categories from our Cinema Club).

However, I have lost the program booklet where I made a few notes, and as I even have trouble remembering longer films, I cannot remember those titles.

But I will mark my calendar for this DC Film Festival for next year and plan to attend the two final showings of the best of the shorts. I will try not to lose my notes.

Philadelphia Film Festival

With encouragement from a childhood friend who lives in Philadelphia and loves films, Ellen and I will attend the first weekend of the 23rd Philadelphia Film Festival (Oct. 16-26).

Although I did attend the Miami Film Festival last year, I only saw four films there in 26 hours (A Fantasy Partially Fulfilled). Now, my intention is to see three or four a day for three days. Judging from the catalog, there are many good choices.

Any suggestions from those of you who have attended film festivals about the best way to approach a film festival?

“Nobody Knows Anything” – Tyler Kepner

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Is it me or has this October baseball already given us some of the most wonderful baseball in a long time?

KC vs Oakland – Wild Card game: Royals score in the bottom of the 9th to tie and down by one in the 12th, score two to win. Fans can hardly believe it.

KC vs LAA – First two ALDS games: Royals score one in the 11th and hold on to win the first game away. Then, in the third extra inning game in a row, the Royals score three in the top of the 11th to beat the Angels again, this time 4-1. KC fans believe it it. Angels’ fans stunned. K-C up 2-0.

O’s vs Tigers – Other first two ALDs games: Baltimore scores eight in the 8th, and the power hitting Tigers lose the first one 12-3. Camden goes wild. Then, in the second game, the O’s are down 6-3 in the 8th and score four in that inning to win 7-6. Fans go nuts, again. O’s up 2-0.

Giants vs Pirates – Wild Card game: Giants get a grand slam in the fourth (first ever by a shortstop) and four-hit the Pirates to win surprisingly easily, 8-0.

Dodgers vs Cards – First two NLDS game: Probable 2014 Cy Young & MVP winner Clayton Kershaw gives up eight runs in 6 2/3 innings, and the Cards win it 10-9 in the bottom of the 9th. Second game, Dodgers eke out a 3-2 victory, after some terrific pitching, thanks to a home run by Kemp. Series tied 1-1.

And then Giants vs Nats – Other first two NLDS games. Aging Peavy out pitches the young Strasberg, and the Giants beat the Nats 3-2 in Washington. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, after getting 20 out in a row, Nats’ pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (his previous game a no-hitter) walks a batter and is pulled. The Giants then get two hits off closer Drew Storen (remember him from two years ago not being able to hold a two-run lead in the playoffs?) to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th. Eventually (after nine more innings), the Giants win it with a home run in the 18th inning (longest game, time wise, in playoff history). Giants up 2-0.

Ten games. Seven decided by one run. Four in extra innings. One in the 18th inning. One in the bottom of the 9th. And even the three that were not close we’re surprising victories.

And we’re only part way into the Division Series playoffs.

Maybe it’s just that my beloved Red Sox are not in it, and so I can watch and listen differently.

And another observation: So many good articles about these games, some written within the hour that a game finished.

Check out this morning’s NYTimes‘ Tyler Kepner’s In October: Exceptions Rule, Most of the Time (“Nobody knows anything…”).

Or Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell’s, Washington Nationals Discover How Tough the SF Giants Can Be in October, which begins with “Losing to the San Francisco Giants in October is like being beaten to death with wet noodles.” And it just gets better.

Or how about Boswell’s post this morning, Could Jordan Zimmerman Have Made History in Game 2? We’ll Never Know ?

You’ve probably seen other good ones (pass them on to all of us in the Comment section), but the best ones seem to take what happens and push our thinking further.

Why You Need to Read the MillersTime/GoSox Blog

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Why?

Beyond the obvious — you think you can win one of the MillersTime Baseball Contests, you’re going to see me in a few days and don’t want to be embarrassed when I refer to something I wrote, you’re looking for free tickets to a Nats’ game, you’re a member of my family and want to humor me — there is the possibility that once or twice a year I might have something useful to say about baseball.

I was reminded of this last reason this morning (Wed.) when I saw on the front page of the NYTimes the headline, “Many Strikeouts, Fewer Runs/As Pitchers Gain Upper Hand.” Having written a post on this very topic, Sluggers’ Slump: What’s Going on Here? I was curious to see if the author of the Times’ piece, John Branch, had anything new to say (or anything I didn’t say).

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Announcing Three 2014 MillersTime Baseball Contests Winners

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With the end of the regular 2014 MLB season and the beginning of the playoffs (wasn’t that a terrific game at KC last night?), I can announce three winners of this year’s MillersTime Baseball Contests. The remaining three contest winners, #1, 3, & 6, will not be chosen until the end of the playoffs.

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Final At Bats……and Much More: Ted Williams & Derek Jeter

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On September 28, 1960, for his final at bat in Fenway Park, Ted Williams hit a home run in the 8th inning of a game the Sox eventually won. Fifty-four years later, for his final at bat at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter hit a single, driving in the winning run for the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th.

Neither of those at bats could change disappointing seasons for the Sox or the Yankees.

Yet both of those at bats will long be remembered.

John Updike, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, described what happened in Fenway in his superb Hub Fans Bids Kid Adieu. If you’ve never read this piece, you’re in for a treat. If you have read it and chose to reread it, you’re also in for a treat.

And although there has been massive coverage of Derek Jeter’s final Yankee Stadium at bat and retirement in general, I offer an equally wonderful and worthy essay about Jeter, The Final Walk Off, written by another Pulitzer Prize winning author, J.R. Moehringer, that was published just a few days ago by ESPN.

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Our Increased Life Expectancy: Two Views

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The October 2014 issue of The Atlantic has two articles that focus on the issues raised by our increased life expectancy. Though they seem to come to different conclusions, each author and article gives the reader much to consider:

Gregg Easterbrook: What Happens When We All Live to 100:  If life-expectancy trends continue, that future may be near, transforming society in surprising and far-reaching ways.

Esekiel J. Emanuel: Why I Hope to Die at 75: An argument that society and families—and you—will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly.

This Is Discouraging…Unless You’re an O’s Fan

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Last night I was looking through the submissions for the 2014 MillersTime Baseball Contests (I really need to get a life) and came across these predictions, sent in on Feb. 25, 2014 by someone named Chris Eacho:

#1 – Red Sox in last at the AS break and trade 4 of their opening day starters at the deadline.

#2 – Orioles 103-59, World Series Champs

#3 – Nationals 92-70, lose to Os in WS

#4 – Yankees 66-95, Red Sox 65-96, series split 8-8. 19th game is rained out and not made up

#5 – Chris Davis .287, 119 RBI, 43 HR

#6 – Orioles over Nats in 6 games; Chris Tillman MVP with 2 complete game shutouts

Actually, I think I know the individual who submitted these outrageous and amazingly prescient (lucky?) predictions. He’s an Orioles’ fan (obviously), a Sox and Yankee hater, and belongs to the millennial generation (I think). I hope he’s wrong about the WS, but he seems to know something the rest of us don’t.

Harumph.

Sluggers’ Slump: What’s Going on Here?

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(Jacob deGrom Ties MLB Record, Strikes Out 8 Straight. Pix-USA Today)

Have you noticed how it seems hitting has been trumped by pitching in baseball, not only this year but for a number of years now?

With Red Sox in last place, 26 games behind the AL East winner Orioles, I have had a good deal of time to think about more than just my beloved team and their miseries. While I have enjoyed the Nats’ good season, it’s not the same as rooting for Boston.

Looking at some box scores a few weeks ago, I was struck by what seemed to me to be low batting averages, even of the best players for the best teams in baseball. In fact, when I looked at the six leading teams in all the MLB Divisions, only two clubs had anyone hitting over .300 (one of those two teams just had one player hitting .301, and he is now below .300).

I began looking at other statistics, going back as far as 2000. Here are just some of the things I found when I looked at every year from 2000-2014 (being retired and having a losing baseball team allows for spending time on such matters):

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“Last Days in Vietnam” – Mesmerizing

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Last Days in Vietnam ****1/2

Like many people of my generation, the Vietnam War was a major part of my late adolescence and young adulthood. For at least 10 years, rarely did a day go by without it occupying some part of my thinking about politics, about war, about my country, about my own role vis-a-vis the war. (I chose to go into the Peace Corps as a way of serving my country and followed that with high school teaching.)

Thus, I thought I knew a good deal about many of the aspects of that war, including the final days of the conflict.

And so I was quite surprised recently when I saw Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam.

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