01 May 2012

Movie Review: 'Memorial Day'

Less than 30 days remain until the release of "Memorial Day," a Minnesota-based feature film starring Jonathan Bennett, James Cromwell and his son John Cromwell.

Originally titled "Souvenirs" and filmed in 2010-2011 by a Minnesota-based production company, the movie alternates between the fictional stories of U.S. Army Lt. Bud Vogel, an 82nd Airborne Division "All-American" soldier fighting in World War II Holland, and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Vogel, a Minnesota Army National Guard "Red Bull" soldier fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The narrative is driven by a front-porch conversation between grandson and grandfather that takes place on a summer day, after the 13-year-old boy finds a G.I. footlocker full of memorabilia.

In the "Memorial Day" publicity trailer, James Cromwell's character tells his grandson:

I didn't loot. And I didn't steal. I collected things that would help me remember. What I didn't count on was: They don't let you forget.You found the footlocker, Kyle, so ... I'll make a deal with you. Pick any three, and I'll tell you the story behind each one. God willing, you won't have to experience any of these things yourself. But if you do, you'll be ready.
The film is itself a memory-provoking artifact, a device by which someone might unlock conversations with a family member or friend about their military experiences. In press materials, director Sam Fischer writes:
In the bigger picture, I want this film to enhance the very meaning of the Memorial Day holiday in America—so that in addition to being a day of remembering, it also becomes a day of sharing memories. Veterans from World War II to the present are rarely forthcoming in telling their stories. We need to ask—almost insist—that these brave men and women share their experiences, and then we need to do them the honor of sitting back and listening. [...]

I hope [the film] can serve as a conduit to opening footlockers around the world and releasing the amazing stories locked inside. As one Army major said about the movie: "I don’t know when I’m going to tell my kids about my combat experiences, but I’m going to start by showing them this film.”
The $4.2 million film was shot using often-regional actors and extras, locations, and equipment. Production quality is excellent, and performances are generally above-average. Occasional moments feel a little stiff, but the overall movie is propelled forward by a lot of heart. Were it to air on cable television, it would easily feel at home on either the Hallmark or History channels.

There are a few scenes involving bloodshed, but the action is kept tight and small. (The Internet Movie Database lists the movie as Rated "R" for some war violence.) Media-savvy junior-high and high-school students should have no problem digesting the scenes, and moving on to consider the larger moral questions embedded in the story. Without spoiling the narrative, here are a few starter questions for the classroom or the front porch:
  • How did the grandfather's experiences in WWII Holland compare/contrast with those of his grandson Kyle?
  • How do you think 13-year-old Kyle's conversation with his grandfather affected his own decision to enlist?
  • How did his grandfather's stories inform Kyle's actions or opinions as a citizen-soldier?
History buffs will find little to complain about. The helmet patch sported in 2005-2007 Iraq by the Minnesotans and Iowans of 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division are nowhere to be seen on screen, but Red Bull enthusiasts will still thrill to see many actors wearing a bull patch on each sleeve—the so-called "steak sandwich" or "double-bull." Plus, there's at least one classically bullish line of dialogue: "Talk like a Red Bull, yo."

So, pull up a footlocker. Pre-order "Memorial Day" via Amazon as a DVD and Blu-ray. It ships not later than May 29. According to the film's Facebook page, you may also be able to find it via AAFES, Barnes & Noble, Netflix, and Walmart.

Most of all, start talking about the movie. Like a Red Bull. Yo.


For more Red Bull Rising background and links regarding "Memorial Day," click here.

Disclosure: The Red Bull Rising blog received a copy of this film for review.


  1. There actually are real Red Bulls on screen. 39 of them to be exact.

  2. That's right! Check out the April post about the movie for more such trivia:



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