Review: ‘The Blue Angels’ (2024), starring Brian Kesselring, Christopher Kapuschansky, Scott Goossens, Frank Zastoupil, Cary Rickoff, Julius Bratton, Monica Borza and Amanda Lee

May 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “The Blue Angels” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Content Services)

“The Blue Angels” (2024)

Directed by Paul Crowder

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Blue Angels” (filmed mostly in 2022) features a predominantly white group of U.S. military people (with a few African Americans, Asian and Latin people) talking about the Blue Angels, an elite group of military plane pilots who tour the country for entertainment shows for the public.

Culture Clash: Being a Blue Angels pilot involves grueling physical demands and sacrifices in the pilots’ personal lives.

Culture Audience: “The Blue Angels” will appeal primarily to people interested in military pilot documentaries that have stunning aerial visuals but viewers should not expect to get a “warts and all” inside look at the Blue Angels.

A scene from “The Blue Angels” with Brian Kesselring (center) in a meeting (Photo courtesy of Amazon Content Services)

“The Blue Angels” is more of a glossy promotional video than an insightful documentary. This movie excels in giving viewers entertaining aerial views of the Blue Angels in action. The personal profiles of the individual Blue Angels are nice but bland. This documentary is for people who watch “Top Gun” movies mainly for the action scenes in the air, not the drama on the ground. It doesn’t try to pretend to be a groundbreaking documentary, so in that sense, “The Blue Angels” is a movie that is exactly what it appears to be.

Directed by Paul Crowder, “The Blue Angels” (which was filmed mostly in 2022) might attract some viewers who know that J.J. Abrams and “Top Gun: Maverick” co-star Glen Powell are among the producers of the documentary. (Abrams and Powell are not in this documentary.) The movie’s concept is simple: Show what happens in the year of the life of the Blue Angels, a team of elite military pilots and supporting staffers who travel about 300 days a year to do entertainment shows for the public. There are about 165 Blue Angels in any given year.

Formed in 1946, the Blue Angels are famous for their specialty of doing high-flying airplane stunts in precise synchronicity. Most of the Blue Angels are in the U.S. Navy, but there are small numbers of U.S. Marines who are able to become Blue Angels. In addition to entertaining the public (at the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron shows), the Blue Angels are involved in charities and educational work, which includes Blue Angels members visiting schools and hospitals.

The Blue Angels who are the most prominently featured in the documentary are Brian Kesselring (flight leader, #1); Christopher Kapuschansky (right wingman, #2); Scott Goossens (left wingman, #3); Frank Zastoupil (slot pilot, #4), the only U.S. Marine for the 2022 Blue Angels flight pilots; Cary Rickoff (lead solo, #5); Julius Bratton (opposing solo, #6); Monica Borza (flight surgeon); Alexander P. Armitas (incoming flight leader); and Amanda Lee (incoming pilot). Also featured in this “Blue Angels” movie are Blue Angels retired veterans Greg Woolridge and Gil Rud.

The documentary doesn’t give viewers much insight into the lives of the individual Blue Angels who get the most screen time. “The Blue Angels” mostly shows them at work, such as some of the training classes, group meetings and while they are flying in the sky. Some of them talk about the excitement and the monotony of training; what inspired them to become a Blue Angel; and to the physical challenges of the job.

For example, a huge risk of being a Blue Angel (or any job that involves piloting an air vehicle at high altitudes in high-velocity speeds) is getting a rush of blood to the head that can cause unconsciousness. There is also the risk of miscalculating certain angles and turns, which could be deadly mistakes. There is a brief tribute to the Blue Angels who died on the job—particularly Jeff Kuss, who died in an accident in 2016 and who was a beloved colleague of many of the people featured in this documentary.

The last third of “The Blue Angels” offers glimpses into the selection process of who will be the pilots for the 2023 Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron and who will be the flight leader replacing Kesselring, whose term as flight leader ended in 2022. Lee is shown becoming the first female pilot for the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron during this selection process. (In 1975, Rosemary Mariner of the U.S. Navy was the first woman to fly a U.S. military tactical jet.)

Although many of Lee’s colleagues congratulate Lee for being the first female pilot for the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron, there is absolutely no candid discussion of sexism as the reason why the Blue Angels took this long to let a female pilot join their Flight Demonstration Squadron. Those are unpleasant but realistic details that this documentary completely ignores. No one in the documentary comments on these obvious sexism issues, probably because the filmmakers didn’t ask about these issues.

Brian Kesselring (who grew up in North Dakota) has a few very wholesome scenes showing him at home with his wife Ashley Kesselring (who is a major in the U.S. Navy) and their kids. As a basketball player in high school, Brian Kesselring says he dreamed of becoming a Blue Angel, but he mistakenly thought he might be too tall for the job. Like the other Blue Angels in the documentary, Brian Kesselring has a pleasant personality and says generic things. He comments on what it means to be a Blue Angel: “You’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing a whole bunch of people.”

There is really nothing unflattering shown about these Blue Angels, which is why the documentary looks too much like a public relations tool. The flying sequences are the best part of the movie and are the main reasons to see this documentary. Sure, a few of these Blue Angels talk about their fears and insecurities about failing in this job or about being away from their loved ones for long periods of time. But if you believe everything in this documentary, these Blue Angels are unrealistically “squeaky clean” and everyone on the team is like a family that gets along with each other. It’s really too good to be true.

And just like the “Top Gun” movies, “The Blue Angels” documentary has a very good selection of soundtrack songs to go along with the high-voltage action. In “The Blue Angels,” standout soundtrack songs include Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” and the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Viewers who watch “The Blue Angels” should expect only to get a very selective peek into the behind-the-scenes dynamics of this military operation. The movie’s real appeal is what the Blue Angels do best when they’re flying in the sky.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Blue Angels” in select U.S. cinemas (exclusively on IMAX screens) on May 17, 2024. Prime Video will premiere the movie on May 24, 2024.

Review: ‘One Piece Film Red,’ a fantasy action adventure with pirates and a pop star

January 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Uta and Luffy in “One Piece Film Red” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“One Piece Film Red”

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place on the fictional island of Elegia, the Japanese animated film “One Piece Film Red” tells the story of pirates, a female pop star, and how her past connects to the present.

Culture Clash: The pirates get involved in a battle over the pop star, who wants to create a utopia for her legions of followers.

Culture Audience: “One Piece Film Red” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “One Piece” franchise and adventurous anime films that have some social commentary.

Red-Haired Shanks in “One Piece Film Red” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“One Piece Film Red” is an exuberant adventure story that will please new and previous fans of the “One Piece” franchise. Beyond the thrilling action scenes is clever social commentary about blindly following anyone in power who promises a utopian existence. People don’t have to know anything about the “One Piece” franchise before seeing the “One Piece Film Red,” but it helps in understanding some of the characters’ motivations, backstories and personalities. The franchise follows the adventures of a group of pirates (some with superpowers) as they battle other people in search of a famous treasure called One Piece.

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi and written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa, “One Piece Film Red” opens with the Straw Hat Pirates going to the fictional island of Elegia. The captain of the Straw Hat Pirates is a teenager named Luffy, who is also known as Straw Hat Luffy or Monkey D. Luffy. He has an upbeat personality and, for better or worse, is often impulsive. A running joke in the “One Piece” series is that Fluffy’s enormous appetite frequently affects his judgment when he is hungry for food.

The Straw Hat Pirates have gone to Elegia to see a young pop star Uta perform in concert. She’s abut the same age as Luffy, who is in his late teens. Luffy has a past connection with Uta because he met her through her biological father: a pirate named Red-Haired Shanks, who is Luffy’s idol. About 12 years earlier, Red-Haired Shanks and his pirate crew were stationed in Luffy’s native land of the Goa Kingdom. That is how Luffy met Uta, who was being raised by single father Red-Haired Shanks.

However, during Red-Haired Shanks’ travels, he left underage Uta in Elegia shortly after Luffy met her. She was adopted and raised by a man called Gordon, the former king of Elegia. Red-Haired Shanks told people that he gave up custody of Uta because she wanted to pursue a singing career, and he believed that Elegia was the best place for her to receive training.

Uta has now become a world-famous pop star with millions of devoted followers. Her performances seem to have a hypnotic effect on people because she has control of Sing-Sing Fruit, which casts a trance-like spell on people who hear Uta sing. She has messages of positivity, which makes her a beloved celebrity. Uthe has announced that she’s planning to bring her followers to a paradise called Sing-Sing World, where she says there is peace and unity.

In order to follow Uta to this world, people have to be willing to leave their regular lives behind. And that makes her a threat to the World Government. Uta comes under attack from various entitities, while Luffy and his crew have to decide which side they will take in this battle. In order to fully understand Uta, they have to uncover more of what happened to her in the past. The movie features original songs performed by Ado as Uta’s songs.

“One Piece Film Red” not only has an intriguing story, but the movie’s visuals are also captivating and enhance viewers’ enjoyment of the story. The movie also has touches of comedy that lighten the mood and make the characters more relatable. “One Piece Film Red” has a lot to say about families, identities, and how they play a role in people’s perceptions of themselves and of society. It’s not a preachy film, but it’s not just mindless fluff either.

The voices of the “One Piece Film Red” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “One Piece Film Red.” The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Mayumi Tanaka as Luffy, Shūichi Ikeda as Red-Haired Shanks, Kaori Nazuka as Uta (with Ado for Uta’s singing voice), and Kenjiro Tsuda as Gordon. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Colleen Clinkenbeard as Luffy, Brandon Potter as Red-Haired Shanks, Amanda Lee as Uta, and Jim Foronda as Gordon.

“One Piece Film Red” has moments that will be confusing to people who don’t know anything about the “One Piece” series, but these moments aren’t crucial to undertstanding the overall arc of the story. The movie admirably doesn’t have a predictable ending. “Once Piece Film Red” looks like it will end one way, but then the last few minutes offer a surprise that’s a little bit of a cliffhanger and teaser for what’s next in the “One Piece” saga.

Crunchyroll released “One Piece Film Red” in U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. The movie was released in Japan on August 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Parkland Rising,’ starring David Hogg, Manuel Oliver, Rebecca Boldrick Hogg, Kevin Hogg, Ryan Deitsch, Aly Sheehy and Ronit Reoven

June 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

March for Our Lives activists in “Parkland Rising” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)

“Parkland Rising”

Directed by Cheryl Horner McDonough

Culture Representation: Taking place in Parkland, Florida, and various other U.S. cities, the documentary “Parkland Rising” has a racially diverse group of activists (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: People affected by the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School band together for activism against gun violence, but they face harsh opposition from National Rifle Association (NRA) supporters and other people who don’t want current U.S. gun laws changed.

Culture Audience: “Parkland Rising” will confirm the beliefs of the people who agree with this activism, while people opposed won’t change their minds or might have some misconceptions dispelled about these activists.

Patricia Paduay Oliver, David Hogg and Manuel Oliver in “Parkland Rising” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)

There have now been several documentary films made about how people affiliated with Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, have been coping with the tragedy of the mass murder that killed 17 people at the school on February 14, 2018. It’s understandable if some people might get all of these documentaries confused, and these documentaries (which are all independent films) will inevitably be compared to each other.

Before this review gets into discussing “Parkland Rising,” here’s a brief summary of the Parkland tragedy documentaries that have been completed so far:

“Parkland: Inside Building 12” (directed by Charlie Minn and released in 2018) has a step-by-step timeline account of the shooting spree, and the film includes interviews with the some of the survivors.

“After Parkland” (directed by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman and released in 2019) focuses on a small group of students and some of their parents, to show how the tragedy affected them. Although activism for stricter gun control (including the formation of the activist group Never Again MSD) and school safety are mentioned and shown, the film is mainly centered on the film subjects’ lives in Parkland after the tragedy. (For example, what it was like for the students to attend their high school prom a few months after the shooting.)

“Parkland Rising” (directed by Cheryl Horner McDonough and released in 2020) takes a deep dive into chronicling the activism of the Parkland students, parents and supporters. There’s a lot of footage of what happened during the 2018 Never Again MSD tour across the United States.

“Us Kids” (directed by Kim A. Snyder) premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and the film does not have a distributor or release date yet, as of this writing. “Us Kids” is also about the activism, but it focuses only on the students, not the parents or other authority figures.

“After Parkland,” “Parkland Rising” and “Us Kids” also cover the March for Our Lives event on March 24, 2018. The event, which was organized largely by Parkland survivors, had its flagship rally in Washington, D.C., but there were hundreds of other March for Our Lives rallies around the world that were part of the event.

Some of the same people are prominently featured in “After Parkland” and “Parkland Rising,” such as student activists David Hogg and Sam Zeiff; Manuel Oliver and Patricia Paduay Oliver, the parents of slain student Joaquin Oliver; and Rebecca Boldrick Hogg, who is David Hogg’s mother.

People interviewed in “Parkland Rising” also include Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was among those murdered in the shooting; Ronit Reoven, a psychology teacher at the school, who’s shown in the documentary leading a support group for student survivors; and David Hogg’s father, Kevin Hogg, a former FBI agent who is his son’s unofficial bodyguard and safety advisor.

“Parkland Rising” also includes footage of life at the high school after the mass murder. Teacher/yearbook advisor Sarah Lerner is shown with some students as they put together the school’s yearbook that includes tributes to the slain students. There are also separate commentaries from students in psychology teacher Reoven’s support group, including Danielle Gilbert, Morgan Williams, Elizabeth Stout, Amanda Lee and Stephanie DeOliveira.

Zeiff and Aly Sheehy (one of the more prominent Parkland student activists) are shown griping about the school’s new rule of prohibiting any backpacks that are not see-through. Sheehy calls it a “band-aid” to the problem. Zeiff holds up his cluttered see-through backpack and asks, “Do you know for certain that I don’t have a knife in here?” He adds, “It’s embarrassing that our school has to go through this. I definitely don’t think any young people were involved in this decision … We’re waiting for real change.”

One of the best things that “Parkland Rising” does that “After Parkland” does not is show how this activism does not exist in a bubble. “Parkland Rising” includes footage of a lot of raw and often angry reactions from people on the other side of the debate over gun laws. It’s what makes “Parkland Rising” a much more comprehensive film than “After Parkland,” because gun laws are a very emotional and divisive topic in the United States. “Parkland Rising” doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore that controversy at all.

“Parkland Rising” includes footage of opposition to the goals of Never Again MSD and similar groups. That opposition is shown as coming out in various ways—cyberbullying and death threats; counter-protestors or angry bystanders who try to shout down the Parkland activists during rallies and media appearances; and NRA supporters who have civil discussions with the activists.

For example, the documentary shows that every time David Hogg goes out in public, he can get praise or insults within seconds of each other in the same place. “Parkland Rising” chronicles a Never Again MSD boycott demonstration at a Publix supermarket in Florida, to protest Publix’s financial support of NRA advocate Adam Puth, a Republican who was running for governor of Florida in 2018. The protesters planned to do a “Die-In at Publix” demonstration, by lying down as a group in the supermarket, to symbolize and commemorate the people who’ve died because of gun violence.

While doing TV interviews outside the store before the protest, David Hogg (one of the most recognizable of the Parkland shooting survivors) is loudly heckled by angry white men. One of the hecklers chants while standing near his car in a nearby parking lot, “God bless America! NRA!” Another shouts from his car on the street, before speeding off: “Fuck you, David Hogg, you fucking bitch!” David Hogg wryly responds to the camera, “It means I’m doing something right.”

During another media interview, David Hogg is surrounded by TV camera people, and his father Kevin hovers protectively nearby. Kevin explains that when he accompanies his son to these types of public appearances, he’s always checking the hands of the people around David, to make sure that none of them will suddenly pull out a weapon.

During this public appearance, a middle-age male video blogger heckled David Hogg and shouted an accusation that David was being paid by billionaire George Soros, a high-profile contributor to Democratic politician campaigns. David Hogg replies to the heckler, “Dude, who the fuck is George Soros?”

David Hogg was a senior in high school when the shooting happened. At a time when many kids are worried about where they’re going to go to school or work after they graduate from high school, David Hogg and other Parkland students who became activists have to worry about death threats. The documentary shows this harsh reality and how it can take a toll on these young people and their parents.

Rebecca Boldrick Hogg, David Hogg’s mother comments in the documentary: “I’m not surprised that David’s become an activist, because he’s pretty much been an activist his entire life … My husband and daughter [Lauren] and I are the same way. That’s pretty much how we roll.”

She adds that since the mass murder, there’s been a change in David’s personality. She describes David as a “fun person,” but that people don’t see that side of him now because he’s been so “angry “since the shooting. The Hogg family also had install an elaborate security system for the home because of the death threats and other threats of violence.

Later in the documentary,  Kevin Hogg says of his children and other student activists: “I’m proud of them, but I’m sorry for what they have to go through at that age. I wish I could just put all that BS in the cabinet and let them live their years at the high school.”

His wife Rebecca adds: “I always wanted my kids to have—and they joke about this—the John Hughes high school experience, like the teen movies when I was a kid. And then, the shooting happened. I don’t there’s ‘typical’ anything anymore.”

Although the Parkland activists such as David Hogg admit that the bullying and violent threats can take a toll, they make it clear in the documentary that the changes they are fighting for mean much more to them than any threats, and that everything they’re doing to help their agenda for gun safety is worth the risk. Jaclyn Corin, one of the Parkland student activists, says that after the shooting: “My initial reaction was to get political. People were like, ‘This [political activism] isn’t going to work.’ Oh yeah, it is.”

Several times throughout the film, the activists have to reiterate that they are not against the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), and they’re not about taking away people’s legally owned guns. In fact, many of the activists come from families who believe in owning guns. David Hogg’s mother Rebecca says, “We always had guns in our house.” But she admits, “Before the shooting, we never really talked about gun control.”

March for Our Lives co-founder Ryan Deitsch says that Never Again MSD has five main goals: (1) Repeal the Dickey Amendment to allow Centers for Disease Control research for gun violence; (2) Digitize records for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (also known as ATF), which currently keeps records on paper; (3) Ban high-capacity magazines for guns; (4) Implement universal background checks for gun buyers; (5) Ban assault weapons for private owners.

Out of all the parents of the murdered children, Manuel Oliver is perhaps the most visible and the most involved in getting media coverage for this activism. Several of the Parkland student have given him the affection name Tío Manny, which is Spanish for Uncle Manny. A Venezuelan immigrant who is now a U.S. citizen, Oliver is a visual artist who has done murals in various U.S. cities to commemorate his son Joaquin and other victims of the Parkland shooting. After Joaquin’s death, Manuel launched the nonprofit activist foundation Change the Ref, whose purpose is more gun safety and to empower future leaders who believe in this cause.

The documentary’s moments with Manuel Oliver and his family (including wife Patricia Paduay Oliver and Joaquin’s older sister Andrea Ghersi) are among the most emotionally powerful and unforgettable, especially when they have visceral reminders of Joaquin. Before leaving for a trip, he breaks down and cries as he listens to “Thinkin Bout You” from Frank Ocean, who was Joaquin’s favorite artist.

Manuel Oliver shares his philosophy on how he’s been coping with his son’s tragic death and how to handle the pushback against his activism: “I think the one main thing is to stay away from hate.” He says that he believes that Joaquin in heaven, and that his goal as a father is to do what is necessary to get to heaven. “I cannot risk the chance to be with Joaquin again.”

David Hogg praises Manuel Oliver by saying, “It’s amazing to see how the amount of love and compassion this man can have after such tragedy occurred.” Manuel Oliver says what keeps him motivated in his activism after experiencing the aftermath of the shooting: “I don’t want any other kids to feel the same nightmare, or any other parent to go through this.”

One of the standout segments in the film is showing how the Never Again MSD activists participated in a protest at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, on August 4, 2018—what would have been Joaquin Oliver’s 18th birthday. Manuel Oliver gives a heartbreaking speech. And the approximately 1,000 activists easily outnumber the counter-protesters, who numbered about 40.

Vikiana Petit-Homme, a teenage executive director of March for Our Lives Boston, comments on the counter-protesters: “My problem with counter-protesters is … they don’t come to get anything out of it, other than to yell and scream and a bunch of kids. I know I’m on the right side of history on this one. I don’t think they can say the same.”

Guttenberg, one of the parents of a slain Parkland student, says in a separate interview: “The NRA creates this aura of this large, scary, massive group of people who are not affected by your loss and are going to punish you. And the majority is bullshit. They’re just people who buy into the delusional lie that when you say two words together—”gun safety”—that you are automatically going to be an anti-Second Amendment coming to take their guns … What’s different about Parkland is that not only are none of us shutting up, if they push at us, we come back harder.”

There are also some celebrity cameos in the film. Jennifer Hudson and Chance the Rapper are shown rallying with protesters during a March for Our Lives event in Chicago., one of the executive producers of “Parkland Rising, is seen performing at another event. (Katie Couric, another executive producer of “Parkland Rising,” is not in the film.)

Several times during the filming of the movie, there were more mass shootings in the United States. The activists are shown reacting to this sad and tragic news. At one point in the documentary, there’s a harrowing montage list of mass shootings that occurred in the U.S. while the film was being made. It’s an effective way of showing how the crisis of gun violence has gotten worse, and it’s an issue that goes far beyond what is in this documentary.

“Parkland Rising” is undoubtedly sympathetic to the activists’ agenda, but director Horner McDonough does an admirable job of presenting the good, bad and ugly sides of this activism. Other documentaries might have put politicians in the film to give the perspectives of people who can make or revise these gun laws, but “Parkland Rising” wisely chose to keep the film focused on Parkland people and their supporters who are trying to make a change on a grassroots level. And really, if people need to see politicians talk about their stances on gun laws, there are plenty of other places to watch these politicians’ canned speeches. As David Hogg says at the end of the film about the activists’ goals: “This is a long fight, but the fight continues.”

Abramorama released “Parkland Rising” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 5, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix