Tag Archives: War Horse

2012: What I’m Excited About

Here’s a random list of some of the stuff I’m hoping will entertain me in the new year:

Books:  I’m on a long library waiting list for PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley.  It’s a murder mystery featuring the characters from Pride & Prejudice.  Mr Wickham gets bumped off, and I’m sure everybody is a suspect.  It fascinates me that the reviewers at Amazon are equally split between rating this book brilliant and awful.  I myself have tried many P & P sequels and failed to finish them.   I’m also looking forward to a book that’s coming out in spring, but I don’t even know the title or author.  All I know is that the cover photo will be one of my images of Ireland, posted last year at the beginning of January.

Television:  Downton Abbey Series Two begins a week from today.  Also this month, Ian Tracey guest stars on Supernatural (January 6th) and in the pilot for the new Fox series Alcatraz (January 16th or 23rd, or perhaps both?).   A friend just told me there’s a new Doc Martin series coming later in the year, as well as Sherlock, Great Expectations, Wallander, Endeavor, and Inspector Lewis.  Finally, The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert will get a PBS airing.

Movies:  2012 will be a countdown to The Hobbit and the movie version of Les Misérables.  While waiting for next Christmas, I am curious about The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, both actors I enjoy watching.  For March, I have a hugely expensive ticket to the silent masterpiece Abel Gance’s Napoleon, restored by Kevin Brownlow.  It will be shown on a triptych of three screens with a full orchestra.  This five hour epic at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre includes a dinner break!

DVDs:  February brings The Phantom of the Opera to the US, months after the folks in the UK got their DVDs.  I’m looking forward to The Help, since I missed it in the theatre.  Of course, that’s true for most of the other good movies in 2011.

Theatre:  The touring productions of Les Misérables and War Horse are coming to San Francisco.  I’ve got to get tickets, which means being more careful with my entertainment budget.  Damn you, Amazon and ebay!  No more impulse buying!

More New Year’s Resolutions:

1.  Keep better notes for next year’s Wrap Up.

2.  Read more, surf less.  (I’ve been on the computer way too much lately.)

3.  Get out to see more films in the cinema.

4.  You may have noticed a change in how I’m posting photographs here.  I’ve switched to slideshows in a effort to save on scrolling, but it also makes it harder for people to steal my images.  My goal is to take more photographs in 2012 and to see less of them posted on other sites without credit.

This is my 200th post at The Ugly Bug Ball!  I’m not planning to post more often in 2012, but I do hope to keep things going steadily along, with lots of new topics and not too much repetition.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Please share some of your resolutions and anticipations for 2012!

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Armistice Day 2011

Today is Veterans Day, and as I explained last year, I always focus my attention on the end of World War I.  November 11, 1918, was the official ceasefire of The War to End All Wars, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  My fascination with WWI is not with battle strategies, but with the individual soldiers and the horrific conditions they endured in the trenches.  I struggle to imagine coping with the fear, the noise, the cold, the wet, the mud, the gas, the hunger, the monotony—and then going over the top to run into machine gun fire and shells and barbed wire, just to gain a few yards of ground which would be lost in the next skirmish.

Last year, I posted World War I art with some devastating facts and statistics.  This year, I am discussing some films about WWI, because it is through them that I’ve gained so much insight into what the war was like for the soldiers we honor today.   It’s also timely because one of the big Christmas movies next month is War Horse.  Like War Horse, many of these films were novels first.  There’s a 51 year gap between the films I discuss, jumping from 1930 to 1981.  I hope readers can fill this gap by telling me some WWI movies made during these years.

Wings with Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen

Wings (1927)

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) Here’s a video of Winsor McCay’s animated film depicting the sinking of the Lusitania by German torpedoes in May, 1915.  The anti-German sentiments expressed in the intertitles are intense, but the comments under this video show that these feelings haven’t gone away.

J’Accuse (1919 and 1938)  Abel Gance used actual soldiers just returning from the front in his 1919 anti-war film.  It had a huge impact in Europe, where it was shown just five months after Armistice.  The US version was drastically re-cut to have a happy ending, and the anti-war message was changed to a patriotic one.  Critics who saw the original version were appalled, and the film was not a success in the States.  Gance later re-made the film in 1938.  It’s really hard to find good copies of either the original or the remake, but a new restoration of the 1919 film was shown at a recent San Francisco Silent Film Festival, so I’m hoping it will become available on DVD soon.

The Big Parade (1925)  This silent film by King Vidor was one of the big hits of the silent era.  It stars John Gilbert and Renée Adorée.  It hasn’t yet been released on DVD, which doesn’t make any sense to me.  I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s on my wish list.

Wings (1927)  Since this was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, you’d think it would be readily available.  It’s the only Best Picture not available on DVD in the US.  I met the director’s son last year, and we discussed our mutual frustration about this.  William A. Wellman directed feisty Clara Bow, stalwart Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper, and Mary Pickford’s future husband, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, in this WWI epic about fighter pilots and the girl next door who becomes an ambulance driver.

All Quiet on the Western Front (film: 1930)  Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 book was made into the film starring Lew Ayres.  It was re-made in 1979 with Richard Thomas, but I have not seen that version.  The final scene of soldier Paul Baumer reaching for a butterfly is still devastating.  Lew Aryes was deeply affected by the movie’s message.  He was a pacifist who became a conscientious objector in WWII.  This had a negative impact on his career, even though his service in the Medical Corps earned him three battle stars.

Gallipoli (1981)  Often included in lists of Best Australian Films, Peter Weir directed this story of two young Australian soldiers who lose their innocence fighting in Turkey.  This film is very powerful but has some serious historical inaccuracies.  The disastrous charge at the Battle of the Nek was ordered by an Australian officer, not a British one.  I love the fact that half of the skilled horse riders used in the film were women disguised as men.

Legends of the Fall (film: 1994)  I saw this brutally violent film several times in the theatre because of the beautiful cinematography and the hunky Brad Pitt.  It’s amusing to count how many times Pitt is filmed with a glowing halo of backlight around his blonde head.  It’s not subtle.  When his younger brother enlists and goes to France, Brad Pitt’s character joins up to keep his brother safe.  There’s plenty of gas and barbed wire, not to mention scalpings.  While not a “war film,” this was one of the first movies I saw with WWI scenes, so they had an impact on me.

A Little Princess (1995 film)  The original story is about an English girl whose father is fighting in the Boer Wars.  In this 1995 film version starring Liesel Matthews, Sara Crewe is a girl with an English father and an American mother.  The boarding school is moved to New York, and her father goes to fight in France in WWI.  I love this version, so it’s one of the rare times I don’t mind the Americanizing, and the story still works just fine.  There are several realistic trench scenes with Sara’s father.  Even though Liesel Matthews is an heiress to the Hyatt fortune and worth millions, don’t hold it against her.  She’s a great Sara.

A Little Princess (1995)

A Little Princess (1995)

Regeneration/Behind the Lines (film: 1997)  The first book of Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration Trilogy was made into a fine film starring Jonathan Pryce, Jonny Lee Miller, and James Wilby.  James McAvoy is credited, but his role is so tiny it’s almost impossible to spot him.  It’s about several characters at a psychiatric hospital in Scotland during WWI, including poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.  Pryce plays a psychiatrist trying to help his shell-shocked patients.  Sassoon has been sent to the hospital instead of a court martial after he publishes a letter speaking out against the war.  This film is hard to find on a US DVD, where it was renamed Behind The Lines, and even in the UK the DVD is a Dutch import.  I hope this changes soon.

The Trench (1999)  Paul Nicholls and Daniel Craig star in this wrenching drama about young British soldiers on the eve of the battle of the Somme.  Craig is excellent, and the young soldiers are played by young actors, conveying the inexperience of many of the troops who didn’t survive the first hours of their first battle.

Deathwatch (2002)  I can’t recommend this strange horror film about British soldiers who stumble into a trench containing a deadly supernatural being.  I only watched it because of the cast, which includes Jamie Bell, Matthew Rhys, Laurence Fox and Andy Serkis.  I suffered through it, but you don’t have to, unless you really like muddy horror films.

A Very Long Engagement (film: 2004)  This is one of my favorite WWI movies.  It’s long, complicated, in French with subtitles, and you really have to pay attention to keep track of the characters.  Maybe it’s just me, but put a group of men in mustaches and they all look the same.  This film has a lot mustaches!  It’s about a determined young woman (Audrey Tatou) who can’t accept that her fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel) has been killed in WWI.  She searches for clues to what really happened to him and four other soldiers condemned for self-mutilation.  It’s a war film, a mystery, and a love story.  Marion Cotillard is wonderful in a supporting role, and even Jodie Foster shows up to show off her French.

A Bear Named Winnie (2004)  A family film telling the true story of a Canadian soldier who adopts a black bear cub, smuggles him to England, and leaves him in a zoo when he goes to France.  Winnie the Bear, named after Winnipeg, becomes a beloved zoo attraction and inspires AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.  The film stars Michael Fassbender, Gil Bellows,  Jonathon Young, David Suchet, and Stephen Fry.  There’s only one war scene, still pretty intense for younger viewers, while the rest of the film focuses on the antics of the cub.  The film has a leisurely pace, and Fassbender and the bear have great chemistry.

Joyeux Noel (2005)  One of the most remarkable events of WWI was the 1914 Christmas truce, depicted in this French film, when unofficial ceasefires in some regions during Christmas led to football games, carol singing, and gift exchanges between enemy soldiers.  Joyeux Noel was praised by critics and viewers, and I still need see it.

Passchendaele (2008) Canadian Paul Gross wrote, directed, and stars in this film using details from his grandfather’s life.  I was expecting the focus to be on the battle of Passchendaele, but most of the movie takes place off the battlefield.  That’s not a complaint.  I don’t think the movie teaches an uninformed viewer much about the actual battle, but it’s not supposed to be a documentary.

War Horse ( film: 2011)  Opening this Christmas, War Horse is based on Michael Morpurgo’s book for older children.  The play won the Tony Award last spring.  I read the book this summer, and it was 160 pages of pure grief.  Any parent giving their child this book should read it first to judge whether their kid is mature enough to handle it.  I don’t think I’m there yet.  I hope parents are also careful about taking children to see the film.  I will be reading the reviews to see if parents are cautioned.  The trailer promises a beautiful film and the cast features some favorites, but I’m taking plenty of tissues.

Birdsong (film due 2012)  One of my favorite WWI novels by Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong has been filmed in the UK as a TV movie due in 2012.  That usually translates into an eventual airing on PBS Masterpiece.  The film stars Matthew Goode and Eddie Redmayne, and I can’t wait.

*    *    *    *    *

Chemin des Dames Assault 1917 by Luc Albert Moreau

Chemin des Dames Assault 1917 by Luc Albert Moreau

“And all those boys of Europe born in those times, and thereabouts those times, Russian, French, Belgian, Serbian, Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Italian, Prussian, German, Austrian, Turkish—and Canadian, Australian, American, Zulu, Gurkha, Cossack, and all the rest—their fate was written in a ferocious chapter of the book of life, certainly.  Those millions of mothers and their millions of gallons of mothers’ milk, millions of instances of small-talk and baby-talk, beatings and kisses, ganseys and shoes, piled up in history in great ruined heaps, with a loud and broken music, human stories told for nothing, for ashes, for death’s amusement, flung on the mighty scrapheap of souls, all those million boys in all their humours to be milled by the mill-stones of a coming war.   — from A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

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Tony Awards 2011

First of all, I must point out that I’m reviewing the Tony Awards broadcast without having seen any of the plays or musicals that were nominated.   I also have a special interest in The Book of Mormon, because co-director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw was in my theatre group as a teenager.   Living in San Francisco means the broadcast I saw was the taped version.  These are my own impressions, because I haven’t yet read any of the other reviews.

If this year’s Tony Awards broadcast was trying to be a three hour long advertisement for Broadway musicals, it may have succeeded.  If it was supposed to honor the talented folks working both onstage and behind the scenes, it was a disappointing failure.  Most of the broadcast was devoted to showcasing song and dance numbers from not just the nominated new musicals and revivals, but also from Spiderman (long delayed but now supposedly opening this month), Memphis (last year’s winner), Company (don’t know why), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (seriously don’t know why).   All the technical awards, the two Lifetime Achievement Awards, the award for humanitarian efforts, the Regional Theatre Award, and the Special Award (for the horse puppets in War Horse) were given offscreen.  Little snippets were shown from acceptance speeches when they returned from ad breaks.  This just left the acting, directing, and best play/musical/revival awards.  It was really strange that the best musical score was given offscreen, but the best musical book was given onscreen.   There was no logic to it.  I was especially disappointed that the best choreography award was presented offscreen, even though Casey Nicholaw didn’t win for The Book of Mormon.  It was also puzzling when they presented the awards for best play and best revival of a play before they presented the best actor awards.

Host Neil Patrick Harris was awesome as usual, although I do wonder about  middle America’s reaction to lyrics like “No sodomy required” in the opening number.   Later, Harris had some fun with former host Hugh Jackman, who was heavily featured in audience reaction shots.  My favorite Harris moment was when he rode out on a War Horse puppet.   His end-of-the-show rap was great, but the last half hour of the show was rushed because of too many musical numbers and superfluous “broadway moments.”

The Book of Mormon and War Horse posters

I’m not going to list all the award winners.  It’s enough to say that The Book of Mormon (best musical), War Horse (best play), The Normal Heart (best revival of a play), and Anything Goes (best revival of a musical) were the big winners of the night.   I was thrilled when Casey Nicholaw won his first Tony Award for co-directing Mormon with Trey Parker.  He was so happy, and he thanked ‘everyone he’s ever known’ so I couldn’t help feeling included.  That’s definitely a Tony first for me!   I was also pleased that Sutton Foster won for Anything Goes, because I love her.  I’ve only seen her perform at various Tony Awards, but that’s all it takes for her to win your heart.   It was strange watching John Larroquette win for How to Succeed in Business, because just an hour before the broadcast began, I was watching him on Retro TV in Black Sheep Squadron (circa 1977).

I loved seeing Robert Morse (the original 1961 Finch) and Matthew Broderick (Finch in the 1995 revival)  introduce the nominated musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  Morse is looking great at 80!  Both these actors won Tonys for playing Finch, but Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t even nominated.  Radcliffe really is shockingly short, especially standing next to Larroquette, but compared to the rest of the cast as well.   I have to give a shout out to Ellen Harvey, who was easy to spot because she was the only female in the number they performed.  Harvey was another member of San Diego Junior Theatre. and we worked together on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

Whoopi Goldberg and Frances McDormand wore the strangest outfits of the evening.  Goldberg had a hat that distracted me from her introduction of Sister Act, and McDormand (best actress for Good People) wore a denim jacket over her formal length dress.  McDormand looked angry leaving the stage, and I wonder if it’s because everyone was under orders to shorten their acceptance speeches.  Mark Rylance (best actor for Jerusalem) gave the quirkiest speech, describing the best kind of walls and fences you can walk through.  (I learned later that he was quoting poet Louis Jenkins.)  He didn’t thank anyone, but by that point, it was kind of refreshing.   Brooke Shields was having a rough night; first she forgot her lyrics in the opening number, and then the first part of her presentation speech was bleeped out for language.  (Sorry, I couldn’t lip read what she said, but I’m sure I’ll read it online later.)  Bono and The Edge were surprisingly funny introducing a ballad from Spiderman, and the most awkward introduction was given by Christie Brinkley.

The In Memoriam tributes made me cry like they always do.  This year we lost Elizabeth Taylor, of course, but there were so many other great people.  I was surprised when one of the faces was so young, so I had to look her up.  Eleven year old Shannon Tavarez from The Lion King died on November 1, 2010, of acute myeloid leukemia.

Overall, I am happy for the Tony Award winners and disappointed in the broadcast.  Last year, I complained that there were too many Hollywood actors and not enough Broadway actors among the presenters, the audience, and the award winners.  I enjoy seeing performers at the Tonys that I’ve never heard of before, because it’s my one chance during the year to discover them and learn about their work.  This year, I tried my best not to categorize the actors as stage or film types, especially since I loved seeing Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory).   He’s just joined the cast of The Normal Heart.  

Update:  I understand that the Tonys were held at the Beacon Theatre this year, which has half the number of seats as the usual venue.  This meant that many folks couldn’t attend, and lots of people associated with nominated shows were seated in the upper levels.  Now it makes a little more sense why so many awards weren’t shown, since the logistics of finding the nominees in the audience with cameras and getting them onstage quickly to accept their awards must have been a real issue.  I feel sorry for all the folks who couldn’t attend, and for the friends and families of nominees watching at home who weren’t shown their loved ones being honored.  I hope that next year, things will be different.  (Didn’t I say that last year?)

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