Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Movie Review-Band of Brothers

I know it seems I have been writing alot about movies but I want to write a review of one of my Christmas presents. My wife surprised me with the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. I have commented on this movie before in passing but after having just finished then entire series again I just wanted to make a few comments. If you are not familiar with the movie it was taken from a book by the same name and written by the excellent historian Stephen Ambrose. The book and the movie detail Company E (Easy Company) of the 101 Airborne division in WW II as they train, jump out of plains on D-Day, fight the Battle of the Bulge, make their way into Germany, and capture the Eagles nest. As a historian, I believe this is by far the best version of WWII on film. There are many great WWII movies, I could make a list, but none can capture the essence of B of B. The main thing Band of Brothers has over most movies is its length. The movie is almost 12 hours long allowing for excellent character development and detail. Most films only have time to show isolated incidents. Saving Private Ryan gave an excellent portrayal of D-Day, but only had half an hour to do so, B of B has over two hours to cover the same event. Do not let the length of the movie overwhelm you; it is broken down into ten self-contained segments. In our experience the biggest problem is not finishing the 12 hour epic, but instead the difficulty is not putting your life on hold and finishing it all in one day. The first time we watched this we thought it would take several weekends, but instead we made several trips to the video store the same weekend to get more episodes.

The Movie begins almost two years before D-Day. The men of Easy Company had all volunteered for the elite airborne corps. The training was extremely difficult, but as one man said, they volunteered so that they knew that the men fighting on either side were the best. Airborne was a new concept in the warfare. Instead of taking on the enemy head on, the army would have men parachute behind enemy lines, meaning they would be surrounded by the enemy and if the operation failed then they would be trapped. The best example was D-Day. If the Allied troops were not successful in taking Normandy, then all the airborne divisions would be caught behind German lines. With such a difficult task, extended training was necessary and the level of training was brutal. The first episode dealt with Easy’s time both in America and England as they trained to make the jump into France on D-Day. The C.O. of Easy was Herbert Sobel (surprisingly well played by David Schimmer or more famously Ross from NBC’s Friends) Sobel was a tyrant for discipline and training but incompetent in the field. Much of the first episode was Easy’s dealing with Sobel.

Also in the first episode we are introduced to the men of Easy Company. They were a rough bunch of men from all over the US, but as the movie progressed they would form into an elite group of men, and more importantly a family. Because this movie was historically accurate, many of these men would die or have to leave from injury, but many you will come to know and even feel for. The most important character introduced is Lt. Richard Winters played perfectly by Damian Lewis. Lewis is currently playing Cruise on the TV drama Life. I am a big fan of Life, not so much because of the show itself, but because I loved Lewis’s portrayal of Winters so much (I will write a blog about Life in the near future). I do not have the time or space to discuss each man in Easy Company, I would love to do so and they are all deserving, but I will limit myself to two. One is Winters. Winters will find himself Company commander on D-Day after all his superiors were killed. Much of the movie is about Winters and the way he led his men. There is no way you can watch this movie and not have great respect for this man. I love sports but am not one who wants to meet sports stars or celebrities but I think if I was to make a list of the 5 men living today who I would like to shake their hand and talk to for a few minutes, I am sure Dick Winters would be one of them. The other actor who I am now a huge fan of, may surprise some, it still surprises me. It is Donny Wahlburg who plays 1st Seg Carwood Lipton. Yes the same Wahlburg from the New Kids on the Block, but his acting skills are good and the man he portrays is a real hero. One of my favorite episodes was the one that focuses on Lipton while they fought the bloodiest battle in World history, the battle of the Bulge. I do not want to give it away, but the praise he receives from Lt. Spears at the end of the episode is touching.

As I said there are so many other characters I could talk about, but do not have room. This is a touching story about ordinary men who were put into extraordinary situations. They had to deal with all the horrors of war, especially the horror of losing the men that stood next to them, the men that came to be their brothers. The last episode they were listening to a German General talk to his men. He said they formed a bond that could only be forged in Battle. While this must have been true from the Germans, it surly was by the men of Easy Company. By the end you also felt part of them, and felt for them as they suffered loss. They were asked to do things that no one should be asked to do, but they came through every time. These men were and are true heroes. Before and after each episode they would play interviews of some of the real men of Easy. After the last episode one of the men interviewed brought up a letter in which he said that his grandchild asked him if he was a hero in the War, he said no, but that he served in a company of heroes. I would like to second that statement these men were heroes.

This was a violent film and the language can be harsh at times. I had watched it on TV and had not realized how bad the language was at times. But this is still a film that I would recommend to everyone old enough. These men volunteered several years of their lives and at time their very lives to help others. Watching movies like this adds weight to this generations claim as the greatest generation. There are lots of movies about war, but few do as well as B of B. It does not celebrate death and violence as some war movies do, but instead shows the humanity in war. Instead of focusing on the big wigs or famous men like Patton, it focuses on the regular men, one company and their extraordinary true-life deeds. This movie is a must see and after you are done, I think you will agree with me that these men and those serving now deserve a great amount of respect and gratitude from all of us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tis the Season to Watch Christmas Movies-Part II

My wife and I were trying to remember what movies we wanted to get in before Christmas or on Christmas day. You know those movies, ones that you are required to watch before it is officially Christmas. Since I enjoy making lists, I figured this would be a perfect blog, so I decided to write my top ten favorite Christmas movies.
Hope you enjoyed the first installment of my top ten best Christmas movies. Now for my top ten.
5. The Christmas Carol. My favorite version is from 1984 staring George C. Scott. Charles Dickens is a master storyteller and this is one of his most beloved stories. There have been dozens of spin offs of this story, two have made this list, but the original story is still worth watching. It is enjoyable to see Scrooge’s excitement when he realizes he had not missed Christmas and goes about trying to correct all his mistakes in the past.

4. The Christmas Story. I will always remember my entire family (I think around 22 of us) going into a theater one Christmas season to watch this movie. I do not think we knew much about it, but by the time we left the theater Christmas would never be the same again, or I guess anyone’s Christmas. Movies like Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, or Elf are great movies, but this is now a classic on the level of White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. I could spend a page writing about all the lines or scenes that have become movie icons at the highest level. I can say things “I double dog dare you” and we all automatically think of a tongue stuck to a pole. Goose for dinner, you’ll shoot your eye out, the lamp, or F-U-D-G-E are just a couple other examples. I love this movie because it depicts such an interesting time. I use this in my class when we discuss the 20s and 30 and the cultural importance of the radio. One an inside joke, one thing I will always remember from the theater is when the bully first showed up and my Uncle Doug shouted its Jared (Jared Patton was his best friend and looked just like him).

3. The Muppets Christmas Carol. This is the last of my Christmas Carol trilogy and my personal favorite, hence the number three ranking. I love the Muppets and I enjoy the Christmas Carol, put them together and you get a fun movie for the entire family. It is the same classic tale, with the same morals and story, but with a funny Muppets twist. It is also a musical and with very memorable songs. There is something about this movie that makes me happy, it must bring back memories of being a kid at Christmas time. And you cannot help but have a good movie when Jacob Marley and his brother are played by the Muppet hecklers.

2. White Christmas. Irving Berlin is an inspirational story. A Russian Jewish immigrant, Berlin had to face the intolerance that came with his religion and immigrant status, yet overcame it all to write some of our most beloved songs including God Bless America. One of his classic films was Holiday Inn where he wrote the song White Christmas. Based on the popularity of this song he wrote an entire movie around it with the same name. I know I keep using the word classic a lot, but I cannot think of a better term, this is such a classic movie, with an amazingly classic cast, Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, and Rosemary Clooney. There are other familiar songs that come from White Christmas other than the title song, Sister, I Wish I Was Back in the Army, and Count Your Blessings. This movie, like so many of the others, has the ability to make you feel good. It does not matter the mood you are in when the start it, you will be joyful when it is over.

1. Mr. Kruger’s Christmas. This movie is one of the reasons I love Jimmy Stewart. I could make an entire blog about Stewart movies, but he once said that this was one of his favorites because he was able to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This is the movie I like to watch on Christmas Eve. The first nine movies on this list are all great to bring in the spirit of the season, but only this one reminds us the true reason we have this holiday. This was an LDS production and directed by the Oscar award winning Keith Merrill (his daughter was the little girl in the film and I had a crush on her when I was little). This is about a building custodian who had to spend another Christmas alone. During the story he would daydream and put himself into situations, one of which was conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There are some funny parts, but the most touching was when he imagined he was in the stables when Christ was born. His love for the Savior was so strong as he asked for forgiveness and pledged to live his life the way the baby Jesus would want him too. This is a heart touching story that tells the true meaning of Christmas. If you are reading this blog and are not LDS you probably have never heard of his movie, if that is the case I suggest ordering it. You can buy it on Amazon. It is not a message about Mormonism, but about Christ, and can be enjoyed by all Christians during this season. As a child I did not know Stewart was famous, I only knew him as Mr. Kruger and his performance was so excellent that I think much of it was not acting, but he was expressing his actual testimony of Jesus

Well these are my favorite Christmas movies, I would suggest if you have not seen any of them to correct that wrong. There are other favorites that we enjoy, like classic cartoons, but that will be for another time or blog. I hope you enjoy these and if I am missing an important one or have my order wrong, please let me know. I hope you all have a merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tis the Season to Watch Christmas Movies

My wife and I were trying to remember what movies we wanted to get in before Christmas or on Christmas day. You know those movies, ones that you are required to watch before it is officially Christmas. Since I enjoy making lists, I figured this would be a perfect blog, so I decided to write my top ten favorite Christmas movies.

1o. Miracle on 34th street. I mean the 1947 Natalie Woods version not the new one. This is still a classic about a little girl, Natalie Woods, who was raised not to believe in Santa Claus, and in fact not to believe in anything. However with the help of a new neighbor and Mr. Claus himself they help her lean to believe in miracles.

9. It’s a Wonderful Life. This is only one of two of my favorites staring one of my favorite actors Jimmy Stewart. I am sure everyone has seen this movie, but if you have been living in a cave, this is about a man who makes a wish that he was never born. An angle appears to him and shows him what his loved ones lives would be like had he not been born. This is a feel good movie at its best, and like most Frank Capra movies it just makes you feel good.

8. Scrooged. This has become a modern Christmas classic and one of Bill Murray’s best. This is a modern version of Charles Dickens’s novel Christmas Carol. Murray’s character is a TV executive putting on a Christmas show but has no idea of what Christmas is all about. Just as in the original book after being visited by the three ghosts he comes to understand the spirit of the season

7. Elf. This is the most recent of the Christmas classics and stars the very funny Will Ferrell. Ferrell plays a human adopted by elfs who leaves the North Pole to find his family. Like so many Christmas movies, Ferrell must teach his new family what Christmas means, mostly how it is about family. This is a very funny movie that the entire family will enjoy.

6. Christmas Vacation. This movie, like the two above it, is a slapstick funny Christmas movies., This one is a sequel to the Chevy Chase Vacation movies. Not only is the Griswold family back, but so are their hillbilly cousins led by Randy Quaid in his greatest role ever. Clark, Chevy Chase, is the ultimate dysfunctional father who loves his family so much and wants to make a perfect Christmas but seems to fail at every step. Yet as you expect in the end of a Christmas story, everything works out in a funny way.

I hope y ou enjoy watching these films. Check back later for numbers 1 to 5.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Auto Bailout and Do You Think We Chose the Wrong Man.

If only the presidential primaries went a month longer, maybe we would be better off. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a few weeks ago that I think is dead on (you can read it yourself at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/19romney.html?hp). When we picked the Republican nominee the economy was sound and so McCain won on his national security, then the economy tanked and we nominated a man who had admitted he was week on economic issues. Right now most of you are aware that Congress is debating an economic bailout for the big three automakers. Most thought it would pass with just some minor debate, but luckily some Senators are trying to stop it. I have had a problem with the bail out all along, even though I saw why it was important. But the car bailouts are a bit different. What Romney basically said was that if we bail out the car companies we will just have to do it again in a few years because we are not fixing the problem. The biggest issue is the unions. There are autoworkers that are making over 100,000 because they have put in 30 or more years. I do not begrudge anyone making as much as they can, but many college grads do not make that kind of money. Detroit is even paying people who are not working, because the unions have so much power to demand such conditions. Romney’s point is the car companies cannot succeed with such overhead, and cannot compete with other companies who do not have such strict union demands. Romney wants to help, he is a Michigan man and does not want to see Americans lose jobs, but believes the best way to ultimately help is to allow the companies to declare bankruptcy then help them restructure and bring them back stronger then before. This would include a new deal with the unions. This is fixing the problems not just covering up the stink for a few years. If the automakers do not change how they do business, including their relationship with the unions, they will never progress.

This is the kind of thinking we need in government. Romney was never my first choice, but when he has the guts to say let them fail, I have come over to his side. This is the kind of government we need. This is not the easy way out, but in the long run the better. This type of governing takes courage. I am not saying Obama does not have courage, he may come up with a similar plan, I just fear from his rhetoric that he favors government fixing everything. One of my fears of nominating a Chicago machine politician is already coming true, I am sure that instead of focusing on the bailout right now President-elect Obama is having to wonder how the corruption scandal in Illinois will effect him. Obama may have nothing to do with the governor, but is it not great that that he still has two months before he is already sworn in and there is a possible corruption charge. With Romney’s head for the economy, the Republican party might want to lift him to the forefront and put his ideas out there. The economy may not be much better in four years and he may just be the man we need.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another BCS Blunder

I usually write about history and politics, but I want to veer off today and talk about sports, so many of you can stop reading now. I like so many others are disgruntled about events happening in the sports landscape, today I only have room to discuss one. However before I do I want to give a big Yea for my Va Tech Hokies. I knew this would be a difficult season for them; they lost their entire team last year. I had no expectations of the Hokies, but to my surprise they won the ACC championship this past Saturday with a victory over BC. This is their second ACC championship in two years and their third overall. Tech has dominated the ACC since they came into the league a few years ago with three titles. They will be facing Cincinnati on New Years day in the Orange Bowl, GO HOKIES!!!!

Now for my big complaint, the BCS. Once again the idiots in college football have screwed it all up. The national title game will be between Oklahoma and Florida, two great teams that will play an exciting game, but it should not be for the title. Unless you do not pay attention to college football at all, than you know the biggest complaint: how can 1 loss Oklahoma jump ahead of 1 loss Texas when Oklahoma’s 1 loss was to Texas. In the week that Ok jumped Texas, Texas even won its own game, yes granted to an inferior team, but that should not matter. I do not understand why it is more important when you win or lose than it does to who you played. My big issue is that most who support the BCS system (John Saunders) have a good argument: a playoff will take away the importance of the regular season games. It is a good argument; big games would not matter as much if both teams will then make the playoffs anyway. But this year their argument is hurt because the regular season Red River Rivalry in the end did not matter at all, Texas won yet Oklahoma is playing in the big game. This year makes the regular season seem worthless. Take another example, the SEC championship. Alabama was ranked number 1 during most of their undefeated regular season. Their only loss came in the SEC championship game where they lost to Florida. So Alabama and Florida were both 1 loss teams, so how do you decide who should go to the BCS final, Florida because they beat Alabama head on. Why did not the same model apply to Texas?

I understand why it is hard to decide who should play in the championship game, there are no undefeated teams (O yea, Utah and Boise, but they don’t count-more on that later) and a bunch of 1 loss teams (Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, USC, Penn State, not to mention Ball State). You would think looking at who they lost to would make a difference. Why has powerful USC been out of the question, well they lost to Oregon State. Yet Florida lost to Old Miss and they are playing for the big game. It should matter who you lost to more than when you lost. All the teams are deserving, but Florida lost to Old Miss, USC to Oregon State, Penn State to Iowa, the more deserving teams are Texas who lost to Texas Tech, but if we go by this model then why is not Alabama playing Texas Tech. Bama lost to Florida and Tech to Oklahoma, the two teams that most consider the best in the nation. It seems to me that Bama should have a shot, they were number one for the second half of the year, and lost to the current number 2 team. Why because they lost to Florida head to head, then what about Texas. Can you say double standard? The other reason of coarse is that Bama lost late. There is no way to say that every game in the regular season means more, when later games mean much more than earlier games.

My last issue is Utah and Boise. Both teams went undefeated, yet are being left out. Utah did make a BCS game, but with their performance this year, not to mention the past few years, they deserve a shot at the title. Could they beat either team, probably not, but have they earned the right to try. As for Boise, they were left out completely, even being undefeated, and had one of the best few years in football including one of the best bowl wins in recent history when they beat Oklahoma, proving the little guys can beat the big boys. There is not way the BCS can justify putting a 2 loss Ohio State into the BCS and leaving Boise out, except for money. Colleges who want to be all high and mighty are making football decisions based on money and nothing else.

The only solution to this mess is an 8 game playoff, but not the playoff most are proposing. It should not be the top ranked teams, allowing the BCS conferences to continue to control things. Each of the 6 BCS teams should send their champion. Make the regular season games matter. I agree with pro-BCS people to say that this years Texas Oklahoma game would not have matter as much if both Texas and Oklahoma made the playoff. Only take one team per conference. Leave the last two spots for the next two highest ranked non-BCS conference teams, this year Utah and Boise. What makes March Madness so fun is that George Mason can make it to the final four. Let Utah or Ball State have a chance to prove they can beat someone, they may just surprise everyone. By the way keep the bowls, just make the four BCS bowls the first round of an eight team playoff and the other schools still go to other bowls. Would not this year be so much better if we saw this instead:

Jan 1
Rose: #1. Florida v. #21 Virginia Tech (go Hokies)
Orange: #6 Penn State V. #7 Utah
Sugar: #5 USC v. #9 Boise State
Fiesta: ##3 Texas (they should be going) v. #12 Cincinnati

Jan 8: Semi-final game

Jan 15: National Championship
Hokies Win!!!!
I can dream.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


We had the opportunity this past week to be the guests of my in-laws at Orlando (thank you again Steve and Sharon). We had a very enjoyable time. It took two long days to make the drive, but we drove along the gulf coast which I had never seen before so it made it enjoyable. We took part in several activities. On Sunday we ate at Medieval Times and enjoyed the food and the show. The kids loved cheering on their Knight and at the end Savannah even got to keep the ribbon presented to her by the Blue Knight. On Monday we visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Magic Kingdom. The Kids agreed their favorite part was the Lion King show and Savannah got to have a meet and greet with the princesses (she was in heaven). We were out to midnight and so the next day we were so tired that we took a day off. We did take a boat ride on an air boat in a semi-swampy area. This was one of my highlights, I have never been on an airboat before, but now I want one. We did see a couple gators; they were small, but still fun to see in the wild. On Wed we went to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood studios. I am not a big fan of rides (I get very sick) so I enjoy Epcot where we can walk around the different nations and eat good food. The kids and I left early to get a head start on the Hollywood studios were we saw Beauty and the Beast and the Indiana Jones show, both of which were favorites of the kids. Jake also enjoyed Star tours. We were then joined by the rest of the family for their night show called Fantasmic. Outside of getting a bit wet it was quite a performance. Thursday again we took the day off to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. We did have an epic game of mini-golf, I won the first 18, but was crushed by Steve on the back 18 where he had several holes in one and began the course with a seven. Finally on Friday we went to Universal Studios. Jake said by far his favorite ride of the week was the Simpson’s ride (Jake has begun to love watching the Simpsons, I knew he would have good taste). The kids also enjoyed the Sinbad show and the ET ride. Once again thank you to the Edwards for giving us such an enjoyable week.

My review of the parks is of course positive. But I want to give extra praise to Disney World and one negative remark about Universal Studios. When you go to Disney you expect to wait in long lines, it is very popular after all. But Disney has what is called fast pass. The rides with the longest lines you can get a fast pass that tells you when to come back and skip most of the line. This allows you to enjoy other things at the part and spend all your time in line. You can only have one fast pass at a time, so once you ride the ride you can go get the next one. However at Universal they have a different version of the fast pass. If you want to double the price of you ticket you can buy the fast pass for all rides. This is why I joked about Lenin, I see Universal as class warfare at its best. Every time you wanted to ride a ride there were two lines, the haves and the have nots. And not being in the fast lane you felt like a second class citizen as they would fill up the rides with everyone from the fast lanes. I began to feel annoyed as I waited in the ET line for over an hour watching the bikes fill up with the elite while us peasants sat and watched. I never felt the same way at Disney, even though when I was in the slow line and people with fast pass got on first. The difference was at Disney I could have gotten a fast pass their, but chose not to. Disney was the great equalizer, while Universal separated everyone in classes like the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Yes I could have bought a fast pass at Universal, but they were not cheap. It already cost a family a fortune to make it to Orlando, but Universal saw another way to squeeze more cash out of hard working families, by making them feel like lesser citizens. Obviously Disney is not perfect, it is not like they are giving away tickets (well maybe on your birthday), but they could have done the same thing, and who knows maybe they will, but for now it is just another reason why Disney is the happiest place on earth.