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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Fellowship of The King...

is an online magazine with a staff of Catholic homeschoolers and homeschool graduates dedicated to merging spirituality and creativity with a diverse array of content and subject matter. Through a series of unexpected events this past June, your lately errant blogger became the Editor-in-Chief of this worthy enterprise. Hopefully this goes some ways in explaining my tardiness in putting up fresh posts for the masses (along with an ER trip for repeated and extremely painful kidney stones and later on, a strained wrist...but I digress!).

    I plan on trying to rectify this in the coming weeks, but for now, I feel that is my obligation to assure you all that I have not been lounging in a hammock in the Caribbean with an umbrella drink in hand, soaking up the sun in the company of Sean Connery. If that were so, you would have every justification to bring Pearl to Tyburn and make hang her up by the thumbs.

     But the proof of my innocence lies in the link below, which will take you to our magazine bi-annual-themed-page-spread-issues tab, which includes a second link (this of it as a treasure hunt!) which will direct you to the issuu format of our Autumn 2015 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Issue, Part 1:

     As the first installment to be released under my leadership, I'd really appreciate it if all my loyal readers from over here would come and bask in the glow of the project, like, share, leave comments, and scream "Elvis, Elvis!"...or something equivalent to mark the occasion! Everyone involved did a splendid job making this group effort a reality, and I once again thank them all as we prepare to take the magazine to new and exciting places on the world wide web! :)

The Fellowship...that's us!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Once Upon a Dream: A Magical Disney Movie Montage

     In way or another, all of us have been deeply affected by the legacy of Walt Disney. Maybe we fell in love with the magical animated features as kids, or wound up visiting the mega-theme-parks in Florida or California, or perhaps bought sparkly franchise trinkets to adorn our rooms. Maybe the historical adventures in the live-action feature films got us interested in our country’s past for the first time, and the enchantment of the Disney princesses prepared us to leap into the grown-up world of fantasy and mythology. Perhaps the songs inspired us to start singing ourselves, the artwork inspired us to draw, or the stories and characters enabled us to identify with them and rise to the challenges in our own world.

     Perhaps, in some subtle way, these “childhood epics” truly defined who we would grow up to be. They have a very real magic about them. For all the faults that many of these productions may have (especially, I would say, the later ones, which occasionally muddy the moral waters), there is still some goodness about them that makes them many of them timeless. Indeed, Disney movies are often used as therapy for children with autism, down syndrome, and other health challenges, and have been able to help many express themselves and come out of their shells. The profound healing power truly of these simle little stories and songs truly makes them “a fragment of the true light”, and a blessing in disguise.

    The following is an assortment of  some of my top personal favorites among the Disney animated and live-action feature film collection. While there are a slew of others worthy of mention, and I do not claim this an any sort of definitive list, I hope you will enjoy perusing and be inspired to look up some of the flicks you may not have seen, and re-watch old favorites that you have many times before!     

    Robin Hood, the 1973 animated feature film, has undoubtedly been one of the most singularly influential movie in my life. As a little girl of 6 years old, I was instantly absorbed by the heroic story-line portraying different animals as the main characters in the classic tale. My first crush was on that clever, good-hearted, English-accented fox, and through him, my love of England sprouted and grew. The other characters were so memorable as well: Little John the Bear, Friar Tuck the Badger, Maid Marian the Vixen, Ala a Dale the Rooster, etc. etc. They were all wonderful friends brought to life through gorgeous animation, and forever associated with the many songs laced throughout, such as “Love Goes On and On”, “Robin Hood and Little John”, “A Pox on the Phony King of England”, etc. etc .! The fact that I have a shelf loaded down with Robin Hood memorabilia, including books, VHS and DVD movies, Disney puppets, lunchboxes, comic books, etc. is a testament to the life-long effect one little movie can have on a girl!

     Sleeping Beauty, the 1959 animated feature film, was another life-changing film from my youth. Countless times as a child, I would get together with friends to put on plays and recite those wonderful, pseudo-Shakespearian lines from the film. In fact, if you asked me to do it now, I would put on my most villainous voice and quote Maleficent: “Forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Go through the skies with the plot of doom!” I would also quote the good fairy, Mistress Merryweather: “O Sword of Truth, fly swift and sure! Let evil die, and good endure!” For me, it is the quintessential fairy-tale brought the screen. I mean the music is from Tchaikovsky, and the artwork is gloriously neo-gothic in feel. “Once Upon a Dream” is still a favorite in my show-tune repertoire. And the characters are delightful: Aurora, Prince Philip, Mistress Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, and the oh-so evilly elegant Maleficent. It really can’t be beat.

     Pocahontas and Pocahontas II, from 1995 and 1998 respectively, are probably my favorite animated features from the Disney Renaissance. They may be historically inaccurate in many places, but I actually find them less offensive my sensibilities than many period piece mini-series that purport to be telling the truth as it happened! At least they had the heart of the stories in the right place, and tried to be fair to both the English and the Native Americans. Plus, the characters are attractive, and the side-kick characters are actually cute instead of being annoying! More than any other Disney animated production, this is a Broadway-style musical, complete with some beautiful songs such as “Just Around the River Bend”, “Colors of the Wind”, and “Where Do I Go from Here?”. Plus, I must admit a liking for John Rolfe…he’s just superior to John Smith, and it was historically accurate that she should wind up with him in the sequel…even though he didn’t really rescue her from the Tower of London! But hey, it’s all in good fun!

     Mulan, from 1998, was another unique exploration of a broadly historical theme, and got me more than a little fascinated in Chinese culture (in addition to my previous love of Kung Fu and Sagwa!). Mulan is really the Joan of Arc of Ancient China, and her heroic decision to take her father’s place on the battlefield to drive back to invading Huns is based off of an ancient poetic saga that was just dying to be made into a motion picture. There are sections of the cartoon that are a tad crude and incongruent in mood, and the magic dragon side-kick can be a tad annoying. But still the overall storyline and animation (check out the 3-D charge sequence!) are excellent. Also the rousing theme song “Be a Man” is always a catchy aside, both in English and Chinese, as provided in the special features!

    The Great Mouse Detective, from 1986, is an adorable, little-known gem that plays out a clever spoof on Sherlock Holmes…in mouse form! Olivia, a spirited Scottish mousling, sets out to find Basil Mouse, the greatest detective in London, in hopes of rescuing her toy-maker father who has been kidnapped by the evil Professor Ratigan and his scurrilous Cockney mouse minions! Along the way, she meets the bumbling Dr. Dawson who teams up with Basicl to uncover the kidnapping…and unmask a sinister plot against the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee! All the characters were delightful, and the humor managed to achieve a spoof on Sherlock without being cynical. The only problem I really had with it was the “dancing girl” sequence in the seedy tavern, which I thought might have been a bit too suggestive for little kids. Otherwise, this is a must-see.

    The Jungle Book, from 1967, is an entertaining romp, which may not be Kipling…but it’s a lot more fun! In fact, I would go on to say that it is quite possibly one of the “bear necessities” of any Disney list! A classic growing up tale with another elegant villain, Sheer Kahn, and a troupe of lovable sidekicks from panthers to bears to wolves to elephants, Mowgli finds the place where he really belongs among his own kind, through the intervention of an adorable village girl. Musically, this is another film that cannot be beat for catchy tunes, most notably the beloved “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You!.” This was the last animated feature to be made with Walt Disney’s personal touch, as he died soon after release. Indeed, it was in many ways the end of a generation.

        The Little Mermaid, from 1989, was the grand kick-off to the Disney Renaissance, and sparkled with a charming story-line and lovable characters. While I have reservations about Ariel’s bikini, it must be admitted that Hans Christian Anderson’s original mermaid was depicted naked (check out the Mermaid of Copenhagen if you don’t believe me!), so technically Disney made an improvement! Besides, she’s not actually in a bikini the whole time…she winds up in a nice frilly dress on land, which fits her becomingly. King Trident, her long-suffering father, actually turns out to be a Christ-like figure who sacrifices himself for his daughter who sold her soul to the devil in the form of Ursula the sea-witch, all in pursuit of love with a human, Prince Eric. The loss of Ariel’s voice is also very symbolic of the loss of her soul and her self. The rescue could have been more allegorically profound that ramming into evil witch with a boat, but at least Eric gets to do something to make himself useful after all the trouble he inadvertently causes over the course of the tale!

      The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which ran from 1988 to 1991, is an innovative and thoroughly delightful take on the original Pooh stories. As a little girl, it was one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and I still own much of the series, to watch someday with my own children! Pooh and his pals become more Americanized in this version to better suit the audience, and the mood takes on a more comic tone, as their adventures branch out in into an array of themes and story-lines, all light-hearted and warmly rendered.  Whether the subject matter is the Wild West, wishing wells, super-sleuths, falling stars, house-warming parties, or cross-country racing, this series pretty much has it all! As a side-note, I would like to say that the series is *much* superior to the later “Pooh Movies” put out by Disney, which were far too dark and emotionally heavy, distorting the character interaction and the clean style of the animation. So yeah, just stick with the series! ;-)

     Tangled, from 2010, is a gorgeously animated modern manifestation of the classic Rapunzel story. It’s all about an adorable blonde princess with magical glowing hair, which has the power to heal and restore youth. However, a miserly old lady named Mother Gothel wants to hoard her magic, so she kidnaps her and takes her to live in a tower where no one can find her. It is only through the intervention of Flynn Rider, an unlikely hero, that she is able to find her true place and emerge into the sunlight! Blending the best of old and new artistic techniques in a 3-D production, some have hailed it as the beginning of a “neo-Renaissance” for Disney. The floating lantern sequence is especially stunning. Among the most recent “princess” films, I would definitely say its has the most originality and style, and the best plot construction. 

     Frozen, from 2013, may be the victim of an over-kill hype, but it is still a “cool” little Nordic-style frolic, in the spirit of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, if not by the letter of the book! This feature film stand out for having two princesses instead of one, and for having a unique twist on the meaning of  “true love.” Elsa makes an elegant if paranoid accidental ice queen, and Ann her sister is an adorable heroine. Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf add to the fun in the supporting cast, and while Prince Hans winds up being a different type than of character than we might have hoped for (I do my best to avoid spoilers here!), he too has an integral part to play in the plot to get the main message across. Magical animation and music score (love “Let It Go”), and the moral that true love really does win over all because, to quote Olaf, “some people are worth melting for.”

      Brave, made in 2012, is a film with mixed reviews to its name. I must include it in this list for the glorious Scottish setting and magnificent art-work alone. Its story-line has interesting elements, involving a fiery read-haired, Scottish accented princess Merida who refuses to be wed to a man against her will, and competes in an archery contest to win her freedom. And yet the whole dynamic of having her mother turned into a bear (and back again!) kind of underwhelmed me and proved a bit confusing. Still, it had quite a few good messages to share, including the importance of understanding in a mother-daughter relationship, the value of unity and working and together, and the necessity of balancing tradition with innovation and grace with strength. It also had a very Celtic take on mystery, magic, and destiny bound up with the land. This film also has a beautiful Celtic score, with the song “Touch the Sky” sung by Julie Fowler.

     Old Yeller, from 1957, is one of Disney’s most beloved and simultaneously tear-jerking live-action features. Its about a Texan Confederate family struggling to make ends meet in the aftermath of the Civil War. The two boys, Travis and Arles, find a stray “yeller” dog, who Arles takes into his heart. Although it takes Travis a longer time to warm up to their new family member, he eventually does and “Yeller” goes on to save both their lives. He will go on to be their beloved companion and protector until tragedy strikes, and Travis must perform the most difficult act of love. A powerful story of love, sacrifice, and what it means to become a man. Excellent acting of both humans and animals, and just the right southern accents, I reckon!

     The Parent Trap, from 1961, is a heart-warming tale of a full-scale “family reunion” when long-lost twin-sister, Sharon and Susan, rediscover each other at a summer camp and launch an ingenious plan to bring their divorced parents back together. But first they have to switch places – a mission easier said than done! While they may be identical in appearance, their personalities and habits are diametrically opposite! Meanwhile, the money-grubbing opportunist Vicky is making a pass at their father, and they launch a plan of defense to foil her schemes in the mountains of California! A terrific family film with great cast and story-line with an important message that marriage matters. It’s a blast getting to watch a “double-header” of Hailey Mills playing both the girls, and heralded by the memorable rock n’ roll song, “Let’s Get Together”.

     Johnny Tremain, from 1957, is one of the few films set in the American Revolution which actually tries to be fair to both sides. In this way it keeps faith with the book of the same name by Esther Forbes, even though it is largely condensed. The story follows Johnny, a silversmith’s apprentice in Boston, who finds himself drawn into the revolutionary fervor sweeping the colonies. He also learns about some long-buried secrets concerning his own identity , as he struggles to rise above the difficulties of having a handicapped hand after an accident in the silversmith shop. I’m pleased to report that the redcoats were actually portrayed as human beings, including General Thomas Gage and Major John Pitcairn. The battle sequences are quite good as were the acting, plot, and costume design, plus the memorable song “Songs of Liberty.”

     The Light in the Forest, from 1958, is a rare film set during the French and Indian War, and deftly touches on the complexities between whites and Indians on the  colonial frontier. The main character is a young white man, John Cameron Butler, who has been raised among the Lenelanape People from the time of his capture as a small boy. When the British agree to a peace with the natives, only after they surrender their white captives, John is brought back to his white family against his will. Ultimately, he finds himself pitted against his sadistic uncle as he struggles to discover his true identity and a place to belong. This is a unique movie which, like Johnny Tremain, is admirably historically accurate. Great acting, complex characters, terrific costuming and scenery, and a great finale fight scene. Loved the Lenelanape language clips used as cues for fist-fighting!

     The Hunchback of Notre Dame, made in 1996, has a quality that surpasses most cartoons. It must have been a daunting task for the Disney team to try and recreate Victor Hugo’s classic sage of unrequited love, prejudice, and tragedy, and give it a reasonably happy ending, but they managed to do it, and do it fairly well! There are some beautiful 3-D visuals, especially during the crowd scenes (notably when Quasimodo whisks Esmeralda to safety and cries “Sanctuary!”) and the Cathedral shots (check out Esmeralda standing in the center of light being reflected from the rose window overhead). Also, while it certainly has its problems (some crude inferences, etc.), the plot was considerably improved by having Quasi be able to hear and speak, enabling him to emerge as a real and relatable character. His friendship with Esmeralda and Phoebus is touching and uplifting, and the music score underscores the theme of unconditional love, especially the beautiful solo for Esmeralda “God Help the Outcasts”.

     The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, produced in 2005, does an admirable job of bringing C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy story to life for whole new generations to fall in love with. Indeed, considering the painfully memorable BBC adaptation from the 80’s (“sock puppet city”), this could be called a bone fide epic! The story revolved around the four Pevensie children as they discover the magical realm of Narnia in the back of a wardrobe, and proceed to fulfill an ancient prophecy involving the return of Aslan the Lion and defeat the evil White Witch. Through it all, a profound Christian allegory retells the story of Easter. The blend of live action and CGI effectively captures the fantastic nature of the film, and the music score is deliciously evocative of the setting, especially the theme for the colossal combat between the forces of good and evil called “The Battle”.  All in all, it’s a heart-warming family film that also is shot through with powerful meaning.

     Tales of Robin Hood, from 1951, is the live action counterpart of the carton, starring Richard Todd as R.H. A lush and lively adaptation that primarily sticks to traditional story-line with a few twists, we get to meet Robin and Marion as young lovers who were childhood sweet-hearts from the time before all the troubles started. In this one, we also get to see Marion clad in Lincoln Green tights among the Merry Men, caring for a wounded (and cranky!) Robin in Sherwood, just before King Richard returns to set everything to rights. Also loved the humorous portrayal of Friar Tuck, and the scene where he carries Robin across a river. There are also memorable musical interludes from Alan a Dale, nice archery/fencing sequences, and good character development. As one friend pointed out, while Errol Flynn’s portrayal may be the quintessential one, Todd manages to capture more of the depth and complexity of moods, as opposed to grinning all the time! Also, this version makes a point of having the Sheriff of Nottingham meet a unique doom on the draw-bridge (easy come, easy go…)

     Mickey’s Christmas Carol, created in 1983, is a shorter feature that demonstrates how Disney’s magic touch can turn just about any classic tale into a new and delightful experience. This one, in the spirit of Robin Hood, recasts Scrooge and the others as animals, and not just any animals – but a roll-call of illustrious names including no less than Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, and friends! Of course we get to travel with Scrooge McDuck (yes, he’s a duck, and a hilariously Scottish one) to visit his Christmas ghosts and see just why he turned into a miserly wretch to begin with, before giving him a chance to re-enter the human (or should I say fowl?) race before it’s too late! It’s a wonderful holiday classic, perfect for the kiddies and fun-loving adults still young at heart! Note: look out for some characters from Robin Hood, who make a debut in the backdrop!

     Maleficent, made in 2014, is one of those controversial re-make films which I really expected to hate. After all, it was messing with my favorite Disney Princess film, Sleeping Beauty. However, I must admit that, taken on its own terms, this film has a an entertaining premise, a creative plot reworking, impressive acting, and some marvelous special effects and costume/set design work. Personally, I would have just preferred they disassociated the film from the original movie altogether and made it a stand-alone with a different title. Indeed, having it still connected the previous feature made it hard to swallow at times, especially when they messed up the three fairies (made them into dumbbells!) and King Stephen (made him into an incorrigible villain). But I did find Maleficent’s back-story to be intriguing and redemption to be moving. Having her portrayed as a powerful and fearsome Celtic-style fairy defending her people and terrifying fit her well, and I was quite satisfied with how the conclusion brought the story of Aurora full-circle.

        That Disney has managed to capture the hearts of the public for so many generations is because they have never lost their willingness to be be creative and color outside the box. They are always seeking new forms of expression and entertainment, and yet at the heart of it all, they also manage to tap into a certain level of depth and meaning that will continue to make their movies fall into the classics category. No matter their failings, and the commercialism of their merchandise, they have enabled us to wish upon a star, once upon a dream. And I for one believe that is a priceless gift to be treasured. So…what are your favorite Disney movies to share?

Robin Hood

Sleeping Beauty


The Little Mermaid
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Great Mouse Detective





Old Yeller

Mickey's Christmas Carol

The Light in the Forest

Johnny Tremain
Tales of Robin Hood
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Jungle Book


Thursday, July 30, 2015


     For quite a few months now, I have read reviews in Catholic magazines and on Catholic websites about the Irish production called Calvary. Quite a few friends urged me to watch it as well, and denoted it to be a Catholic classic. To be honest, it wasn't exactly on my top 10 list. Well, perhaps it was, but it was my top 10 worst list! Perhaps it is partially because of my old-fashioned sensibilities, but I found it to be terribly crass and graphic, with a meandering pace, a hard-to-follow story-line, and a fall-off-a-cliff ending. It has always been my firm belief that true art depends upon good taste, and this film, in my opinion, lacked it considerably.  

    I found it hard to understand the motives and behavior of the priest, and don't feel that what he did by staying in his parish and allowing himself to be shot was so heroic. Actually, I thought it was rather dumb, and he really should have gone for the police or gone on a little trip out of the county a long time ago! We are Catholics, not Quakers. We can claim the right to defend ourselves.  

     In Calvary, everyone in the village is depicted as being sinister and morally warped to a disturbing extent, which is a bit over the top and unrealistic. This is no doubt used to heighten the tension, but in the end, it comes off as being a movie-maker's ploy.  

    I mean, I can appreciate dark themes and characters, such as in The Hunger Games, but I personally felt this went over-the-top and was wanted a layered mood and diversity of characters. So...yeah. I thought it had a good premise, but fell a long, long way short of I Confess.


Monday, June 29, 2015


Genre:  Drama/History/War

Rating:  PG (for mild language and battle sequences)

Personal Rating:  4 Stars
    Christopher Plummer stars as the dour yet dogged Duke of Wellington who must pit his outnumbered troops against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, who recently escaped from captivity on the Isle of Elba. The two armies converge on a rain-drenched Belgian field near Waterloo, and Wellington determines to hold his position until Prussian troops arrive to defeat the French Emperor once and for all. 

     Napoleon, meanwhile, broods about his future and causes more trouble for himself by issuing impulsive commands to his officers. Several sub-plots in the film include one about dashing young British officer who is haunted by premonitions of his own death and another about a cheeky Enniskillen Dragoon who is always getting into mischief. 

    Waterloo is one of those quinisentially British movies with a sense of dark humor underpinning the dialogue. Wellington is cracking witicisms right and left as shells burst around him, revealing the stiff-upper-lip cool under fire of his class and country. Indeed, this is sometimes taken to a humorous extreme, and while Wellington was certainly known to have an acerbi wit, I highly doubt the banter continued quite as light-heartedly throughout one of the most intense battles of world history! 

     The British have always enjoyed gallows humor, and portraying themselves as possessing it, but this unrealistic flippancy risked turning Wellington into a comic relief figure in contrast with the brooding and intense Napolean. Ultimately it didn’t do justice to the complexity of his own multi-faceted personality, and he become something of a characature for his nation.  

     In spite of this, Christopher Plummer makes up for the early fooling around by demonstrating his amazing acting ability in later stages of the battle. This is most apparent when trying to demonstrate Wellington’s increased distain for war. It starts when the young officer he has been trying to protect stands up in the middle of a British square to encourage his men, shouting “Think of England! Think of England!” He is shot in the head by a French soldier, and falls dead. Wellington stares blankly at the spot where he fell, and the unreadable expression on his face speaks volumes. 

     Later, a second young aid is shot in the back immediately after Wellington gives him an order. He staggers forward several paces in agony, trying gallatnly to stay on his feet, before finally collapsing in the arms of some nearby soldiers. This time, Wellington cannot even look, and awkwardly turns his eyes down, blinking nervously and swallowing hard. Its becoming increasingly apparent by his body language that his struggle to avoid displaying emotion is becoming harder.  

     Then in the last moments of the battle, when Wellington finally has cause to celebrate after turning the tide, his friend Lord Uxbridge reels in his saddle and cries out, “My God, sir…I have lost my leg!” Wellington does not even look at the leg, but rather stares at the man’s face with a look of shock and horror, still struggling to supress his own emotions. “My God, sir,” he murmurs, in a daze. “So you have.” Then he supports Uxbridge as he falls against him, and cries out for a medic.  

     Finally, Wellington struggles to deal with the fact that his Prussian allies are far more set on vengence against the French then his own troops, and set about butchering them without mercy. Wellington tries to play the gentleman, and procure the surrender from a group of French survivors who are determined to resist. As he waits for the answer from the survivors, it is obvious how tense he is, hoping beyond hope they will take the mercy offered. They don’t, and he is forced to use the artillery on them. Once again, he closes his eyes, and looks down.  

     At the very end of the film, we get to see Wellington one more time, riding about the field, littered with wounded and dying men and horses, as scavengers pull the clothes off the bodies. Again, his face is almost a complete blank, scanning the horrific scene. Then suddenly, his eyes fall on a young Scotsman, lying dead in his kilt, with his pipes lying near him. The wail of the pipes is heard, as if in a flash of Wellington’s memory, the music builds, and he has a visible surge of emotion, which he manages to pull himself out of with the greatest struggle, before riding off the field. Through all this, you get the feeling that the initially haughty and unapproachable Wellington, and witty and dapper nobleman who never gets flustered, is far more human and relatable than all that. First appearances can indeed be deceiving.  

    The battle footage is spectacular, but the movie also spends time on the uneventful periods between the fighting. Since this is a European production, the pacing is slightly different from what most Americans are accustomed to. It's more introspective and internal, giving one insight into the thoughts of the characters as well as their actions. 

    Some people find the lulls in the plot to be boring, but I think they let the viewers get a good taste of all dimensions of the conflict, both physical and emotional. Also, it gives the viewer the chance to catch a glimpse of the hum-drum duties of early 19th century soldiering.  

     The traditional British folk-songs such as “Macpherson’s Farewell”, “Boney Was a Warrior,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me” that are weaved into the scenes are also a nice flavoring. I definitely think this film a nice overview of the last phase of the Napoleonic Wars that culminated in 1815. History lovers will be thrilled.


The Duke of Wellington (Christopher Plummer) at the ball in Brussels

Friday, May 29, 2015

Battle of the Brave

Year:  2004

Filming:  Color

Length:  143 minutes

Genre:  Drama/History/Romance/War

Maturity:  PG-13 (for intense thematic elements, language, and some sexuality)

Cast:  Noemie Godin-Vigneau (Marie-Loup Carignan), David la Haye (Francois la Gardeur), Juliette Gosselin (France Carignan), Sebastian Huberdeau (Xavier Maillard), Bianca Gervais (Acoona), Gerard Depardieu (Fr. Thomas Blondeu), Tim Roth (William Pitt), Jason Isaacs (General James Wolfe), Michael Maloney (Governor James Murray), Philippe Dormoy (Voltaire)
Director:  Jean Beaudin

Personal Rating:  2 Stars


    One day, while fishing through the period piece section on NetFlix, I stumbled across Battle of the Brave. I sort of had a feeling it wasn't going to be good when I heard it was set during the French and Indian War (how could Hollywood keep from going on a splurge about evil Europeans and stuffy decorum?), but I wanted to see anyway. I’m not above being surprised by an unexpectedly good film. But my intuition proved more than correct this time, although I will admit I was surprised…by the blatant differences between the plot-line as outlined in the advertisements and how it played out in the actual production!    

    What story there is opens in Colonial French Canada, not long before the British conquest of Quebec in 1759. A young French nobleman named Francois la Gardeur has just returned from a trapping venture in the wilderness, a journey he had embarked upon to distance himself from his upper-class roots. Seeking out amour in Quebec, he rekindles an affair with a fellow nobleman’s wife, but at the same time finds himself bewitched by a beautiful and independent-minded young widow and single mother named Marie-Loup Carignan, who has learned to be a healer in the Native American tradition, and is accused of practicing dark magic.

    Meanwhile, sinister historical forces are at work. The French government in Canada is riddled through with corruption, and willing to let Quebec fall to the British to prevent an inquiry into their conduct. It is up to our wild-haired hero Francois to warn the French government about the plot, but the local authorities will stop at nothing to silence him. Throw Fr. Thomas Blondeau, a Catholic priest who is sort-of-good in that he wants to defend the poor from the desperation of a crumbling regime and the rapine of an ascending one, and yet is having sexual affairs and has this secret love for would-be witch-woman...and the whole thing degenerates into a confusing mess!

    Our noble messenger to the court of France sends a message to his lover, asking her to accompany him. But the priest, for motives that are a bit complex, mistranslated the message to keep her from going with him. This strikes off a chain reaction of unintended events…none of which are directly related to the war, nor the fact that Quebec falls to the British, without even enough production courtesy to show us the epic-ness of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham! Gah! But to summarize: “our hero” has a heart-to-heart chat with philosopher Voltaire, but fails to get an audience at the decadent court of France until after the British invasion is completed, and returns to discover that beloved witch-woman has gotten herself hitched to a his less-than-upstanding-former-friend-turned-British-lackey.

     But never fear…Gallic Lover Boy is here! Actually, cancel that…we should fear, because it doesn’t seem he has any definite plan, and one he tries to launch to rescue his lady-love from her abusive husband backfires miserably. Ultimately, deadbeat hubby has an unfortunate collision with an axe, but no one is sure who administered the fatal blow. Marie-Loup gets arrested and framed for her husband’s murder, which everyone is content to let lie since she is already a social outcast. At this point, the two main men in her life – Francois and Fr. Blondeau – try to “save her” in different ways. The former makes a vain attempt to plead mercy before the new British Governor James Murray, and the second tries to give her absolution for the murder, which she refuses. It will only be at the end of the old man’s life when the truth will be revealed and the mysterious case laid to rest with Mary-Loup.

     This film had some artistic pluses in the form of beautiful cinematography and a lush music score. It gave a good feel of the Colonial era of sprawling forests and Old World settlements, inhabited by a mix of different races struggling for survival and domination. The acting was fair enough, and the relationship between Mary-Loup and her little daughter France was touchingly rendered. Also, some of the romantic interplay between Francois and Mary-Loup was worth salvaging, even though their overall romance was pretty lame. David la Haye and Noemie Godin-Vigneau seemed to have good on-screen chemistry, and they have a talent for conveying emotions through facial expressions. And I will admit this much: the leading lady has amazingly bewitching eyes!

     But in spite of these perks, the story was a horrible miss-match of themes and plot threads that failed to coalesce into any definite vision. It is permeated with modern sentiment jet-lagged into a past time period, with Francois and Mary-Loup serving as symbolic of liberalism and modernity as opposed to the narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and corrupt characters that surround and ultimately destroy them. In this sense, the whole story takes on the visage of a morality play, even though the morals are foggy at best.

      It is not by accident that we see Francois “connect” with the ultimate liberal, Voltaire, after his repeated efforts to shake off his noble heritage which is portrayed as being corrupt overall. Needless to say, there certainly was corruption in the nobility, particularly among the French Colonial ruling class in Quebec. But portraying the upper classes as “all bad” just doesn’t do them justice. I would have liked to meet the Marquis de Montcalm, the epitome of a French gentleman, dedicated to honor, duty, and his country. So while we can sympathize with Francois’ issues to some extent, the movie fails to portray the pros-and-cons of the class system with balance.

    Likewise, we can certainly sympathize with the more open and curious ways of Mary-Loup, and her willingness to learn the ways of the Native Americans through her friendship with the Indian girl, Acoona. But trying to make almost everyone else around her into 2-dimnsional villains fails to appreciate their own perspectives, and the “comfortableness” these characters would have had holding these beliefs in their own time periods. Plus, Mary-Loup does seem to be a bit “loose in love”, so to speak, and has adapted some of the superstitious practices associated with witch-craft, so even a few eye-brows raise, it’s not a huge wonder. And of course, there has to be a priest struggling with his vow of celibacy, in a kind of creepy way…I mean, isn’t he old enough to be Mary-Loup’s father? Weird.

    Not only do the characters feel strangely out of place in their respective era, but Battle of the Brave doesn’t even live up to its own advertisement as a flick about French resistance fighters battling for “freedom.” Literally, on the cover there are three indicative words: “Rise. Unite. Fight.” But none of this ever comes about. There are no resistance fighters, and there is no battle! The war, which is supposed to be so central to the plot, is skipped through with nothing more than a shelling sequence, which kills a side character but does not influence the central plot. Instead, the story-line is totally hinged on the love affair, which reaches a dead-end and fails to support the movie with needed substance.

     On an historical note, we do get to make a brief foray made into the British establishment, whence we get to meet Tim Roth (infamous for his role as Archie-the-Villain in Rob Roy) as William Pitt (no! no!!!) and a totally-too-old, totally-too-deranged Jason Isaacs (infamous for his role as Tavington-the-Villain in The Patriot!) as General James Wolfe (Say what???!!!) who fails to do anything impressive but rant about wildly and mutter poetry with a weird gleam in his eye. These blatant miscasts can be accurately classified as nothing more than a generic British villains convention, to purposely purport a politically correct and historically incorrect depiction of The French and Indian War.

    As someone who has spent more than a few years studying Wolfe and pouring over his personal letters, I was particularly frustrated to death by this obtuse portrayal. I understand that the film may have been trying to paraphrase an incident in which Wolfe, slightly inebriated and out-of-character, is said to have bragged about what he would accomplish in America, and pounded his sword hilt on the table in front of Pitt. But the way it came off was that he was always behaving like a nut, and everything he did was viewed as off-beat by those around him, including poetic recitation. This fails to explain why the legend of Wolfe has been such an inspiration to fighting men for generations.

    Wolfe was certainly a very complex character, who could often be judgmental and sometimes quite brutal. He also might have seemed a bit “manic” every once in a while. But this is only one side of the coin. A reading of his letters and the testimony of contemporaries also show him to also have had many attractive qualities, and was not some chronic maniac. He was deeply philosophical, had a marvelously witty sense of humor, and a profound sense of duty to his country and the men under his command. His soldiers adored him, and found his eccentricities inspirational, including his love of quoting poetry. Furthermore, memorization of poetry was much more common in the 18th century than it is now, and wouldn’t have even been considered as outlandish as it might be today.

     The film also messed up the character of British governor James Murray, who is portrayed as being unscrupulous and willing to have Mary-Loup executed even though he has proof she is innocent of the murder of her husband. He doesn’t want to risk putting his job in danger by angering those who are stuck in the “dark ages” and opposed to modernistic Mary-Loup. First off, they got his accent wrong: He was Scottish, not English. Second, portraying him as a fall-back villain is character assassination, unless they have some sort of proof he actually behaved in this manner. Historically, the worse thing that can be said of him was that he was jealous of General Wolfe and gave him a hard time, but as governor of Quebec, he was known for being fairly compassionate to the plight of the inhabitants and proved himself to be an able and just administrator.

     Basically, the history buff and story-lover in me was deeply disappointed by this goofed-up attempt to bring The French and Indian War to life on screen. With a predominately French cast and crew, I knew the chances of them being fair to the British were slim. But they even missed out on giving the French their proper due by getting hung up in too many soap-opera-esque love affairs and an obscure moral tags about the blessings of modernity, and the ill-fated consequences of intolerance, which is viewed as the ultimate evil in our modern age. I’m certainly not advocating it, but I think there are other vices to be brought to the fore as well, some perhaps not so politically correct…like character assassination in big-budget historical butcheries!

    I’m afraid that I must make fanfare of tossing Battle of the Brave into the ceremonial fibrotic fire-pit with its kith and kin on the death-row shelf:  The Last of the Mohicans, Titanic, The Patriot, Braveheart, Rob Roy, etc.! Judging from this illustrious accumulation of painful productions, I’d say it’s about time to have a smores fest! If I’m sarcastically harping on this subject too much for my educated readership, please bare with me. I really must write about how messed up I feel Hollywood is getting with these historical "epics", for my own sanity, and perhaps to better the planet. Perhaps it will rouse the masses to demand better fare...or something! Every little voice helps.

Francois la Gardeur (David la Haye) rides with Mary-Loup Carignan ( Noemie Godin-Vigneau)