Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of SGT. STUBBY:  AN AMERICAN HERO

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, rated PG
***

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is based on the true story of the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I, and the most decorated war dog in U.S. military history. I found the animated film both entertaining and interesting. However, with much of the film taking place during intense war action, I can’t say that this film is really family friendly and wonder if it will struggle finding an audience.
The film, which was endorsed by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, was directed by Richard Lanni and written by Lanni and Mike Stokey. While the animation in the film was average at best, the musical score by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle (Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility) was superb, subtly adding a great deal to the film.
As the film begins, it is the early months of America’s involvement in World War I. We see a hungry stray Boston terrier looking for food. As a military parade goes by, a 25-year-old private Robert Conroy, voiced by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), throws the hungry dog a cookie. The dog then follows Conroy and the rest of the men of the 102nd Infantry Regiment back to their training ground at Yale University. Conroy and the dog, whom he names Stubby due to his short tail, bond, and Conroy’s leadership allows the dog to stay and participate in the basic training exercises.  Stubby even learns how to salute. Conroy’s closest human friends are the German American Schroeder, voiced by Jim Pharr and Elmer, voiced by Jordan Beck.
When Conroy and his fellow troops are shipped out to the frontlines in France to assist the battle-weary French soldiers, Stubby somehow sneaks aboard the U.S.S. Minnesota. When he is discovered onboard, he becomes their official mascot and is even given his own dog tags.
In France the unit formed one of four infantry regiments in the 26th Division, which was nicknamed the “Yankee Division”, because it was made up of National Guard units from the New England states. The Yankee Division would take part in some of the most intense fighting of the Western Front in 1918, from February to November on the front lines, taking heavy casualties.
We see Stubby proving his worth, from scaring away rats, sniffing out the presence of the enemy, and in a powerful scene, warning French civilians of mustard gas that is coming into their village. For his actions in combat, Stubby was promoted to sergeant.
Oscar nominee Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac), voices the likable French soldier, and restaurant owner/chef, Gaston Baptiste. Although he is in good spirits, we see his weariness, the result of being in intense battles for years, and not having seen his family. Together, with Conroy and Stubby, the three form a bond, becoming the “Three Musketeers”.
Conroy’s sister Margaret, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Kings Speech, The Wings of the Dove), narrates the film, giving the viewers updates on where Conroy and his fellow soldiers were, based on letters from the battlefield that she receives from her brother.  She was like a mother to him after they lost their parents.  Adults will find the history very interesting, but it will be over the heads of young viewers who will instead enjoy Stubby’s brave exploits.
The film shows the horrors of war (gun fighting, grenades, mustard gas, etc.), and also addresses issues such as German Americans fighting in the war, the deadly Spanish flu of 1918, and soldiers being wounded and killed.
I enjoyed Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, and learned a lot about World War I. While the animation was just average, the film features an excellent musical score as it tells the stranger than fiction story of the most decorated dog in U.S. military history, who participated in 17 battles over 18 months. However, due to the intense war scenes that are included in the film, I do not consider this film to be for youngest viewers, and wonder if it will struggle to find an audience.  Themes in this film include sacrifice, teamwork, loyalty and friendship.

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My Review of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express, rated PG-13
***

Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining film with an all-star cast that will challenge viewers with moral issues around justice and vengeance. The film is directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, and is a remake of the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery novel. The 1974 film received six Oscar nominations, and Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The screenplay is by Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and the film features an all-star cast (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman, Willem Defoe, and Judi Dench).  Dench and Cruz are Oscar winners, while Branagh, DeFoe, Preiffer and Depp are Oscar nominees.
Branagh also stars in the film as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot, who sports a large and distinctive mustache and has his own quirks around balance played for humor, is perhaps the most well-known detective in the world (well, at least according to him). The film is set in 1934. After an opening which is unconnected with the rest of the story, but serves to introduce us to Poirot’s detective skills and his quirky behavior, he realizes that he desperately needs a vacation. Unfortunately, he is needed in London for a case. Bouc (Tom Bateman), a friend and director of the famous Orient Express, books him on the luxury passenger train for what he promises will be three days of relaxation and time away from crime on a trip from Istanbul to Calais.
Early in the trip, the shady art and antiques dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches Poirot and asks that Poirot serve as his bodyguard since Ratchett has been receiving threatening letters he assumes are from Italians to whom he sold fake oriental rugs. Poirot refuses, indicating that he detects, not protects, criminals. That night, an avalanche stops the train atop a dangerous trestle, leaving everyone stranded until they can be rescued.
The next morning Poirot finds out that one of the passengers has been murdered in their bed, having been brutally stabbed a dozen times. Poirot is asked by Bouc to investigate the case. He reluctantly agrees, and asks Bouc to be his assistant. After confirming that none of the passengers have left the train, Poirot considers all of them as well as the conductor, to be suspects in the murder.
As Poirot investigates the murder he finds that none of the characters are really as they seem, as they regularly lie to him. A kidnapping and murder, based on the actual Lindbergh baby case, plays a role in the film. Flashbacks are used extensively to tell the story.
The film’s music score is by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle, and the cinematography, featuring some beautiful outdoor scenes is by Haris Zambarloukos, who worked with Branagh on Cinderella.  I enjoyed the unique camera work, including several uses of the camera looking down on the actors or through beveled glass, and the costumes and set designs depicting the 1930’s.
Content concerns include the bloody body of the victim, racial slurs and the abuse of God’s name a few times. There is not any adult language to speak of, nor any sexual content, both of which were refreshing.
Themes in the film are racism, vengeance, justice, deception and conscience. The film includes some Christian content and references (Penelope Cruz plays a Spanish missionary, there is talk of sin and judgement, etc.)
Having not seen the 1974 edition (though I plan to), I can’t compare this version to the Oscar winning film. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought that Branagh was excellent as detective Hercule Poirot.