1917 is a powerful and intense film set in World War I. It is loosely based on a story the director’s grandfather told him as a child (Alfred H. Mendes served as a message runner with the British Army during WWI). The film is directed by Oscar and Golden Globe winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). Mendes wrote the film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film recently won two Golden Globes: for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director for Mendes. The film also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture for fourteen-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Little Women, Finding Nemo). The film had a budget of approximately $100 million.
The film takes place in April of 1917 during Operation Alberich in northern France at the height of World War I. With radio lines down, two young British soldiers Lance Corporal Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, and Lance Corporal Schofield, played by George MacKay, are given an assignment by General Erinmore, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), to make a dangerous trek on foot across No Man’s Land, the area separating British and German troops, to deliver a critical message. The message is to stand down on a planned British attack on a supposedly retreating Germany army. Intelligence has suggested that the retreat by the Germans is a trap, and the planned British attack could result in the deaths of 1,600 British soldiers, including Blake’s brother. With miles of enemy territory to cross and not much time, their mission to pass the message to another company to call off the next day’s attack seems more like a suicide mission.
Will Blake and Schofield be able to reach the British troops to deliver the letter to the British Colonel in time to stop the planned attack? Continue reading →
They Shall Not Grow Old is an amazing documentary made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), which ended the fighting in World War I. The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) who did not take a fee for the making of the film. Jackson dedicated the film to his grandfather who fought, and was injured, in the war.
The theatre presentation of the film begins with Jackson making a few brief comments to the audience, telling them that he will be back after the ending credits to talk about how the film was made. I would highly recommend you stay for that portion of the presentation as it added a lot to the entire experience as he talks about the film’s scope, approach, sound, colorization, music and purpose.
In the film, Jackson focuses on the life of the ordinary British foot soldier. He chose not to use a narrator, as is common for a documentary, but instead to use the actual voices of British soldiers who took part in the war from decades old BBC recordings of war veterans recounting their actual experiences in the trenches on the Western Front. Continue reading →
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.