January 1st, 2012


New Year's Day (Unobserved)

Welcome to 2012!

At long last the somewhat crappy miserable year that was 2011 is done. Yay. Alas, New Year's Day as a single holiday has been ruined by the twin conspiracies of the calendar and greedy graspy capitalists. Once New Year's Day included a solid day of college bowl games, plus the Rose Parade, and the last several years an outdoors NHL hockey game. But 1 January 2012 is a Sunday, can't do that stuff until Monday.

Then everyone wanted their bowl game to be shown unopposed and they also created this worthless BCS Bowl Championship Series to create a mythical NCAA Division I "national champion", so the big bowl games are no longer on New Year's -- or January 2nd this year -- and the bowl games are spread out until MONDAY January 9th. Ridiculous!

Anyway, we welcomed in the New Year with the traditional eggnog -- and then I had some pickled herring. Mrs. Dr. Phil has given up on combining these two good luck foods from my family in one sitting. As I said the other day (DW), "My theory is after having hit your gut like a bomb, if that's the worst thing to happen in the new year -- it's good luck!"

Our NY/Sunday morning breakfast downstairs with Sam and the Sunday paper had two kinds of stollen, as did Christmas' breakfast (DW), though we added kumquats but moved the kielbasa to lunch. The last few years we've had Shrimp Sauterne for dinner, but this year we had a salmon and mushroom dish -- very yummy and more fish for luck! Oh, and Iron Chef tonight is also farm raised Atlantic salmon. (competitive grin)

The sabbatical is, I suppose, over. Classes begin Monday January 9th. I shall have to get serious about prep. And Epic ConFusion is in like three weeks -- 20-22 January 2012 -- and I have to blog about my panels. So I suppose I have to get busy. So much for vacation days... (grin)

Happy New Year, good friends. May you have a good year even if you didn't scarf down fish. Buckle your seatbelt and make sure your seat is in the upright and locked position. The year is off to a start.

Dr. Phil

Finally The Great War in Film

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

We're under a winter storm warning/watch/alert through 8pm Monday. Someone in West Michigan was complaining to Jim Wright in Alaska on Facebook that the weather has hardly been New Year's like, with temps in the 40s and no snow. Jim suggested "Yeah. See, you said it out loud. Foolish, foolish Michigander, you've now attracted the attention of the Lake Effect Gods. Good luck and Godspeed." The poster was in Whitehall MI -- they're in the 8-12"+ dump zone. Nice going.

Naturally we decided to go to a movie today.

The drive in was wet with the rain just turning into light snow, with some graupel bouncing off the back deck as we left. Winds of 20-40mph, gusting to sixty. The drive home was relatively clear, with some blowing snow. But US-31 was a wet slick icy road. The Bravada is AWD and we geared it down and drove at 25-40mph, instead of 55mph. Most of the other northbounders in our cohort agreed, but those who went out before us... well. In the five miles before turning east on M-45 we saw half a dozen vehicles off the road, most flipped over or on their sides and scads of police, fire, ambulance and tow trucks. Many turnout coat clad people either running around or wielding long cutting tools. Those newfangled ultra bright light bars on the police cars are very annoying to drive past in the dark, but they are visible from far away.

We got home safely and have been warm and comfy as the wind gusts and howls outside. Welcome to winter. Finally.

War Horse [PG-13]
Holland 8 Theatre #8, 3:15pm, 2×$6.75

Note that this is not a typo. The Holland 7 is a Goodrich theatre, while the Holland 8 was built as the Star Holland during a schism in the Loeks family which owns most of the other theatres we go to, and is now an AMC. We haven't been there in a couple of years, but the Holland 7 didn't have War Horse. The outlet mall you have to drive through to get to the Holland 8 has very few tenants -- driving through there on a windswept lightly snowing holiday is like some post apocalypse scene. The painted lines in their lot were very faded so people took up extra space, parked crookedly or cut me off from taking the last spots. I parked on the other side of the driveway, actually bothering to put on a parka before walking in, for once. Good call, given the increasing storm.

SF/F writer and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal auditioned for War Horse on Broadway -- which is so awesome, as we'd seen the puppets in action at the Tony Awards a couple of years ago. They used the play as the basis for the movie rather than the 1982 children's book, as the book apparently takes the horse's POV.

This is a beautiful film, with a stirring score by, guess who, John Williams. Do I detect that he stole themes from LOTR this time? (evil grin) The local review said this movie had qualities of movies shot fifty years ago. Doctor Zhivago comes to mind. But also some of the great old British country films, like Lassie. Though I'd wished the Devon farmers would've helped the struggling family more like the Amish, than treating it as a spectator sport. (evil grin)

World War I is so rarely portrayed in American cinema, but as I mentioned in the review of Hugo (DW), the Great War really damaged a generation in Europe.

War Horse is, of course, about a horse, Joey. The boy who trained him and the horse's impact on all who meet him. Joey is sort of like the main character of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, being bantied back and forth between sides, but differs from the Kubrick character in that Joey (a) has a personality and (b) we care about him. And we see many sides on the human end -- English, French, German -- and if you're honest about it, the two warring armies shown are neither demonized.

As the war intrudes, you get something of the We'll Be Home By Christmas mentality, though no one actually says that chestnut. Knowing what we know now about WW I, the thought of a horse cavalry unit is totally out of place. But the unit is beautifully filmed and the horses are gorgeous. Seemingly swimming through a sea of tall grasses, just before battle... Ah...

I've never really seen a good depiction of a cavalry charge before. Spielberg has done it, though. And a horrible object lesson as to why they are obsolete. WW I is sometimes considered the first modern war, but it was really a disaster of collisions between technologies and infrastructure not quite ready for them. Which is why horses had to haul giant guns up hills or pull ambulances -- jobs done with motorized vehicles now.

And trench warfare. No Man's Land. Gas warfare. People need to see this, even if they don't understand.

Is the movie believable? Well, probably not in its total premise. According to Wikipedia, Britain sent a million horses to France and only 62,000 returned, with 10,000,000 horses estimated to be killed in the conflict.

Yet the story is still charming and moving. Typical Hollywood ratings, it's PG-13 as there's no bad language or sex. But there is killing. A lot of killing. At least it's in a historical context, so older kids should really be exposed to this. Wall to wall coverage of Iraq/Afghanistan wars and video games like the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare series do not give kids today the horror of WW I. Between War Horse and Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg has created two of the great turn of the century war portrayals, between WWI and WW II.

Highly Recommended

Dr. Phil