First of all, I should warn you that I am not a Bond fan. I like the movies in the sense that I always go to them, but the misogyny and clichés bother me and I always hate the psychedelic credit sequences set to wailing, on-the-nose, ballads. My favorite Bond movie is Goldeneye, precisely because it doesn’t take it self so seriously. They went for more grittiness with the Daniel Craig films, and while I liked Casino Royale, I thought Quantum of Solace was terrible, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bond 23.
After M loses a hard drive containing the names of all the NATO undercover agents, Bond must return to save the service that left him for dead.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can tell you it’s pretty good. Better than Quantum of Solace, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Casino Royale, even though it tries to follow the Batman franchise’s example and tunnel further down into the land of darkness and grit.
Today’s teens tend to see veterans as old people who bear no similarities to themselves, but many veterans went off to war when they themselves were teenagers. Nothing drives home this point better than a well-researched piece of historical fiction for young adults like the one featured today.
This historical novel follows the lives of five Scottish teenagers – two girls and three boys – from the summer of 1915 to the end of the Great War in November of 1918. The characters are fictitious but the units, battles, and situations are not. John Malcolm is old enough to join up right away while his adventurous brother Alex is too young and keeps trying to lie about his age. John Malcom’s sister Maggie and girlfriend Charlotte both get their nursing certificates and go to France to tend to soldiers. Meanwhile Charlotte’s brother Francis, an objector, is first shunned and then drafted. It’s written for teens, but adults will get caught up in the characters’ struggles too as they lose their innocence and some lose their lives. A very moving read.
We would all like for military service to be clean and simple, but often it’s not. Veterans sometimes come home with scars, both mental and physical, and for those of us who haven’t seen what they’ve seen, it can be difficult to know how to help. Some won’t talk about their experiences, but others choose to share them in powerful books like this one.
Robert Mason was an American helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war. He spent years transporting soldiers across Vietnam, often under heavy fire. This is his memoir. The title comes from his own description of how it felt to do his job – like both a trembling chicken and a deadly hawk. Mason’s story is a perfect example of how war can both make and break a person – sometimes even the same person. Because while the pressures of war forced him to develop incredible piloting skills (or die), he came out the other side too traumatized for his skills to be of much use in civilian life. It is not a technical read but it is a hard one at times, as Mason doesn’t shy away from his worst moments. I count it as one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read.
We all know that women contribute to the military right alongside the men these days, but the actions of women in past conflicts tend to be overshadowed by stories of military men. If your impression of women during the World Wars was that they sat at home wringing their hands over their husbands and sons, this should set you straight.
This story is partly a reprint of My Beloved Poilus, the collection of letters Agnes wrote to friends in New Brunswick while tending to French soldiers during the Great War, which they published and sold to raise money for her battlefield hospital, and partly a biography compiled later by Shawna Quinn. The book also contains many of her original photographs. Though she went largely unrecognized at home, Agnes’ brave and self-denying efforts to save as many of the wounded as she could earned her several French honors, including the Croix de Guerre. This book is a quick and easy read, and you won’t fail to be impressed by her compassion and dedication.
Don’t like to read? No problem! For those of you who are reluctant readers, there are graphic novels, like today’s Veteran’s Week book list feature, which detail the lives and struggles of some of the world’s best known military veterans.
Comics have come a long way from the garish superhero serials of our childhoods – modern graphic novels are self-contained stories that are often sober, gritty, and gripping accounts dealing with mature themes and asking important questions. This black and white graphic novel chronicles the life of Billy Bishop, Canada’s top ace in World War I, from his boyhood to his withdrawal from combat near the end of the war. With 72 victories to his name, Billy faced down some of Germany’s best pilots (including the famous Red Baron) as well as the constant danger of flying in unreliable open-cockpit biplanes. This book will draw in readers of almost any age, but is particularly geared toward the middle grades (ages 9-13).
My father and brothers are huge James Bond fans, but I merely like the movies. I didn’t, for instance, give Quantum of Solace a pass when its action sequences were too shaky and close-in and the story kind of fell apart at the end. I have hopes that this one will be better. There’s a new director, which should take care of the shaky-cam problem (the trailer seems to bear this out – many wide shots and it’s easy to understand what’s going on) but as for the story… I don’t know, does it seem a little boneheaded to anyone else that there should be a list of every MI-6 agent in the world on one flash drive, just hanging out in someone’s pocket or whatever? And didn’t they do that in the first Mission: Impossible movie? Oh well, at least if the story’s simple it’ll be hard to mess it up. Wisely, no other movies have chosen to come out on this weekend.
But if you’re in Sydney on Thursday, November 8 at 7pm you can catch the Cape Breton Film Series showing of Bernie, a horrible Jack Black comedy about a funeral director who takes advantage of a rich widow. You can check out the trailer review here.
Everybody knows about the soldiers and the fighter pilots and the nurses, but there are many little-known but critical aspects of military operations you may not be aware of. Today’s entry on the Veteran’s Week book list highlights the contributions of some of these often unrecognized veterans.
Did you know that during World War II, the ships that brought Britain the things she couldn’t do without, like airplanes and grain, gathered in Halifax before sailing across the ocean in convoys, braving icy waters and hidden German submarines? It’s true. These ships were staffed by sailors from the Merchant Marine, who were often underpaid and forced to work on antiquated, previously decommissioned ships brought back to help the war effort. They were kept happy – and in line – by the sailors of the Naval Boarding Service, who inspected ships and settled labor disputes. This book is that rare type of historical chronicle – comprehensive without being difficult to read and full of fascinating little true stories. It’s a great read.
In the minds of many young children, veterans are other people’s daddies, even though combat roles in the modern military go to both women and men. So today’s edition of the Veterans’s Week Book List will be a kids’ edition. The featured book, Pilot Mom acknowledges the fact that veterans can be moms too.
This charming yet informative picture book follows a little girl whose mother is a tanker pilot in the US Air National Guard. During her tour of the base with her mom and best friend, the little girl learns all about her mom’s important job and touches on how her life is different from other kids because her mom has a dangerous job that means she has to be away sometimes in the wars she sees on TV. The book is based on the real life job of the author’s sister, who flies with the MAINEiacs. This is a great book for seven-and-unders to read with a grown-up.
If you’re a huge Spider-Man fan, you can probably see the point in rebooting a movie that’s not even as old as some of the stuff in my freezer, but I’m not so I can’t. Andrew Garfield isn’t that much less annoying than Tobey Maguire was, his girlfriend has a different name, he’s obsessed with some mystery surrounding his parents’ deaths (that he gets no answers to) and the villain is a monster lizard. That’s about the extent of the differences. Oh, and it’s in 3D, which only matters if you have a 3D TV. Rent it if you’re a fan, but otherwise the old one will do just fine. Read the full review here.
If you’re looking for something new to watch during the holidays with your family, I highly recommend Arthur Christmas. It’s a British film that follows the screwup youngest son of Santa as he tries to save Christmas by delivering a gift to the one kid that Santa’s automated juggernaut of an operation overlooked. There’s nothing really new about the story or characters, but it is downright hilarious instead of just being campy and full of sap, so it’s fun for both adults and kids. You can read the full review here.
Fire With Fire
If someone said to me: “so there’s this movie where Josh Duhamel is a fireman–” I’d be like: “sold!” before they’d even finished the sentence. Sadly, Josh isn’t a fireman for the whole movie – just in the beginning so they can use that lame pun for the title when he witnesses a convenience store robbery and has to go all vigilante on a sociopath who threatened him. And Bruce Willis is in it, because by law at least one aging action star has to be featured in all new movies. It’s straight to video (obviously) but you should still watch it if you a) think Josh Duhamel is hot or b) like to watch people shoot each other.
This movie has three things going for it: 1) it’s Australian. 2) It stars a cute dog, and 3) Josh Lucas is in it. Story-wise it’s a bit like The Littlest Hobo, had the littlest hobo ever come to his senses and stayed in one place after he made friends and solved everyone’s problems. It’s based on a true story in which a dog (played by a dog named Koko) shows up in the road one day, is adopted by an industrial town in the middle of nowhere, and brings them all together while he searches for his one true forever person. Major cuteness. Rent it immediately.
If you don’t know a veteran personally and are too shy to talk to one, it can be difficult to learn about and appreciate all they have done on behalf of others. Last year, I did an article on Remembrance Day movies that can help give you an idea of what things were/are like for veterans. This year, we’ll focus on getting to know a veteran through a book. For the next seven days, I’ll talk about some really great, really accessible, easy-to-read military biographies and memoirs you might want to add to your list.
In old war movies, things are pretty simple. One side fights the other side directly until one of them wins. But the reality of modern war is that often the people who are fighting each other are from the same country, that the lines of battle can’t be drawn on a map, and that stepping in to help sort it out isn’t as easy as it sounds. This memoir, written by Major General Lewis Mackenzie, follows his life up to and including his stint at the head of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war. He avoids going into a lot of technical detail but pulls no punches, which really helps the reader understand the difficulties facing modern soldiers, including UN regulations and how the media can shape public opinion of both the war and the soldiers who are caught up in it.