Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

In memory of my mother's cousin, Private First Class Alcide G. Angelloz Jr., killed fighting in France in 1944, I post a famous and touching poem:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. After World War I it became a day to remember not just those who died fighting in the Civil War, but also Americans who died fighting in any war. Inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," it became the custom to wear artificial red poppies on Memorial Day.

In December 2000, Congress established a program to observe a universal "National Moment of Remembrance" on each Memorial Day as a "simple and unifying way to commemorate our history and honor the struggle to protect our freedoms." The "National Moment of Remembrance" asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps.'"

The U.S. Memorial Day website suggests these ways to observe the day:

The "Memorial" in Memorial Day has been ignored by too many of us who are beneficiaries of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Often we do not observe the day as it should be, a day where we actively remember our ancestors, our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice:
  • by visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • by visiting memorials.
  • by flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon.
  • by flying the 'POW/MIA Flag' as well (Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act).
  • by participating in a "National Moment of Remembrance": at 3 p.m. to pause and think upon the true meaning of the day, and for Taps to be played.
  • by renewing a pledge to aid the widows, widowers, and orphans of our falled dead, and to aid the disabled veterans.
"Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all." -- Memorial Day History


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robin Hood 2010

Continuing my Robin Hood musings from yesterday, here's my review of the new version of Robin Hood, a 2010 movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe.

It's a prequel--that is, it tells the story of how the expert archer Robin came to be "Robin Hood." Crowe plays Robin Longstride, a yeoman archer who's been following King Richard the Lionheart on crusade for ten years. Worn out, bitter and disillusioned, he sneaks away after King Richard is killed while besieging a castle in France. Along the way Longstride and his three soldier buddies happen on an ambush massacre. They repel the attackers and discover the victims are a group of Englishmen who were trying to return King Richard's crown to England. One of the dying victims, Sir Robert Loxley, begs Robin with his dying breath to return his sword to his father at Nottingham. Robin promises he will. He and his buddies return to England disguised as knights--Longstride calling himself Robert of Loxley and bearing the Loxley sword as well as the royal crown. Thereafter plot complications ensue. (For a full plot summary, including spoilers, see the Wikipedia site on the film.)

It has great production values, cinematography, costumes, and period detail. It has lots of action--battle scenes, swordfights, fistfights, chase scenes, executions, etc., as you would expect in a movie by Ridley Scott (whose work I greatly admire--Blade Runner is one my favorite movies).  It has Russell Crowe, a great actor, as well as a cast of other top-notch performers--e.g., Max von Sydow, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt.

But...I was disappointed.

Why? Because there was none of the joie de vivre I associate with the Robin Hood tales. All the movie/TV versions of Robin Hood I've seen have had strong explicit or implicit wit and good humor--an optimism, an underlying happy feel. The Scott/Crowe Robin Hood, however, is grim. Really grim. Everybody is grim. Everything is grim. Oh, unquestionably real medieval times were grim. And yes, the whole Robin Hood thing is just a legend. But we expect legends to fulfill our (often subconscious) mythic fantasies. Mine went unfulfilled by this version of Robin Hood. There's no real humor or happiness anywhere in the movie. Robin Longstride becomes a hero as the movie goes along--he helps save England from a French invasion, and directly saves the perfidious King John from being slain--and he's clearly a leader of men. But even at the end, when Robin, Lady Marian (or, as spelled in the movie cast list, Marion), and the merry men are living in Sherwood Forest as outlaws, purportedly one big happy family, the smiles and merriment seemed forced. And the romance between Robin and Marian (Marion)? Hah. I did not sense any chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett, good actors though they are. I didn't get the feel-good ending I hoped for.

Oh, and I have some quibbles with accuracy, if one can expect historical accuracy from a movie about a legend. The movie has King Philip of France invading England, himself along for the ride. It never happened. And the French troops are being landed in boats with drop-down fronts, just like the Higgins LSTs used during the D-Day invasion in WWII. I didn't tear out my hair at the movie theatre, but I did tug on a few strands from time to time.

If you want to read a review of the film by a real movie critic, the esteemed Roger Ebert, go here.

Does all that sound like I'm bashing it? Yet, I still recommend you see it if you love costume dramas, historical settings, medieval battles, and watching great actors in cinematic tropes. It's worth the price of admission, but it may not be what you expect out of a Robin Hood remake.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Musings on Robin Hood

I've just seen the new Robin Hood movie and it has inspired a spurt of Robin Hood nostalgia in me.

First, let me return to the days of yesteryear, when the British half-hour series The Adventures of Robin Hood was one of my favorite TV shows. Starring Richard Greene, the show had a memorable theme song that I still remember:

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men
Feared by the bad, loved by the good;
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood!

Too bad I can't reproduce the catchy tune in this blog, but I guarantee that any of you who grew up in the 50s-60s remember it, too. I'd say a lot of my idealism goes back to those days of viewing brave Robin steal from the rich to give to the poor...Ah, how my romantic notions were fed by the idylls of Robin and Maid Marian, with Friar Tuck, Little John, and the other Merry Men cavorting in Sherwood Forest, making fools out of the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John and their evil minions.

(It now occurs to me that King John somehow appeared in a lot of those episodes--strange his predilection for traveling repeatedly to that part of his kingdom and dealing with these lowly subjects, when so many other parts of England and more noble subjects must have been much more to his taste....)

I love almost all the versions of Robin Hood I've seen so far:
  • The 1938 Errol Flynn film (The Adventures of Robin Hood), which many critics consider the benchmark of Robin Hood cinema, with Flynn in his most famous role;
  • The 1952 Disney film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, starring Richard Todd;
  • Disney's 1973 animated Robin Hood (a favorite of my daughter's childhood), in which Robin Hood is a fox;
  • 1976's Robin and Marian, showing the legendary couple in their golden years (and what a couple--the leading roles were played by Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn);
  • I even liked 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, despite its star, Kevin Costner (among the most stone-faced of leading men, the other top contenders being Keanu Reeves and Arnold Schwarzenegger), because it had the wonderful Alan Rickman as the Sheriff (whose mesmerizing voice made me almost like the Sheriff);
  • Mel Brooks' 1993 parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which hilariously satirizes both the 1938 Flynn version and the 1991 Costner version, stars the delicious Cary Elwes as Robin; his best line is when he turns to the camera and smugly announces, "Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent!" (an overt dig at Kevin Costner's American accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
I found the links for these movies on Wikipedia's List of films and television series featuring Robin Hood. That list is much longer than I expected and I've seen only a few of the entries. I know many of those movies are no longer available, but it may be time for a Robin Hood DVD Festival here at the SphinxInk digs. I see there are lots of different takes on Robin Hood out there, including several TV series that I've completely missed.

As for what I thought of the new Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott, I'll post that tomorrow.