Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Books of Note: Isle of Swords by Wayne Thomas Batson

So last Friday, I was incredibly lucky to meet the Author Wayne Thomas Batson at the FPEA Convention here in Florida and promised to write a review for his book "Isle of Swords" (which I got a signed copy of!) I have read both this book and it's sequel, "Isle of Fire" before and throughly enjoyed them for many different reasons.

First of all, they are a comeback of the classical swashbuckler, (which you will know I lament the loss of if you have read my Pirates of the Caribbean movie reviews). They are great, fast-paced adventures that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and are very exciting and hard to put down. I also really appreciated the Scottish flare added here with Captain Declan Ross and his daughter and the fact that his ship is called the William Wallace.

I think what I liked most about these books though was the amazing cast of characters. Both main and supporting characters alike were so well written and likable that you can't help but feel their victories and defeats as you read. Anne is a great main female protagonist because she doesn't come off as annoying even though she goes her own way and is a bit rebellious. She is more of a real Scotswoman than one of those annoying teenage girls that seem to overpopulate Young Adult literature these days. And Cat too is a very likable character and gives the book a bit of an angst factor as well. But it's not just the main characters who are fun to read about either, it's supporting character like Jules, Nubby and, my personal favorite, Jacques St. Pierre--he was definitely one of my favorite characters.

And then there are the villains, and Mr. Batson can really make a good baddie! There are definitely no grey areas in these books and that is one thing I really loved about this. Anyone who has read my previous posts probably knows that I LOVE a really evil baddie, and these books deliver! To this day there are few villains I have read about, espicially in the YA genre, that have out-eviled Thorne and (even scarier) The Merchant. In fact, every time I think of really evil villains aside from history, these guys come to mind. I think it's great when kids' books have identifiable bad guys. Otherwise, what are they going to learn?

So overall, this book was a great adventure, a wonderful swashbuckler, and had a great cast of characters (and a good sense of humor) so it deserves five stars from me!

(Both of these books can be found on my Amazon AStore under the category "Books of Note")

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ballad of the Highwayman Giveaway!!!!


I'm trying out my first Giveaway on Goodreads! I encourage everyone to enter for a free copy of my book "Ballad of the Highwayman". Your copy will be signed and I will personalize it to the winner. The giveaway will run until June 30th and I will announce the winner on my blog then so do check back to see if you won! If you don't check back, I guess you'll just get a surprise package in the mail ;) Get your friends to enter to! If this giveaway goes well, then I will definitely be doing more!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Writing the "Difficult Bits"

It doesn't matter what you write, what genre it is or target audience, there is always going to be hard parts of your stories. And I'm not talking about the parts that you get stuck on or the parts that just won't move properly, I'm talking about the gore, the grief, the heartbreak or all the torment we have to put our characters through. Writing about your hero and heroine breaking up, having to torture your good guy, or putting a character though loss and grief are hard things to write about sometimes, every author will tell you that, but writing them, will not only make you a better writer, but it will also help your story to have a stronger plot and stronger, more well-defined characters. What doesn't kill you makes your stronger, and characters go by that rule as well. A character with a good drive brought on by loss or hatred (or both) is going to move a book further than one who has never had anything happen to him in his life.

That doesn't mean you might not have to write these scenes with your eyes closed. Trust me, I have written scenes that have made me cry and stabbed me to the heart. There are scenes like that in the book I'm working on now, and yet, this is coming together as an amazing story with a wonderful cast of characters who I can't seem to get out of my head. Their pain and their drive drives me to write about them, even though some of the parts are hard to get through.

I've talked about torture scenes before, and yes, I know they are hard sometimes to get through, but if they add to the story line, then they need to be there! Perhaps your cocky hero needs to be maimed before he can realize what a jerk he's been. Maybe wounding your hero in the beginning of the book will drive the story along. Like Marcus from "Eagle of the Ninth". He was wounded in action, given an honorable discharge and because he was looking for reason, he went off to find what had happened to his father's lost legion. Or maybe take into consideration William Wallace (perhaps not so much from a real historical perspective) but a lot of fiction--Braveheart included--have the loss of his wife drive his decision to raise an army against the English. All these things hurt us to put our characters through but they need to be there, otherwise we wouldn't have plots that made for a good story.

Also, and this is something that hurts me above all else, there are times when you need to bring your characters low. Your hero might break down, they might even for a while give up will to live. These kinds of scenes tear me up, but sometimes they need to be there. The hardest part about writing these themes I think is being able to sell the grief. We might not have ever felt what we are putting our characters through and that makes it hard, but I find if you just kind of sit back and let these scenes write themselves, even if they kill you, then they work out for the best. And let us hope that your main guy's lass or best bud is there to help pull him through.

Typically writing romance, there's drama, (and this is why I don't usually like romance. I can't stand the drama!) but if this is your thing, then I suppose you're going to need to have your couple be stupid. Break up even though they know they can't live without each other or have something else come between them. These scenes are hard too. I think the hardest scenes, as I said before, come down to the emotional more than the physical though both can qualify for certain things.

This is for all you other writers out there: What are some 'difficult bits' that your struggle with and how do you overcome them? I'd like to see some of your input to this topic.

Slainte, Hazel

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Goodreads Group

Hi everyone! Just wanted to let you know that I have now started a group on Goodreads for people who like to read and write Historical Fiction. You can find the link here:

History Buffs United

If you don't already have a Goodreads account, then you should get one because it's a lot of fun! And if you do, feel more than welcome to send me a friend invite because I don't bite ;) Hope you at least stop by to take a look! I'm anticipating lots of discussions and hopefully even some challenges later on.

Hope to see you there!

Slainte, Hazel

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pirates of the Caribbean Movie Reviews (Yes, all four of the blasted things!)

Welcome to the longest post I think I've ever written! So this has been something I have wanted to do for a long time. I've been in the mood to write reviews for movies I like and those I don't really care for as well. This is going to be one of the latter. At one point, yes, I did like the movies, but as I have grown older and become a historian and story crafter, I have found way too many faults in these movies that I am going to share with you today, in a educational (though mostly humorous and sarcastic) way. Now, I want everyone to know that this is simply my opinion and I don't want anyone to take offense. I just did this in good fun =)

Pirates of the Caribbean I: Curse of the Black Pearl

This is the best movie out of all of them, I will admit, and I liked this one for a lot longer than the others. But yet, there are still lots of flaws in it. First of all, I would like to put forward my opinion on Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. Did this guy ever play a normal roll? I can't figure out why Jack Sparrow is everyone's favorite character. He's filthy (Not like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings filthy--he who can wear grease very well--but stand-five-miles-away filthy), he's a very bad pirate, and why do all the girls like him because he's not even good looking? Yes, real pirates and seamen were dirty, but Jack Sparrow would never have survived in real life as a pirate. He understands little to nothing about tactics, he seems to play everything by chance, and he's not a character anyone can particularly sympathize with. Your main character cannot be the comic relief. It does not work that way. You can't sympathize with him because he's a huge daftie who is more than a little crazy, and he doesn't even really have a redeemable character. So what is the point in making a character like this, espicially one you're supposed to root for?

Moving on to the other characters in the movie. Elizabeth. I will say something for this series and that is that they NEVER ONCE succeeded in creating a likable female character. Elizabeth is just the kind of female protagonist that I CANNOT stand. She's so gaga in love, but yet she can't decide who she should actually be in love with. Commodore Norrington? Will Turner the blacksmith? or, yes, even smelly Jack Sparrow the pirate who saved her because she fell into the water when her corset was too tight. We obviously see she and Will are going to end up together, why bother with this insane love triangle (or rather, love square)? She's not even smart, and she assumes she can do everything. And where exactly did she learn to fight with a sword, it just magically happens all of a sudden. She's such a predictable, typical female character that always shows up in movies like this that it's just boring!

Now, Will Turner wasn't so bad, though he was a bit of a static character because he really didn't change at all through the whole series, and if he had been really smart he would have just left Elizabeth alone and found a better girl because she had a serious track record of getting men killed and she wasn't even worth it. This isn't my favorite role for Orlando Bloom, I thought he did much better as Legolas and way way better as Buckingham in The Three Musketeers, but I don't really have anything against him. He does okay in the role of swashbuckling hero but yet his character's nothing really special. I think this is mainly because everyone gets overshadowed by Jack Sparrow who should really be the comic relief side-kick instead of the main character.

Now the two characters I liked were Barbosa and Commodore Norrington. Barbosa was a great pirate and if he had been the main pirate in this series instead of Jack Sparrow I probably would have enjoyed these movies a lot more. He had that classic swashbuckler Errol Flynn feel to him, and I love that. He had all the best lines as well, and frankly, he was the only person who ever did anything (besides Will) in the whole movie! Now Norrington on the other hand, was a great character, though I might be biased because I love the British Navy (mainly because of Horatio Hornblower). I think Norrington had a lot of potential to be great... if he had been cast as a character in a Hornblower or Jack Aubrey type movie. He didn't need to be stuck with all this supernatural junk and it ended up being the death of him, literally. Oh wait, that was actually Elizabeth...but I get ahead of myself.

Which brings me to the main problem I had with this series. This first one was not quite as bad as the others. I could get the Aztec gold and how it was cursed and the bone pirates weren't too bad either. Still a little weird for a classical swashbuckler, but not as bad as it gets in the later movies. The plot line in this movie was definitely more understandable than the ones to follow. At least there were no moments where you had to sit and stare at the TV going...wait, what just happened?

This movie seems to have a happy Princess Bride ending to it. Will get his (air-headed) girl, Jack gets his ship. Norrington...well, he gets the shaft, poor dear, but you know what? He didn't have to get stuck with Elizabeth! He should have been happy!

But, unfortunately, despite appearances, this was in fact not the ending, it was a start of another one of those really long and utterly tiring movie series that by the fourth or (heaven help us) the fifth everyone starts groaning and writing reviews like this... *shifty eyes*

But moving on...

Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man's Chest

Okay, I think it spelled bad for this movie when it opens with Will and Elizabeth's ruined wedding. I think if they had gotten married then, nothing bad would have happened and the bloody love square wouldn't have come back with a vengeance. I would like to take a moment and shed some light on a good character that was in the second and third movies. And that is Lord Cutler Beckett (played by Tom Hollander). Yes, he's the baddie, but I liked him because he had a good baddie character which was more to say than the good guys unfortunately. He was also the person who inspired Litchfield in my novel Ballad of the Highwayman so I have to give him credit for something, I guess.

Anyway, so Elizabeth ends up getting put in jail because of them helping Jack Sparrow--how long ago? We don't know, it could have been days or months, but I still don't get why it didn't just happen at the end of the first movie. Will meets Lord Beckett who tells him something along the lines of "bring us Jack Sparrow and she goes free". So he goes off to do that. Meanwhile, Jack realizes that he's in big trouble with Davy Jones because of a long overdue debt. This is where the story really starts to get weird. Elizabeth ends up getting broken out of jail by her father, she steals letters of marque from Beckett, and she has to go and run off too, because she can NEVER stay put!

Another thing that really bothered me about this series is that they take things from actual pirate lore and turn them into really weird sci-fi things. Like the black spot. Originally (as you will find in Stevenson's Treasure Island) The black spot was a sign, a little black piece of paper that would be given to someone who was about to 'get whacked' (now I'm using Gangster lingo, but you know what? these movies aren't accurate anyway so I don't care) This was kind of how it was in this, but not really. And Davy Jones. From what I remember from actual folk lore, Davy Jones had nothing to do with the Flying Dutchman. The Flying Dutchman was a ghost ship cursed to forever roam the seas, it had ghosties, not these weird half man, half sea creature things.

And then it just gets weirder. You find out that there is a heart in a box (again nothing that had to do with any real folk tales or pirate lore in any way) and, frankly, this just did not do it for me at all. At least in the first one with the Aztec gold there was the allure of gold and shiny things for the pirates to steal. No pirate in his right mind would want to find a heart in a box. They are so superstitious that in real life they probably wouldn't have talked about this thing in broad daylight and without a hushed voice and many rituals guarding against evil spirits. Seriously, they thought it was bad luck to see a cat on the deck and they were just eating the rats.

Oh yes, and then there was the subplot when Will gets captured by Davy Jones (courtesy of, you guessed it, Jack Sparrow!) and finds that his father is one of Jones' fishy crew. Normally I totally go for the whole father-son angst story line, but this didn't have enough of something or other and just didn't work like most of the plot lines in this series. You have to give Will marks for trying to make his relationship with his dad work, but it didn't really have much promise to begin with. I mean, his father was, in actuality, dead, so it was more of a Hamlet thing than anything else, and it didn't go so great for the Prince of Denmark either.

And why did we need the weird voodoo lady/sea goddess? What is this? Homer? At least she wasn't as annoying as the rest of the "female brigade", but she was kind of on the freaky side and yet another character no one really has a reason to care about.

And the thing I hated most about this movie were the RIDICULOUS fight scenes especially in this second one. At least the first movie seemed to look more like actual fighting and less like Morris Dancing (yes, for some reason that three way dance-I mean fight, in the end just make me think of Morris dancing). And the random nonsense scenes like when Jack Sparrow is running away from the cannibals. What was that, fifteen minutes of stuff that did absolutely nothing to move the plot along? And the part with the round bone cages? UGH!!! It wasn't even cliche, and for the record, Indiana Jones could have done way better in that situation! But the part that really annoyed me was the water wheel fight. Seriously. That has got to win the award for the most overblown fight scene I have ever seen that was not supposed to be a spoof. It's not even amusing, it's just silly! And the three-way fight (afore mentioned) during which Elizabeth is being so blasted annoying, was so unnecessary. A plus in this movie though, Norrington looks really good with his real hair and a beard.

And seriously, the end? Elizabeth actually kisses Jack Sparrow so she can chain him to the railing so everyone can escape from the kraken. (Oh yes, did I mention that beastie? Again the kraken had nothing to do with either Davy Jones or the Flying Dutchman). Barf.  I would have just gone for the good old cosh on the head. But she was too stupid to think of that because she's a brainless female character. (Don't do this to your poor girls, my fellow writers! At least not to your protags! They--and their laddies--deserve so much better!)

And so it adjourns back to the voodoo sea goddess' house and everyone is randomly sad about Jack Sparrow even though he was perfectly happy to get everyone killed, especially Will, and randomly Elizabeth still has feelings for him after all that.

Best part of this movie: Barbosa is back for the next one; yay, right?

Or so we thought....

Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End

Just when we think Jack Sparrow is dead (even though we kind of figure they're going to risk their lives to get him back in the poorly disguised foreshadowing in the end of the last one) Wait, there he is! In--I guess--Davy Jones' Locker? Well, it doesn't really matter, does it, because that part of the movie was about the weirdest thing I have ever sat and watched in my life. I have no real words to describe the weirdness of all the Jack Sparrows and the crabs. What is with the running gag on crabs in this movie? And the peanut joke was not funny. This whole scene reminded me of a Dali painting. (Yes that guy who painted the melting clocks and a whole lot of other weird and freakish stuff.)  But Dali used lobsters in his paintings instead of crabs. He would have had a lovely time with this concept though. Dali in motion picture.

But I think I got ahead of myself because this movie actually comes in with the singing pirates getting hanged. One thing that really irked me in this movie was that the song and its supposed connection with the coin were never explained. That's another great thing in this series. After the first movie, no one bothered to explain anything that happened. You get a vague idea of what is going on, but your mind is so smothered by Jack Sparrow's shenanigans that you don't even really end up paying attention to the rest.

And then there was the Chinese pirate lord. There has never been a traditional swashbuckler that had anything to do with China or Asia at all. Barbary, Spain, France, even Russia and Arabia, but never China, and there were reasons for that as you can see in this movie as it obviously didn't work because it was yet another plot that didn't go anywhere! Chinese pirates just don't do it for me because there was no reason they had to be Chinese over any other nationality. If it had furthered the plot in some way, I wouldn't have cared so much. You have to keep swashbucklers European, otherwise they turn into those martial arts films. So yes, this was not a highlight of the movie for me.

Elizabeth, of course, is just as annoying as ever. Will is still the same, except now that he saw Elizabeth kissing Jack in the last movie, he's a little more angsty. Norrington is back in the Navy, and the only reason I liked this movie remotely more than the second one was because Barbosa was in it, and as I said, he is my favorite character. He still had all the best lines and he was still the only person who really got anything done in this or knew what they were doing. And why did we have to bring the freaky voodoo lady back again? Her plot-line ends so abruptly, just like a lot of other plot lines in this series, including the one about Will's father--who tried to kill him in the end, and also kills poor innocent Norrington who should have been on HMS Indefatigable instead of with these fishy people just because Lord Beckett told him to. Oh yeah, and did I mention that right before he was killed, Elizabeth (who had been made pirate lord, lady, or whatever after the Chinese guy was killed quite randomly and abruptly) had to tell him that, oh yes, she still loved him TOO! And then she had to kiss him too and thus condemn him to death because that's just what happens to all the guys she decides to kiss. While I was very sad about Norrington, I am glad the love square ended.

Oh yes, and I guess some of you might want to know they rescued Jack Sparrow. And then I think he got captured again? Well it doesn't really matter.

The climax of the movie comes around when they have the meeting of pirates, The Brethren of the Coast (This is the one thing they actually took from real history. That is actually what the pirates called themselves) so that they can go to war with Davy Jones and get the heart in the box and stab it so Jones will finally die. Elizabeth ends of getting elected (OH JOY!!!) so now she's practically in charge of ALL the pirates of the brotherhood. Then they figure out that the voodoo lady is a goddess in human form (when this was decided, beats me with a stick, because there was no real foreshadowing besides her weird story, but who really takes those to heart--oh yeah, and she was in love with Davy Jones once upon a time.)

So they stupidly do the ritual to free her from her human form (in which she turns into crabs) and end up creating a giant whirlpool--Which then, obviously, they have to wage this giant battle in!!! This scene, while overblown, was at least not as stupid as the water wheel scene in the last movie, or the Morris dancing, er, fighting. You could actually take it seriously at least, but Elizabeth's high pitched voice screeching a pep talk kind of ruined the martial effect of the battle scene. Amazingly, Jack actually picks up a sword and fights in this scene, though he still does lots of antics. Will and Elizabeth also get married during the battle and what a great scenic wedding it was! Lot's of blood and gore to tie the knot. My favorite part: Barbosa yelling at them to "Just kiss already!"

And yes, since Elizabeth kissed him, Will dies! But then they cut his heart out and put it in the box and so now he's in the place of Davy Jones (who amazingly, Jack managed to kill, thus, finally, actually taking the part of the hero.)

Now Elizabeth and Will can only see each other one day out of every ten years so in a couple decades, she's not going to be looking quite so great anymore while he stays young and handsome forever (Just what you'd expect from an Elf!) And so this story comes to a, somewhat, happy ending...I guess. Though not as happy as the FIRST one ended! Jack seems to be happy anyway. He has shallow women and rum.

And just when you thought it was over...

Wrong! By the saints, nay!!! They have made another blasted sequel!!!

Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides

I actually had some better hopes for this one than the others when I saw the trailers. Why, I don't know, maybe because I was simply glad they had FINALLY managed to ditch Elizabeth! But no, in getting rid of her, they had to recruit ANOTHER really annoying and pointless female character...but I'll get to that later.

At first glance, this plot line at least seems more normal than the last two. They're trying to find the Fountain of Youth and that's a good adventure plot line, very cliche, and not so bad for a swashbuckler. But do not be deceived. This one ended up being even more weird than the others, if that can be possible.

The opening in this movie where Jack Sparrow is with the king and all, was so very typical of him. Just random stuff he does. The only thing this scene did for me was make me REALLY want a cream puff...badly. I LOVE cream puffs and they don't sell the blasted things in theater concession stands so in the long run, it just made me angry. I liked the carriage chase through London, that was cool, but it would have been cooler if it had been a Dick Turpin highwayman movie or something. Zorro pulled this kind of scene off better anyway.

And so the crew gets back together and get their plan together to go and find the fountain of youth. However... and here is a huge rant coming...

This movie, above all the others, made me want to hit my head against the wall because of the fact that they HAD to use Black Beard as their main villain. They could have easily taken the character they created and given him a different name and no one would have cared. Whoever this character was, he was certainly not Black Beard as in Edward Teach. They did ZERO research for this movie. I mean, seriously, if you're going to use an historical character, then at least TRY to do a little bit of research. All they even needed to do was listen to the Horrible Histories song about Black Beard. The only thing they got right was his ship's name, Queen Anne's Revenge. But they gave him a 'magic sword' and a-- wait for it--zombie crew!!! The worst part about the zombie crew was the fact that they weren't even a huge plot. They never did anything! Why bother with zombies when they have no point? They never did anything zombie-ish, they didn't even try to turn anyone into zombies. And his tiny ship in a bottle collection was just weird. I can see Poseidon having a collection like this, but Black Beard?

And that's not even the worst part. He has a daughter. Yep, a daughter. Like one of those teenage girl books that are always the same ("Black Beard's Daughter") Would you read it if it was a book? Then why would we want to watch it? And even worse (yes it even gets worse) she had some far-off fling with Jack Sparrow apparently. Seriously he's too old for her and by the fourth movie, I think we can all assume that Jack Sparrow is not physically or mentally capable of actually being in a relationship with anyone. And she's almost worse than Elizabeth because she has more angst. I think I groaned audibly when I saw her come onto scene for the first time. She was actually dressed as Jack Sparrow...

Okay, I'll take this chance to introduce another character in this movie: Philip whats-his name. Congratulations, Philip, you won the award for being the most pointless character in the history of story telling! *applause* Seriously, this guy had absolutely nothing to do with the plot. The only thing he even managed to do was get the blasted mermaid--who he had a brief love affair with--to cry (I'll get to the mermaids later) and then he dies right afterward for no reason at all! I do know why they cast him though, and that was for the ladies, because, let's face it, he was the only remotely handsome guy in this movie since we got rid of Will and Norrington. Yes, I'm onto them...

Okay, so the mermaids... Frankly I don't know much about traditional mermaids, but if you think of them kind of like silkies, I guess this could go over. I did not approve of the scene where they push the poor men out as bait for the mermaids. Very mean, that! They don't want to be pieces of meat for evil female beasties! And this scene could have been half as long as it was. We got the picture after the third guy was drowned, and then they finally caught a mermaid who was awkwardly half naked through the whole movie. Philip was a gentleman though and gave her his shirt. This was another thing he was good for; a walking armoire.

Oh yes, and the only part I liked about this movie was Barbosa. Seriously, this guy should have been the star because he was just as great in this movie as he was in the rest. I did enjoy all the parts he was in, especially since he didn't care for Jack Sparrow any more than I did. Watching them work together was funny because we all know Barbosa is the better pirate. And of course it was Jack who got them captured by the Spanish who were also looking for the Fountain. The escape scene with the palm trees? I'm not even going to go there. But I think it almost surpassed the water wheel. Actually, yes it did.

So back to the reason why this movie was even weirder than the others. The way they get to the Fountain of Youth, was just plain odd. Why on earth is the whole place upside-down? I didn't get this at all, and the whole kind of weird whatever that was going on was just...weird. I can't describe it. So you can guess that a battle ensues. Barbosa was awesome; his fight with Black Beard was the best part of this movie, and amazingly the only fight scene in the whole series that looked like a real fight scene, but then the ones with Barbosa usually did. So Black Beard is killed, obviously, because he's bad. Barbosa gets the Black Pearl back (it's his ship, not Jack's!) from the bottles where Black Beard had been keeping them, and in the end he maroons Jack and Black Beard's daughter on an island. That was the worst part of the whole movie. Why? Because it foretold tales of doom that there would be YET ANOTHER SEQUEL! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

So, I hope you enjoyed the random sarcasm of these reviews. I'm not even going to rate the movies because I think what I said here said way more than a star rating could. Thanks for reading!

Slainte, Hazel

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two WWI Movie Reviews

Since May 2nd was the famous Red Baron's birthday, I decided that I would post my reviews for two WWI movies. I am going to be posting reviews for my favorite (and maybe not so favorite) movies on my blog hopefully, so this is only one of the first.

First of all, one of my favorite movies of all time is Flyboys. This is actually what made me into a WWI buff in the first place. It's about the Lafayette Escadrille which was a contingent of the French air service for Americans to join before America officially joined the war effort. It was much like the Foreign Legion but for pilots. In fact, historically, several of the real Escadrille pilots had transferred from the Legion. The hero of this movie is Blaine Rawlings (played by James Franco), a young man from Texas whose family ranch has gone bankrupt. He got into a fight with the landlord, and decided to skip town instead of getting arrested, and ends up joining the Lafayette Escadrille. There's an amazing cast of characters in this movie. A son of a rich man who's a little stuck up, a young man who comes from a long line of military heroes who has the "prove myself worthy" problem, an ex-thief  and a young black boxer who was based off Eugene Bullard--the first black man to fly in combat. (I always find it refreshing how un-racist the French are--unless it's dealing with the English ;) And, of course, the typical angsty character, Reed Cassidy, the last one alive of his former squadron and made pretty cynical because of it (you know those types ;) All these characters form a great comradeship amongst each other. One of my favorite things in this movie was the camaraderie. It was just really well done. And the love interest (a French girl who is left taking care of her brother's children after he and his wife were killed in a bombing) is not detracting from the story line. (A huge plus.)

This movie was pretty good in the historical accuracy from what I have read. The planes were amazing and the dogfighting scenes were really awesome! Some of them could have put Star Wars to shame ;) The only thing I can tag them on was the fact that all the German planes (except the main baddie's which was black) were red Fokker Driedeckers (triplanes) that modeled Richthofen's famous plane. But the director mentions this in interviews and admits to doing it so viewers could tell whose plane was whose. This is why you should read author's notes before complaining about historical inaccuracy! We all have our reasons =)

In short, if you like war movies, flying movies, are a WWI buff or whatever, you should still watch this movie because it's a sadly underrated film. I give it five stars definitely!

Now for the second movie, this one is called "The Red Baron" and yes, it's about Manfred von Richthofen. For the most part, this movie was good, though not very accurate. The setting and the flying and planes and everything were pretty much okay, but they didn't really get everything about Manfred's life quite right. (It was about as accurate as Braveheart, meaning it had a lot of poetic license.). The actor who played Manfred (Matthias Schweighofer) was great though. He was actually German which was a plus, and he uncannily looked just like him! It was freaky at times, especially when he was wearing a sweater in the movie that looked just like one I have seen pictures of Manfred wearing. (Costuming did great on this movie.) My main problem was his love affair with the nurse. Leave it to the screen writers to HAVE to add romance to every thing. If it hadn't been for that, it would have been a great movie. There was never any historical record of Manfred being in love with the nurse, Kate Osterdorf. That was one reason I really loved Jeff Shaara's book To the Last Man because he didn't put any romantic interest between them. But movies are movies... So, for me, there was a lot of time that could have been spent in this movie between Manfred and his comrades instead of him with the girl he never really fell in love with. I also had a problem that they made Lothar (Manfred's younger brother) somewhat of a brat. What I've read of him, he was pretty nice. But again, that's what happens with movies.

The movie was good, though I didn't like it as much as Flyboys. I think it deserves three and a half stars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Famous Birthdays: The Red Baron

Hi everyone! I like to try and commemorate the birthdays of some of my favorite historical figures, and since now I have a blog that is not specifically Scottish, I'm going to write a short happy birthday to that famous flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron.

Despite popular beliefs, Manfred was hardly the villain. In fact, most of the pilots in WWI used quite a few rules of chivalry when fighting, one of the reasons they were called "knights of the air". One of the things they did a lot of times was the opposite side would drop a wreath over the grave of an honorable enemy. There were a lot of unspoken rules in air combat that made it far more honorable than fighting in the trenches where men just killed to survive. Manfred did have 80 kills under his belt, a number way over the top of any of the other aces in this war and even WWII. Manfred von Richthofen was actually a very mild tempered individual, and he's a national hero in Germany.

I think I kind of fell in love with his story when I read Jeff Shaara's amazing novel To the Last Man. (This book can be found in my Amazon Astore in my links) If you like the WWI time period, you must read this book. I loved it because it follows the lives of four different real people in the war, including Manfred, and Raoul Lufbury who was a French/American pilot flying in the Lafayette Escadrille. The way Shaara portrays Manfred is so wonderful, and very true to history as well. There are several good biographies as well, one written by Peter Kilduff which helped me a lot with research.

I think it's important that we honor heroes and good men, no matter what side of a war they fought on. In my opinion, Manfred von Richthofen was a good man and an honorable fighter and he deserves to be honored like any other hero.

So let's all say happy birthday to Manfred today! I'm going to make German strudels to celebrate and embrace the German part of my heritage.

I'll be back within the next couple days with two WWI movie reviews, so check back soon!

Slainte, Hazel