Movie Review: War Horse (2011)

War Horse (2011)

4 out of 5 stars

I found this film difficult to watch.   Spielberg is a master at tugging my heart to places it fears to tread.  And this horse went to places of heart-stopping beauty and through circumstances of heart-rending destruction.

Two aspects of this film, excluding the beautiful equines, that hit a home run (for me at least) were the cinematography and the music.  I expect that from the likes of John Williams for the latter.   I will pay attention to cinematographer film credits in the future to be sure I watch anything by Janusz Kamiński.  He worked previously with Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Of course, it’s hard to go wrong with landscapes found in Dartmoor, Devon.  And a nice ‘book end’ touch to the film included almost identical scenes, one of dawn over Dartmoor (and the birth of Joey) and the other at dusk.

I knew the plight of men who went to battle during the Great War.  I am blessed to live within thirty miles of the National World War I Museum housed under the Liberty Memorial.  I highly recommend you visit the museum if you ever find yourself in Kansas City, Missouri with a day or so to spare.

I did not realize the extent of equine casualties during WWI.  According to the Wikipedia article on War Horse, the section relating to the research done by the author of the children’s novel of the same name:

Morpurgo researched the subject further and learned that a million horses died on the British side; he extrapolated an overall figure of 10 million horse deaths on all sides. Of the million horses that were sent abroad from the UK, only 62,000 returned, the rest dying in the war or slaughtered in France for meat. The Great War had a massive and indelible impact on the male population of the UK: 886,000 men died, one in eight of those who went to war, and 2% of the entire country’s population.

Background, War Horse, Wikipedia

Similar to Black Beauty in time period and focus, the true star of this film was Joey, the English thoroughbred.  “During filming, fourteen different horses were used as the main horse character Joey, eight of them portraying him as an adult animal, four as a colt and two as foals; four horses played the other main equine character, Topthorn. Up to 280 horses were used in a single scene. … Working with horses on this scale was a new experience for Spielberg, who commented: ‘The horses were an extraordinary experience for me, because several members of my family ride. I was really amazed at how expressive horses are and how much they can show what they’re feeling.'” (War Horse Wikipedia article).

And the most surprising tidbit I picked up from that article: “According to Spielberg, the only digital effects in the film are three shots lasting three seconds, which were undertaken to ensure the safety of the horse involved: ‘That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Everything you see on screen really happened.’ … Representatives of the American Humane Society were on set at all times to ensure the health and safety of all animals involved, and the Society awarded the film an ‘outstanding’ rating for the care that was taken of all the animals during the production. An animatronic horse was used for some parts of the scenes where Joey is trapped in barbed wire; the wire was rubber prop wire.”

Like Schindler’s List and The Passion of the Christ, I’m glad I watched this film, but I’m not sure I could watch any of them a second time.  No, it doesn’t rise to the human tragedy and triumph of the two I mentioned, but War Horse reverberates on a similar harmonic.

Celebrating International Astromony Day Despite Cloud Cover

I missed the dawn of International Astronomy Day, thanks to a mostly overcast sky here in the Heart of America.  By mid-morning, the skies had partially cleared to allow the sun to peak through occasionally during my morning long walk with Apollo.  But by late afternoon, the clouds had crept back in to conspire against any star, planet or moon gazing.  Never admitting defeat, though, my dad and I headed to Kansas City to attend the April general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC).

Path of Solar Eclipse (20 May 2012) - click image for more info

Due to student examinations, our normal meeting place, a lecture hall in Royal Hall on the campus of UMKC, wouldn’t be available until 7:30 p.m (instead of our normal seven o’clock start time). Many members arrived early and congregated in the hallway outside.  I met my team leader and we exchanged business cards. In May, I have my first night assisting at a Powell Observatory public night as a ‘staff’ member.  My team leader, though, won’t be with us that weekend, as she’s traveling to Arizona to observe, first hand, the solar eclipse that occurs across the Southwest on Sunday, May 20th.  She did introduce me to her backup leader for Team 2, who also happens to be a resident of a town very close to where I live now.  Always good to know who has been bitten by the astronomy bug in your local neighborhood.

Kitt Peak (southern Arizona)

The room became available about ten minutes before half past seven and I relocated from the hallway to seating in the lecture hall.  I kicked myself for not bringing my notepad with me to take notes during the meeting.  Yes, I could have used my Nook Color (by pretending to send an e-mail I could have typed up notes), but not having a ‘real’ keyboard would slow me down too much.  The same guy who I had just met as my backup team leader just happened to be the Vice President and began the meeting mostly on time.  He announced our illustrious president was absent this evening and bearing the heavy cross of observing from Kitt Peak.  We all groaned appropriately, most of us with envy.

The meeting continued with Master Observer Scott Kranz handing out Astronomical League observing awards to several club members.  The Astronomical League is an umbrella organization composed of over two hundred and forty local amateur astronomical societies from all across the United States and forms one of the largest amateur astronomical organizations in the world.  Many of the certificates and pins awarded during the meeting resulted from the late March Messier Marathon, including one club member who found 109 of 110 Messier objects during one night of observing.  A similar award based on a detailed analysis and observation of all 110 Messier objects, albeit not in one night, was also awarded to Steve King, the club’s observatory director.

Scott encouraged all of us to look through the list of observing projects after the meeting.  I still need to finish the one I grabbed last year (about this time) called the Astro Quest General Observing Award.  In reviewing the list of objects available in that Quest, I have observed several of them already, and even have photograph evidence of same (and blog posts here) as further proof.  Now I’m even more pumped up to attend next month’s club star party so I can check off a few more from the Quest list.

Click photo for entire album of Lunar Eclipse (Dec 2011)

The second item on the agenda included  education and announcements presented by Jay Manifold.  He covered the night skies for the opening public nights at the Warko and Powell observatories, one of which includes the largest full moon of the year, on May 5th.  He also mentioned the solar eclipse on May 20th, which we won’t be able to see much of here in Kansas or Missouri.  He asked for members to submit photographs of the lunar eclipse on June 4th and I plan to put that on my calendar to repeat what I did back in December 2011.

The Transit of Venus again topped everyone’s list for ‘must see’ observations this year.  I’m praying for clear skies on June 5th.  Or I might be driving fast to the nearest clear skies so I can observe Venus transit across the face of the Sun … truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I doubt I’ll be around for the next one in 2117. To that end, I acquired (finally) some solar film thanks to a couple of club members.  I left it in my father’s good hands (since he has my telescope for the foreseeable future … at least until after my daughter graduates from college in mid-May).  Now we can make some filters to go over the scope, camera lenses and binoculars and we’ve still got time to practice solar observing before the actual Transit of Venus occurs in early June.

Another interesting item I noted during the education presentation involved something I could easily participate in.  McGill University is soliciting photographs of the night sky to raise awareness about the problem of light pollution.  The requirements for submitting a Dark Skies Photo include:

You can help by sending McGill University a picture of the Big Dipper constellation (in the northern hemisphere) or the Southern Cross constellation (in the southern hemisphere), or another constellation of your choice if you cannot find those. All you need is a DLSR camera and a stable mount for the camera (like a tripod). Please take your pictures with the following settings:

  • 10 second exposure
  • ISO 800
  • f3.5
  • Hi-resolution JPEG (if possible)
  • Avoid nights with a bright moon. For example, wait for the moon to set.

Click here for the web page to submit and upload your Dark Skies Photo.


Jay wrapped up the education and announcements section of the meeting with a plug for the MSRAL – the Mid-States Region of the Astronomical League – convention, Jun 1-3, 2012.  Registration is only $25 (until May 15th, after which it increases to $40).  After re-reading the Astro Quest observing list, I think I will register and attend.  There are at least two sessions I’m very interested in attending, and I would be the envy of all my barbecue-loving friends by attending the Star-B-Que Friday night.

Photo1324.jpgThe main program presented by Darrick Gray and Alex Kranz (daughter of Scott Kranz) related a program at a local high school where Darrick convinced his administration to allow him to teach an astronomy class at night.  And, each of the students builds their own six-inch telescopes, for less than $200, out of materials available from local hardware and construction supply businesses.  The only two things not available locally are the mirrors from Meridian Telescopes (no, the students don’t grind their own mirrors because it just takes too long) and the eyepieces (and Darrick made a shameless plea for old eyepieces from club members).  Another member mentioned, during the Q&A session, another website that might be a good source for mirrors or other parts:  Surplus Shed.  Some of the more interesting highlights of oddly juxtaposed hardware included a toilet flange as a mirror mount and hacksaw blades for the spider mirror support.  Oh, and can you guess from the photo above what the tube is made of?

Starry Night by van Gogh

Alex related her experience using her telescope at the dark sky site and how she preferred using her own telescope, even over her dad’s 20-inch one!  Most of the students felt the same way, having pride and confidence in their construction.  Alex felt confident she could repair her telescope no matter what might happen to it, since she had built it completely from scratch.  She also described a fellow student’s telescope, who had painted Van Gogh’s Starry Night on her telescope tube.  Just imagine the painting (shown above left) wrapped around a six-inch telescope tube.  Gorgeous!

Soon after the meeting adjourned, Dad and I retraced our path back home to Leavenworth County.  Unlike in late March, when we could watch the triangle of Venus, a crescent Moon and Jupiter as we drove west on I-70, the only thing we saw in the low hanging clouds were reflections of powerful spotlights shining heavenward from the Power & Light district downtown and Dave & Busters, as we drove past the Legends and the Kansas Speedway.

The Odds Are Against Me

All I have to do is look up my family tree to find plenty of incentives for fighting heart disease.   None of that crossed my mind initially when I signed up at work to participate in the KC Heart Walk next month.  I just thought it would be fun to walk with some coworkers.

But the more I thought about my inherited medical hodgepodge, the more concerned I became.  I decided to take a closer look here at my previous couple of generations of blood related ancestors to get a better picture of why staying active and eating healthy is the best prescription for the rest of my life.

My father and mother, both born in 1942, are both still alive and kicking.  In fact, you can’t keep my father out of the trees.  His hobby lately is helping a neighbor cut down trees and split it into firewood and stack it for drying, storage and eventual sale.  My mother started taking blood pressure medicine last year after a couple of scary trips to the E.R.

Grandma Juanita (1915-2005) and me at my high school graduation (May 1983)

My maternal grandmother died in June 2005, of congestive heart failure, but she still managed reached the age of ninety.  Granted, she needed bypass surgery for a decade before she died.  I spoke to my aunt Saturday and she also told me her mother was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis before she died, which could have been treated with surgery (and a valve replacement) but Grandma didn’t want to have any surgery done.

I never met my maternal grandfather.  He was born in 1888 and died in the mid 50s … of a heart attack.

I did meet my maternal great-grandmother (in the late 60s or early 70s).  She was born in 1886 and died in February 1973 at the age of eighty-five.  According to my aunt, my great-grandmother passed very quickly, her body basically shutting down (not specifically heart related).

My mom was one of six children, three boys and three girls.  Her oldest sister passed away in 1987 of congestive heart failure at the age of fifty.  I’ll turn fifty in just a couple of years.

Her younger sister received bypass surgery (quintuple) in the fall of 2001 and is still doing very well eleven years later.  My Aunt Melody continues winning the battle against cardiovascular diseases, becoming a nearly daily regular at her local YMCA.

My aunt's wedding photo from the early 70s. Front row (left to right) my cousins Charles and Brandi, my brother Danny, my cousin Anne and me. Middle row (left to right) Aunt Hyla (1937-87), Grandma Juanita (1916-2005), my Mom. Back row (left to right) Uncle Harry and his wife, Rene, Groom Willard, Bride Melody (my aunt).

And that wraps up the maternal side of my genetic heritage.  Moving on to my father’s family …

My paternal grandmother died two years ago in June, also of congestive heart failure, but she passed very quickly within a week or two.  Up until a month before she died (at the age of eighty-eight), she had been living on her own in an apartment in an assisted living center.  I believe arthritis proved her greatest bane for the last few years of her life, but she did also fight the usual suspects (heart disease).

Grandma Doris (1922-2010) and Grandpa Ralph (1920-1992) with my brother (the baby) and I in the last 60s

My paternal grandfather (not shown in the above photograph) passed away in March of 2003, but his death was not specifically heart related.  He remained active in his community, as a Shriner and a musician, until the day he died.

Sitting on my Great-Grandfather Hodge's (1902-1975) knee for my first birthday. My cousin Toni peaking around behind me.

My great-grandfather, a much loved pastor in the small Kansas town where I grew up, died in the Summer of 1975, from a heart attack.   According to my dad, Grandpa Hodge wouldn’t admit he was having heart trouble; he kept insisting it was the flu, because he had been an athlete and stayed active most of his life.  Strangely, he died in the same hospital where I was born a decade earlier, in Winchester, Kansas.  Grandpa Hodge loomed large in the first decade of my life.  His passing devastated his church, the community and especially his family.

His first wife, Marie, passed away in 1949 of cancer.  She immigrated (during or shortly after World War I) from the town of Stallupönen, in East Prussia.


I am encouraged that many of my female ancestors made it successfully into or through their eighth decade.  If I can stay ahead of the genetics with healthy eating and living and regular exercise, I just might be around to annoy my great-grandkids over the next two or three decades.

I joined the American Heart Association‘s Heart Walk to promote physical activity to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and to beat the odds I’ve been dealt by those who’ve gone before me.  Your support greatly appreciated.

Did you know that heart disease kills more people in America each year than any other disease? And that stroke is a leading cause of disability and the No. 4 killer?

Just 30 minutes a day of physical activity can lead to a stronger, healthier body. Take a small step toward better health by being physically active just 10 minutes 3 times per day.

Be Heart Healthy, American Heart Association

Walking Regimen Uptick

Spring brings flowers, and showers, hot days and cold days, but also a better-than-average chance Apollo and I will get our walking completed before the sun sets most days.  For the month of April, thus far, I’ve only missed three days, and two of those days were spent driving to and from North Texas for Easter.

I wear a pedometer everyday.  I record my steps at, where I can run nifty reports and generate interactive graphs.  Below is a snapshot of the graph of my step stats for April 2012 (up to Saturday the 28th):

My Steps Stats Graph (April 2012)
My Steps Stats Graph (April 2012)

At the beginning of the year, I set a personal goal of walking 7,000 steps per day, 3,000 shy of the ideal recommend daily step value of 10,000.  As you can see from the year-to-date weekly step total graph below, only in the last week of April have I finally reached my personal step goal.

Weekly Steps Total (Jan - Apr 2012)
Weekly Steps Total (Jan - Apr 2012)

I’m striving to exceed a minimum of 7,000 steps per day through the end of May.  Then I will reset my goal accordingly (depending on what my average looks like).

As posted earlier this week, I’ve joined a team sponsored by my employer to walk next month in the KC Heart Walk.  The event includes a one mile and a three mile route.  I am ‘in training’ for the longer route, although according to the route map I created this morning via, my trek to the end of West Mary Street exceeds that length by just a bit (3.17 Miles / 5.1 Kilometers), and includes a nice incline up to the halfway turnaround point at DeSoto Road.

Now, a look in more detail at the last seven days of walking, six of them with Apollo.

TypicalSunday, April 22nd, hour long walk with Apollo to Bittersweet Street on West Mary Street and back.  Very windy and cloudyPedometer: 9,859 steps

Monday, April 23rd, short half-hour walk with Apollo around neighborhood.  Pedometer: 6,328 steps

Tuesday, April 24th, short half-hour walk with Apollo to the Lansing Community Center and back.  Pedometer: 7,538 steps

National Walk at Lunch Day
National Walk at Lunch Day

Wednesday, April 25th, I participated in the National Walk @ Lunch Day sponsored by my employer and my health insurance company.  I joined several of my co-workers for a thirty minutes walk down the Trolley Track Trail along Brookside Boulevard in the South Plaza neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri.  Because Wednesday also broke temperature records in the area (for heat), Apollo and I lazed around the house with Terry Wednesday, catching up on some shows recorded recently on the DVR. Pedometer: 6,881 steps

Apollo close up while I tied my shoeThursday, April 26th, Apollo and I ventured around the Lansing Town Centre area for an hour.  Pedometer: 8,834 steps

Friday, April 27th, Apollo and I looped around the high school, down the hill on East Mary Street to Hillbrook and back west through neighborhood along Hithergreen.  Pedometer: 7,952 steps

Saturday morning, April 28th, Apollo and I set out to traverse all of West Mary Street, from one end to the other, a route of over three miles with some nice hills and sidewalks.  Pedometer: 7,869 steps 11,585 steps *

To summarize the past week, here’s another graph produced thanks to the reports feature at

My Steps Stats for the Last Week of April 2012
My Steps Stats for the Last Week of April 2012

I plan to continue this pace, and increase it, over the next few weeks so that come Saturday, May 19th, I won’t be a straggler in my first ever Heart Walk.

* As of 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, after shopping, my total steps reached a whopping 11,585.  And the day’s not over yet!

Remembering Roxy: Snack Dispensers

Roxy with her purple soccer ball in the backyard (July 2005)
Roxy with her purple soccer ball in the backyard (July 2005)

In a not-so-subtle segue from last week’s post, I continue the story of Roxy‘s addiction to paper products (new or used – she wasn’t a discerning Rottweiler).   She favored paper towels (usually snatching them from the trash as soon as you turned your back), but excelled at sneaking a tissue from a Kleenex box on an end table if she thought you weren’t looking.   For the longest time, we couldn’t figure out why we kept running out of tissues so fast, especially when it wasn’t even cold or allergy season.   We learned to keep the tissue boxes and rolls and cans up out of her reach, just like you would for a human toddler (but with more dangerous household items).  Otherwise, Roxy considered every tissue box (and trash can) her own personal snack dispenser.

WoT’s Up, Tor?

My favorite fantasy publishing imprint, Tor, caused a stir earlier this week by announcing the demise of DRM in early July 2012 in their entire list of ebooks (printed under Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen imprints).    I’m only slightly disappointed that I have to wait until July.  I’m torn, though.  I had planned to purchase, next week in fact, the second book in the Wheel of Time series, The Great Hunt, from Barnes & Noble for my Nook Color, to facilitate my role as a discussion leader at the GoodReads Fantasy Book Club Series group.   We are wrapping up our discussion of the first book, The Eye of the World, these last few days of April.   I have until Monday to make up my mind.  Do I re-purchase the DRM’ed ebook through B&N for my Nook (for convenience sake)? Or do I crack open the hardcover languishing on my shelf (and deal with the weight and lighting issues)?

Prior to the ebook emancipation proclamation, Tor released the color sketch created by Darrell K. Sweet, who passed away before completing the cover art for the final Wheel of Time novel, A Memory of Light, due out early in 2013.

Click on this color sketch to see a tribute to Wheel of Time cover artist Darrell K. Sweet at Tor's website.

But the real icing on the WoT cake came today, when Tor made an excerpt of the Prologue from A Memory of Light available:  Click here to read it.

Walking to Mend Broken Hearts

You can Become a Lifesaver Today!

I am participating in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, and have set a personal goal to raise funds that are needed for critical cardiovascular disease research and education.  I joined a team sponsored by my employer and will walk with them on Saturday, May 19, 2012, starting at nine o’clock in the morning.  I just wish Apollo could join my walk in memory of Roxy.  Instead, I’ll be walking in memory of my grandmother, Doris (Hodge) Andrea, who passed away (congestive heart failure) two years ago this June, on her birthday.   She would have turned ninety this year.

With the click of a mouse you can make a secure, tax-deductible online donation. You will not only be supporting me, you will be funding the fight against the No. 1 killer of Americans. Click here to be taken to my personal donation page.

Did you know that heart disease claims the lives of more people than the next 3 leading causes of death combined? Here is how your online donation will help:

  • $25 gives 50 people educational materials that teach them how to personally reduce their risk of heart diseases and stroke
  • $50 delivers the message of healthy nutrition to elementary school students through lesson plans and activity guides
  • $100 allows one hospital to teach its patients, caregivers, and health professionals about the risks of stroke – the nation’s No. 4 killer

Chances are you or someone you know has a connection to heart disease or stroke – forward this blog post to your friends and family.

Thank you, in advance, for your support!

Follow This Link to visit my personal web page and help me in my efforts to support American Heart Association-KS Greater Kansas City

One Full Sun (Set) and Two Crescents

Terry and I took advantage of exceptional late April weather to enjoy (and photograph) a gorgeous sunset:

Click photo to see rest of album

And I took advantage of the new moon’s crescent being near the crescent of Venus to capture this series of photographs:

Click photo to see rest of album.

While you can’t tell it from the photo above, Venus is also a crescent, just like the New Moon.  Terry and I both saw Venus easily a good fifteen or twenty minutes before the sun set.

Lyrical Conjunction

I dropped off my last rider this morning and turned the radio up, just in time to hear “Gone” by Switchfoot aired by KLOVE.  As I listened to the words (see the lyrics below or click on the video to listen), I thought how serendipitous this song seemed to me.  Especially after watching and reviewing the In Time movie this past weekend.  “Gone” could have easily doubled as a theme song for the female protagonist, Silvia.



Lyrics for “Gone” by Switchfoot:

She told him she’d rather fix her makeup
Than try to fix what’s going on
But the problem keeps on calling
Even with the cellphone gone
She told him that she believes in living
Bigger than she’s living now
But her world keeps spinning backwards
And upside-down
Don’t say so long, and throw yourself wrong
Don’t spend today away
Cuz today will soon be

Gone, like yesterday is gone,
Like history is
Gone, just trying to prove me wrong
And pretend like you’re immortal

She said he said live like no tomorrow
Every day we borrow
Brings us one step closer to the edge (infinity)
Where’s your treasure, where’s your hope
If you get the world and lose your soul
She pretends like she pretends like she’s immortal
Don’t say so long
You’re not that far gone
This could be your big chance to makeup
Today will soon be

Gone, like yesterday is gone,
Like history is gone,
The world keeps spinning on,
Your going going gone,
Like summer break is gone,
Like Saturday is gone
Just try to prove me wrong
You pretend like your immortal your immortal

We are not infinite
We are not permanent
Nothing is immediate
We’re so confident
In our accomplishments
Look at our decadence

Gone, like Frank Sinatra
Like Elvis and his mom
Like AL Pacino’s cash nothing lasts in this life
My high school dreams are gone
My childhood sweets are gone
Life is a day that doesn’t last for long

Life is more than money
Time was never money
Time was never cash,
Life is still more than girls
Life is more than hundred dollar bills
And roto-tom fills
Life’s more than fame and rock and roll and thrills
All the riches of the kings
End up in wills we got information in the information age
But do we know what life is
Outside of our convenient Lexus cages

She said he said live like no tomorrow
Every moment that we borrow
Brings us closer to the God who’s not short of cash
Hey Bono I’m glad you asked
Life is still worth living, life is still worth living