The Millionaires’ Unit: The First U.S. Naval Aviators in World War I

The Millionares' Unit Poster

Station: Historical Documentary
Time Travel Destination: 1914-1918 WWI America and Europe
Conductors: Darroch Greer & Ron King

The Millionaires’ Unit (2015)

“Have you ever had your wildest dreams come true?”

The sheer bravery of these men was astounding. With aviation still in its infancy, they learned to fly at a time when taking to the skies was highly unpredictable and dangerous. These pioneering aviators were a group of affluent and well-educated young men who felt that they should use their privilege for the greater good. They decided early on during World War I that they would master flying in case their country needed them. Up until this time the United States was neutral in the war. There was no call to action. They were driven by their own volition and profound sense of duty. The only thing they wanted in return: honor. They were the first Yale Unit, aka The Millionaires’ Unit.

 

The First Yale Unit of WWI
The men of the first Yale Unit and their mascot.

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Directed by Darroch Greer & Ron King, The Millionaires’ Unit follows the story of the first Yale Unit from their early days training, to their enlistment in the U.S. Navy (the service branch during WWI that dealt in aviation), to their battles, the tragedies and the years after the war (watch the video of their 50th anniversary reunion here). This also serves as a history lesson about the early days of aviation history. The men of the Yale Unit included: F. Trubee Davison (founder), Robert Lovett, Davd McCullough, Al Sturtevant, John Vorys, Johnn Farwell, Albert Ditman, Artemus L. Gates, Erl Gould, Allan Ames, C.D. Wiman, H.P. Davis Jr., Kenneth MacLeish and others.

Their story is told through interviews with aviation historians, history professors, a test pilot, a former Secretary of the Navy, and the descendants, sons, grandsons, granddaughters, grandnephews and nieces of the men. Actor Bruce Dern, who is also a descendant of one of the Yale Unit men, narrates the film. In addition to the interviews, there is archival footage as well as photos, letters, diary entries and flight/battle re-enactments with trained pilots flying replica WWI planes. According to co-director Greer, these replicas were from director Peter Jackson’s personal collection. Greer went on to say that it was important to film on “the actual sites in America and Europe where the young pilots trained, flew, fought and died.” He wanted to tell a “character-driven story” with a strong sense of place.

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The documentary was inspired by author Marc Wortman’s book by the same name. He is interviewed extensively in the film. Ron King picked up the book in 2006 and recognized his grandfather John M. Voyrus on the cover. He got in touch with Wortman and asked if a documentary was being made. Once he learned there was not, he set out to make one with his good friend Greer. King said,

“It reminds us of a time when people of privilege felt it was incumbent upon them to give back to the community who had afforded them so much. In this case, it was a group of young men who decided to put themselves on the line, defending the interests of the US in WWI. They did so with a spirit of high adventure…”

It took Greer and King seven years to make The Millionaires’ Unit. Extensive work went into research, re-enactment and funding. This was a passion project and it shows in the level of detail and thought that went into the final product.

This award-winning documentary is making it’s digital debut today. February 15th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Albert D. Sturtevant who was killed when his plane when down in the North Sea. He was the first U.S. Naval Aviator killed in WWI combat.

You can watch the movie on Vimeo. iTunes and other digital releases to come in the near future.

The Millionaires’ Unit is a fascinating documentary uncovers the little known history of the first Yale Unit’s contributions to American aviation during WWI. This should be required viewing for anyone with an interest in aviation history. In fact, an history buff will find much to enjoy here.

Official Website

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Brooklyn (2015)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

Brooklyn (2015) Poster

Stations: Historical Drama
Time Travel Destination: early 1950s Ireland and Brooklyn, NY
Conductor: John Crowley

I’m the daughter of immigrant parents. My father traveled across the Atlantic from Portugal to Brazil before heading north and settling in the United States. When he married my mom, he brought her from the tropical climes of the Dominican Republic to wintry New England. For both of my parents the adjustment to their new lives must have been difficult. But they had to leave everything and everyone they knew behind to start a new and better life. While their sacrifice was ultimately worth it, they left a big piece of themselves behind.

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Based on the novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn (2015) tells the familiar story of immigration but through the lens of young woman in the early 1950s. We follow the story of Eilis (Soirse Ronan). She lives with her sister Rose (Fiona Glacott) and mother (Fiona Glascott) and works a thankless job at the local market under the management of the tough-nosed Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan). Her sister arranges with Father Glynn (Hugh Gormley) for Eilis to make the journey to Brooklyn, NY where a room, a job and the chance to go to school for book-keeping awaits her. The adjustment is more difficult than Eilis imagines. Soon she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a young Italian man with an eye for Irish gals. They quickly fall in love and Eilis starts planting roots. When a major event happens back in Ireland and she travels back, she quickly settles back into her old life. Torn between her two homes, which one will Eilis chose?

Brooklyn is a story about what it means to leave your home and make a new one in a strange and far away new world. We see Eilis’s struggles; the long and difficult boat ride over the Atlantic, the crippling homesickness, prejudice, adjusting to a new lifestyle, new people and new work. There is a touching scene when Eilis helps Mrs. Keho (Julie Walters) and Father Glynn feed the poor and homeless of the community. Everyone in that room is Irish and there is a poignant sense of togetherness. One of the men stands up to sign an Irish song in the traditional Gaelic and I couldn’t help but shed a tear. There is a palpable sense of mourning for the lost country.

Brooklyn (2015)

This film is also a love story. It’s about the inherited love of one’s family and homeland but more deeply it’s about the joy of finding love in a new relationship. Eilis and Tony’s budding romance is so tender and sweet. It made me want to revisit those early days when I was falling in love with my husband. All those feelings are so new, so fresh and so electrified.

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Brooklyn (2015)

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (2015)

Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan is mesmerizing in Brooklyn. She is so enigmatic and has such an inviting face that I couldn’t help but get lost in her beautiful eyes. Ronan reminds me very much of Ingrid Bergman. Both are incredible talented actresses but are also alluring on screen. Ronan is only 23 years old but already has an incredible resume including 3 Academy Award Nominations, including one for Brooklyn and another for her performance in last year’s Lady Bird.

This film has an eclectic mix of familiar faces and many relative unknowns. Fans of Mad Men will spot Jessica Pare who plays Miss Fortini, Eilis’ boss at the Brooklyn department store.

Jessica Pare in Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn (2015)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the exquisite detail that went into this period picture. Especially the costumes, oh the costumes. I wanted to steal practically every outfit costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux dressed Saoirse Ronan in. The palate is colorful and vibrant. The tones match the different seasons. Ireland and Brooklyn are steeped in rich hues which make the 1950s of both look like veritable dreamlands. It may not be the most realistic but for someone like me who revels in mid-century modern aesthetic, Brooklyn is a feast for the eyes.

I had one small quibble with Brooklyn. I felt like it took too long for us to fully appreciate why Eilis left Ireland for New York. Her situation didn’t seem dire enough for her to give up everything she knew for an opportunity with big unknowns. I wish that had been established a bit more early on in the story.

“One day the sun will come out. You might not even notice straight away it will be that faint. Then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone whose only yours. And you’ll realize, that this is where your life is.”

DVD Netflix Brooklyn

Brooklyn (2015) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

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Coming soon: Director Raoul Peck’s new biopic about Karl Marx

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Stations: Historical Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1840s Paris
Conductor: Raoul Peck

The Young Karl Marx
Timed to commemorate the publication of

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in February 1848, comes a new film from celebrated director Raoul Peck. His previous film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, was a powerful look at the life of James Baldwin, the Civil Rights Movement and black representation in media (read my review here).  Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and is coming to theaters soon.

 

The Young Karl Marx

Description:

“At the age of 26, Karl Marx (August Diehl) embarks with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.”

The Young Karl Marx premieres on February 23rd at the Metograph in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. National release to follow.

To release on Digital and VOD on March 3rd.

Django (2017)

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Stations: Biopic, WWII Drama
Time Travel Destination: 1940s Paris, WWII
Conductor: Etienne Comar

Django (2017)

Available on VOD and iTunes on February 6th. List of upcoming screenings can be found here.

“Since the Americans left Paris, I’m the King of Jazz.”

Based on a true story, Django follows the story of celebrated Romani jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) as he tries to navigate the treacherous political climate of occupied France during WWII. Singled out for his incredible talent, Django and his Hot Club de France Quintet have been invited to go on tour in Hitler’s Germany. But the invitation isn’t voluntary and it comes with a rather strict protocol. Django doesn’t take it seriously until his lover and confidante Louise (Cécile de France) warns him of the possible ramifications of his actions. Django plans to flee Paris with his pregnant wife Naguine (Bea Palya), his mother Negros (Bimbam Merstein) and the fellow musicians who agree to go with him. The plan is to cross over into Switzerland but in German occupied territory that’s easier said than done.

Directed by Etienne Comar, Django (2017) is an atmospheric film that juxtaposes the beautiful music of a talented artist with the brutality of WWII. The film only explores a few months of Django Reinhardt’s but this is a crucial time  when he in grave danger but also at the apex of his career. Some have complained that we really don’t get to know Django but this film does tell quite a lot but in more subtle ways. For example, years before the story took place Django Reinhardt suffered burns to his hands and arms due to the flammable artificial flowers his first wife sold to feed the family. He had scars all over his hands and two of his fingers were paralyzed. Doctors told him he’d never play again. We get a glimpse about this part of his life through a scene when German doctors are examining him before his scheduled tour.

The cinematography in this film is stunning. There are some exquisite shots in this film. I was quite enamored with the first performance where we see Django and his quintet before in front of a glittery gold curtain. The camera pans around the musicians and the audience and often settles on Django’s hands as he performs his magic on the guitar.

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The persecution of gypsies during WWII is not often explored so I was glad that this film went into depth on that matter. Although Django is Romani Gypsy, his status as a talented musician makes him an exception to the Germans only if he’ll follow their rules. If he doesn’t, he becomes an easy target for their wrath. The film is very adept at exploring the different facets of his culture, his personality and his life. The disparity between the countryside and the city, the performance halls and the underground night clubs show how this character navigated between very different worlds. From the very outset we learn that he can be a difficult guy, perennially late and can be both tough and loving to those in his inner circle.

This movie has received mixed reviews and been rather polarizing among critics. The film meanders much in the same way a jazz song tends to take its time so the listener can savor and take it all in. As a jazz lover myself I was comfortable with this pace and let the story take me along for the ride. There has been a resurgence in interest in Django Reinhardt and jazz nuts especially will definitely want to see this.

Django is a beautiful and atmospheric film that is in no rush to tell its story of a jazz legend in a critical moment in his life.

Grand Hotel premieres on KCET and LinkTV

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Eloy Azorín, Yon González, Amaia Salamanca and Pedro Alonso in Grand Hotel

Stations: Upstairs Downstairs TV Drama, Foreign Period Piece
Time Travel Destination: Edwardian Era Spain, 1900s
Conductor: Carlos Sedes

Grand Hotel

For fans of Downton Abbey, there is another upstairs-downstairs period drama with just as much intrigue and grandeur. Grand Hotel, or Gran Hotel in Spanish, is a television show from Spain that ran three seasons from 2011 and 2013. Set in 1905 in the Spanish countryside, the story follows the inner workings of a hotel that serves the wealthy elite. Run by the Alarcón family, Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) manages hotel with an iron fist. Running the hotel is a family affair along with her daughters Adriana (Amaia Salamanca) and Sofia (Luz Valdenebro) at the helm. The black sheep of the family, son Javier (Eloy Azorin), often disrupts his mother’s Doña Teresa’s tight control over her business. Much like in Downton Abbey, the upstairs family is closely connected with their team of downstairs servants. There is a mutual respect along with a strict code of conduct and high expectations for everyone involved at the establishment. The dynamic is slightly different here because both the Alarcón family and the servants work together to cater to a clientele. I always felt that in Downton Abbey, the Crawley family lacked purpose so it’s nice to see a working family instead.

You could easily call Grand Hotel Spain’s answer to Downton Abbey. This show offers viewers intrigue, murder, mystery, sex, deception all in the beautiful glory of Edwardian era Europe.

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A scene from the first episode of Grand Hotel

Episode 1: The Maiden in the Pond (La Doncella en la Estanque): On the night of the hotel’s party celebrating the installation of new electric lights, chambermaid Cristina (Paula Prendes), whose been accused by hotel boss Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) of stealing jewelry, has gone missing. A month later her brother Julio (Yon González) travels to the hotel to find her. Pretending to be the new waiter, Julio infiltrates the Alarcón hotel. Julio is brash and determined to find the truth. He tricks Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca) into thinking he’s a hotel guest so he can get some information out of her. Alicia has her own problems. Her strict mother Doña Teresa insists that she marry hotel manager Diego (Pedro Alonso) a man she doesn’t love. The news of their engagement upsets Alicia’s sister Sofia who, with a baby on the way, was hoping that her husband would be the next in line. As the first episode progresses we see a rapidly changing dynamics of Alarcón family and we get closer to the truth of what happened to Julio’s sister.

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The downstairs crew at the Grand Hotel.
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Yon González and Amaia Salamanca

The series is based on an original idea by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira and is directed by Carlos Seda. All three have extensive background in producing original television programming in Spain. Like Downton Abbey, Grand Hotel is very much borderline soap opera especially with the various twists and turns the lives of the characters take. While Grand Hotel has its over-the-top moments, don’t expect a telenovela version of Downton because this not that at all. While the first episode lags a bit setting up the concept for the entire show, it quickly picks up in the second half. This is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama that will keep you wanting more.

I enjoyed the attention to period detail and how the hotel ushers in a new era with the reveal of their new electric lights. My husband spotted one anachronism which was Julio’s clip-on bow-tie. Otherwise, the costuming was very Edwardian specific.

Grand Hotel is premiering on the Southern California TV station KCET on Sunday January 28th 10 PM PST and on Link TV (available on DirectTV and Dish) on Monday January 29th 9PM EST. If you don’t have access to either of these channels, you can watch each new episode after it airs streaming on KCET’s website and LinkTV’s website for up to one week. Both channels will be airing all 39 episodes of the show’s original three seasons.

This show has been available on Netflix but in 45 minute increments rather than the 70 minute format that it was originally intended to be. Actress Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives writer Brian Tanen are currently in the process of developing an English-language version for ABC.

Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with lead actress Amaia Salamanca posting on this site very soon.