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They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson uses technology to breathe life into 100-year-old history
      In 1914, the men of the United Kingdom were called to war. They signed up by the thousands, men and boys as young as 14 joining the British armed forces with hopes of distinguishing themselves. 
     They thought it would be an adventure: their chance to become like the heroes they read about in books.
     The reality, however, was different.
     Trench warfare unlike any the world had ever seen was a filthy, dangerous business. Shells shook the earth and rained shrapnel onto the men. Dead bodies rotted next to living men hunkered down during bombardments. Rats and disease ran through the trenches. Mud was so deep that men drowned in it.
     In spite of the horror, there were moments of bravery and levity. The men holding the line found ways to maintain morale. They made deep bonds, exhibited extreme heroism and lived through experiences no civilian could understand.
      World War I wasn’t so thoroughly lionized by films and books as World War II, nor filmed as extensively as the battles of Vietnam. Camera men in 1914 had to slog through the mud with the soldiers, set up a camera on a stationary tripod and hand crank it. Because of this, footage was often jerky, improperly exposed and delicate to handle.
     On the 100th anniversary of the armistice, the Imperial War Museum commissioned director Peter Jackson (The Hobbit) to make a film to commemorate the event. Jackson has paid tribute to these nearly forgotten men and women in a moving, brilliant documentary. Using digital technology, he colorized and sharpened found footage, making the film look modern and vital.
       Jackson chose to focus on the life of soldiers in the trenches, mining hundreds of hours of footage for images that give us, one hundred years later, a feel for what life was like on the Western Front. We get a glimpse of everyday life, from how latrines worked on the front lines to how the men conducted trench raids. These images can be hilarious or hard to take. Jackson doesn’t shy away from mangled bodies and limbs because those were common sights for men in the trenches.
     The real genius of this film is letting the soldiers themselves explain their experiences. The only voices you hear are those of soldiers who served, taken from interviews conducted by historians in the 1960s. Hearing their story from their perspective brings this history book to life. These are no longer men long dead, but relatable people with tales of trauma that sound too similar to stories of fighters on the front lines today.
      Stay through the credits. Jackson ends with a 30-minute documentary explaining the painstaking restoration process of the found footage. It’s a fascinating look at how modern technology can make history come to life. 
Excellent Documentary • R • 99 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
      In the five years since Emmet (Chris Pratt) brought the LEGO community together to save the city, everything has been awesome. But awesome isn’t forever.
     When the LEGOs are invaded by the alien LEGO DUPLOs, even the master LEGO builders can’t repair the damage fast enough. Emmet calls Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett) to help. 
       This sequel to the popular LEGO Movie should be a frenetic comedy cavalcade for the whole family. Full of pop culture references and silly jokes, it should entertain both adults and kids satisfied with low stakes. 
Prospect: Bright • PG • 90 mins. 
 
The Prodigy 
      Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is a brilliant boy. Yet his mother Sarah (Taylor Schilling) finds his precocious behavior so disturbing she fears he may be possessed.
      A scary kid movie in February is almost never a good bet. Expect cliches and jump scares. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 100 mins. 
 
What Men Want
      Sports agent Ali (Taraji P. Henson) has earned her success through determination and hard work.
     When a fluke of magic allows her to hear the thoughts of men, she realizes she can use this newfound power.
      This gender-swapped remake of the Mel Gibson movie What Women Want offers a light comedic break from the dreary February releases. With this caution: Gender-swapping movie roles doesn’t necessarily overcome the sexism and lazy writing of the original. A charismatic performer, Henson might be able to carry this comedy.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 117 mins.