Is ‘Finding Josephine’ Bullshit?

This interesting Civil War tale is purportedly based on a true story, but there’s reason to be skeptical.

As both a Civil War and film enthusiast, I try to watch every movie set during the American Civil War. I recently purchased Finding Josephine (2019) on Amazon Prime, and thought this indie film was well constructed and had an interesting story. It revolves around issues of gender and sexuality during the war, topics usually avoided in this genre.

Its creator, country musician Rory Feek, claims the story is based on Civil War-era letters he discovered in a Tennessee farmhouse he purchased in 1999. The letters were written by a man named John Robison to his wife Josephine while he was away fighting in the Confederate Army. In the film, his unit is identified as the “3rd Tennessee.”

He wrote a pretty catchy song about the letters, and according to his Kickstarter page, a Virginia man contacted him with letters supposedly written by Josephine to John while John was fighting in Virginia. That inspired him to make a movie about their experience. In the movie, Josephine misses him so much, she dresses like a man and joins the Confederate Army and goes all the way to Virginia to find him.

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Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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Iceman: A Harrowing Glimpse at Human Prehistory

A Neolithic revenge story seeks to explain the mysterious man found frozen in the Alps.

Written and directed by Felix Randau, and originally release in Germany in 2017 as Der Mann aus dem Eis, Iceman purports to tell the story of a Copper Age man preserved in the frozen Alps for 5,000 years. Beautiful landscapes and harrowing authenticity help balance what might otherwise be a one-dimensional revenge plot.

Kelab (Jürgen Vogel), Kisis (Susanne Wuest), and their clan are living in the Ötztal Alps around 3000 BC, where Kelab protects a fetish called Tineka. The clan is blessed with the birth of a child, but grieved by the loss of its mother. When Kelab is off hunting in the woods, a trio of raiders attack his village, slaughter its inhabitants, and steal their idol. Filled with a desire for revenge, Kelab rescues the newborn and pursues the raiders.

Along the way, Kelab interacts with other Neolithic people, including an old man, Ditob (Franco Nero), and his daughter Mitar (Violetta Schurawlow), in their sparsely populated valley. Can Kelab survive the harsh elements to exact revenge and take back his sacred Tineka?

Iceman was inspired by Ötzi the Iceman. In 1991, Alpine hikers discovered a mummified body partially frozen in ice. Shockingly, scientists dated its age to somewhere between 3400 and 3100 BC. The adult male was so well preserved that scientists were able to determine precisely what he ate in the days before he died. Most intriguingly, they discovered his cause of death was an arrow impaled in his back, compounded by other injuries.

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Oma’s Beer Soup

After many years of searching, I think I finally duplicated my grandma’s old home recipe.

My paternal grandparents, Albert and Marie Kleen, lived in Park Ridge, Illinois when I was a kid. Both came from German families. My grandma emigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1930s, and my grandpa’s family came here in the late 1890s. We called them ‘Opa’ and ‘Oma’, which is German for ‘grandpa’ and ‘grandma’.

Like many of her generation, Oma often cooked at home, and preferred the food she grew up with. I remember dinners of schnitzel and spaetzle. One item that stands out in my mind, however, was beer soup. I’ve eaten beer cheese soup at restaurants, but none came close to what I remember.

From what I recall, Oma used some kind of cheap beer, milk, sugar, and raisins. Definitely no cheese. The soup was white and frothy, and the raisins would swell up while being cooked.

After years of searching, I finally found a similar recipe. Although Oma was from western Germany (Cologne, specifically), her recipe closely resembles Sorbian Beer Soup. Sorbs are a Slavic people who live in eastern Germany and western Poland. I found this recipe online:

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Class of ’61: Disappointing and Forgettable Historical Drama

This made-for-TV drama meanders through the opening salvos of the American Civil War.

Written by Jonas McCord, directed by Gregory Hoblit, and produced by Steven Spielberg, Class of ’61 premiered on ABC in April 1993. This confusing drama follows members of the West Point class of 1861 and their families as they head off to join opposing sides of the war. It’s notable for an early appearance by Clive Owen, who is the only actor to stand out among the myriad of stock characters.

As the film opens, three friends, Shelby Peyton (Dan Futterman), George Armstrong Custer (Josh Lucas), and Devin O’Neil (Clive Owen), are attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tensions are high as Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter, leaving cadets with divided loyalties. Shelby Peyton, a Virginian, decides to resign and head south to join the Confederacy, despite his engagement to O’Neil’s sister, Shannon (Sophie Ward).

Back home in Maryland, Devin O’Neil learns his brother Terry (Christien Anholt) has joined pro-Southern partisans, which upsets his pro-Union Irish family. Things get complicated when O’Neil is unable to secure a commission in the Union Army. He rooms with George Custer in Washington, DC, where he falls in love with Lily Magraw (Laura Linney), who also happens to be a Southern spy.

Things get even more complicated when Shelby Peyton returns to his plantation, where his favorite slave, Lucius (Andre Braugher), has killed two slave catchers in an escape attempt. He is forced to flee northward in the Underground Railroad, leaving his pregnant wife behind to an uncertain future. Will destiny reunite all these characters at the First Battle of Bull Run?

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Why I Won’t be Watching The Rise of Skywalker

The series is creatively bankrupt.

There’s an old saying that sums up how I feel about the Star Wars franchise. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” After The Last Jedi, what more does the series have to offer? Anything the new films have to offer, we’ve already seen it done better in the original trilogy.

I was a huge Star Wars fan in my teens. Return of the Jedi came out when I was a kid, but the trilogy was re-released as a boxed set in 1995. I watched those VHS tapes dozens of times. I read all the old novels (which Disney decided to retcon out of existence). I’m almost ashamed to say I still have a huge binder fill of cards from the Star Wars Card Game. (Leave a comment if you think those are worth anything?)

When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, the year before I graduated high school, my friends and I were in the theater on opening day. Boy, was that a disappointment.

While maturity and the sheer awfulness of the prequel trilogy threw a wet blanket on my fandom, my hopes were raised when Disney took control of the franchise away from George Lucas. I watched The Force Awakens at a special screening while deployed to Iraq. It was… ok.

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The Highwaymen

A buddy cop tale with a historical twist, this nihilistic Netflix drama leans too heavily on worn-out cliches.

The story of the men who took down Bonnie and Clyde is recounted in The Highwaymen (2019), written by John Fusco and directed by John Lee Hancock. This bleak Netflix production aims to de-glamorize the infamous outlaw lovers with a more nuanced perspective, but still can’t help indulging in a few popular myths.

When Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) mastermind a prison farm escape, Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) convinces Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to bring ex-Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) out of retirement. Hamer agrees, and after purchasing a small arsenal of weapons, he reluctantly teams up with Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), another ex-Ranger past his prime.

Despite being “too old for this shit”, Hamer and Gault use experience and gut instinct to show up a team of FBI agents utilizing the latest law enforcement techniques, led by Agent Kendale (Jason Davis). After a string of false leads and narrow misses, the elderly lawmen finally gripe, complain, and manipulate their way into locating the outlaw gang. A young deputy named Ted Hinton (Thomas Mann), who grew up with Bonnie Parker, is there to provide dark irony and identify the criminals’ bullet-riddled bodies.

Channeling Neo-Westerns like No Country for Old Men (2007) and Wind River (2017), and to some extent the TV series True Detective, The Highwaymen focuses on a life-or-death pursuit through an unforgiving and bleak environment, with characters the modern world has left behind. Unfortunately, and despite its original contribution to the Bonnie and Clyde filmography, it comes across as an unimaginative imitation of these other works.

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