Friday, April 12, 2024

1946: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: How I connect to Cary Elwes (or King George VI)

  1. My grandfather is Arthur Lubinski.
  2. Grandpa had a brother named Paul.
  3. The head of the SOE recommended Paul for commendation for bravery in 1946 for events in the spring of 1945.
  4. King George VI approved the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct medal to my uncle, and it was presented to Paul in 1948.

... and 76 year later ...

  1. Cary Elwes plays the head of the SOE in an upcoming movie

The upcoming movie is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, directed by Guy Richie and stars Henry Cavill. It's a movie version of the SOE's Operation Postmaster (link at the end, but warning - spoilers).  Anyway at the 4 second mark in the preview below, Cary Elwes says, "Gus March-Phillips, I have a mission I want you to lead."  



Here's the character, so you can get more than a short glimpse of him:

Cary Elwes as Brigadier Gubbins


IMDb states that Elwes's character is named Brigadier Gubbins "M."  Well...as it turns out, that's Major-General Colin McVean Gubbins, the head of the SOE.  This guy:

The real Colin Gubbins.


I don't know if Uncle Paul knew Major-General Gubbins personally or not, but in 1946, Gubbins did sign the paperwork recommending Paul for the commendation for bravery (click on the next two images to enlarge):



And in 1948, the British ambassador to Belgium awarded the medal to my uncle on behalf of King George VI:



Amusingly, the award ceremony took place on April Fools' Day, 1948. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Movie Review: the various Predator movies

    Ok, I admit it. I find the Predator movies to be something of a guilty pleasure.  I don't generally like horror movies, and I'm annoyed by the wildly overused space-aliens-are-automatically-malevolent trope, so my liking these silly B-movies is probably uncharacteristic.

    I mean, if I'm going to watch malevolent aliens, the Aliens franchise is just wildly better.  Yet, I still like Predator. I think it's probably because it's a reenvisioning of the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which I first read in high school English.  

    By the way - I've seen an authentic predator costume from one of the first two movies in person at a Planet Hollywood, I think when Chris and I were on our honeymoon.  Standing next to one, even behind glass? Yowza.  Pretty intimidating.  It stood about 2 feet taller than me.

    Anyway, I've gotten an idea for a short story of my own, so I've started watching the movies.  I'd only ever seen the first movie, so all of the sequels were new to me.

    Just for the sake of clarity, from this point forward, I'm going to be referring to the antagonist of these movies as "hunter," "predator" or the species name of "Yautja" (ya-OOT-cha), and not "alien." If I use the word alien, it's to refer to the xenomorphs from the Alien movie franchise (there are crossover movies, so keeping them separate is important).

Ratings follow each movie title, the number of stars out of four possible.

Predator (1987)***:

IMDb Link

This is the one that started them all. Campy, silly, a little scary (but only a little) and it features an off-worldly hunter that really is one ugly mother f----r.  Nearly everyone dies and the predator's clicking sound will forever cause shivers to go down my spine.  I will also never look at a glow stick the same way again.  The acting is merely OK, the jokes were awkward, the special effects were great for the time, but pretty crude nowadays (though still effective), but it was genuinely entertaining.    


Predator 2 (1990)**:


IMDb Link

Interestingly, this movie was released in 1990, but takes place in 1997, so technically it was (at the time) a near-future science fiction movie.  This movie suffered from too many villains (drug cartels and the Yautja, and a power-mad police captain), and the acting was mostly pretty bad and the oddly-dystopian LA didn't work as well as the jungles of central America as a setting.  I did love seeing Bill Paxton, though, and I learned that he is one of the few actors in the holy trinity of science fiction movie deaths: he's been killed by a predator, a xenomorph, and a terminator.  It was definitely not his best work though, and the costumes made me cringe (did we really dress like that in 1990??).  

I did like the ending, though, and seeing the other predators, and that xenomorph skull in the trophy case. So despite it being a worse movie, it added to the cannon in a way I really liked, establishing predator ethics (they don't kill the unarmed, nor apparently children, nor pregnant women). Now that said, with their technology, killing humans (even armed ones) is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.


Alien vs. Predator "AVP" (2004)**:

IMDb Link


Like Predator 2, this one suffered from too many villains (multiple Aliens and predators and corporate interests), and this movie was made when it was stylish to make action sequences fast and hard to follow. Wait, which alien was that? Oh, was that Scar or one of the other Yautjas? I liked some of the ideas in this one - the badass predators actually enslaving an alien queen and keeping her frozen for millenia, and periodically thawing her long enough to lay some eggs and burst out of some human chests.  Though it does contradict the canon a little - This one takes place under the polar ice cap, but I thought predators liked the heat?  Not the worst of the movies, but not good either.  

... And another actor enters the holy trinity - Lance Henrikson gets killed by all three SF baddies.  Another example of predator ethics - it initially refuses to kill Henrikson's character because he's sick.  I also liked seeing the alien chest-burster with predator-features, and the teaming-up of humans and predators.



Alien vs. Predator: Requiem "AVPR" (2007)*:

IMDb Link

By far the worst of the movies.  It did feature the predator-like alien that burst out of the predator at the end of the previous movie, but I think that's the only thing I liked about it.  It's another one that had too many villains. 

It also violated some horror-movie taboos which I both appreciate yet hate at the same time (I don't want to give it away, too much, but let's just say that it involves dead infants).  The movie lacked an alien queen, and so there were no eggs, face-huggers, nor chest bursters, and evidently alien drones/workers can improvise by putting sending 3 larvae down someone's throat and into their abdomen. The birth scene of the unholy triplets (or was it quadruplets?) was downright horrific.  The movie was also so damn poorly lit, it was often hard to see what was going on.    

The plot and storytelling were so unimpressive that despite seeing it only a couple of weeks ago, I barely remember anything other than the explosion at the end of the movie (that ends the threat) and the aforementioned triplets. I think this movie may have actually harmed the franchise. 


Predators (2010)**:

IMDb Link

This one was pretty intriguing. A bunch of human badasses (badasses defined as worthy predator opponents: mercenaries, special forces, drug cartel enforcers, death-row murderers, and a psychopath or two) are kidnapped and dropped by parachute into a game preserve so that they can be hunted by a group of three predators. The movie established the existence of different factions in predator society, and I liked that.  There are some odd things left unexplained by the end of the movie.  Like, how could the doctor identify the flower with the paralytic properties, given where they were?  Was Lawrence Fishburne's character speaking to a hallucination or an invisible predator?  I also liked that the movie was left open-ended, with the survivors plotting how to get home as a new set of prey was airdropped in. 


The Predator (2018)***: 


IMDb Link


I actually liked this one (though the user reviews on IMDb are overwhelmingly negative).  I enjoyed the humor (I liked Alien Resurrection because of that same comedic horror).  It reduced the number of villains, which made for better, less confusing storytelling - there were two predators, and one obnoxious human (wonderfully played by Sterling K. Brown). The acting was good, the effects were excellent (blood from a human victim dripping onto a cloaked predator rendering it visible, was a wonderful touch).  For the first time, humans manage to use predator technology and that was excellent.  I thought the 10-foot super-predator was stupid (how much would it have to eat???), and the genetic hybridization storyline a little silly.  Also silly - calling the autism spectrum the next evolutionary step for humans felt ... trite, I guess? It was the fact that the kid was a genius that made him important. So it's not a perfect movie, but the storytelling was good, and it was entertaining.


Prey (2022)****:

IMDb Link


Holy mackerel, I loved this prequel movie.  I feel uncomfortable saying this, but ... I think it's a better movie than the original (it rises above it's B-movie origins).  It actually connects back to both of the first two movies in that it was inspired by the native American tracker in the first movie, and it includes an artifact from the second. 

The movie includes two villains, the Feral Predator, and also French fur trappers, but the storytelling is good enough that it doesn't suffer for it.  Rarely was I confused about what was going on, and then only because I think the filmmakers intended for us to wonder.   

The acting was great, the cinematography and special effects were excellent, and I loved the fact that for the first time, a woman led the story (this franchise is generally pretty testosterone-laden).  This is a nice connection to the Alien franchise, where strong women are the norm.  

Another thing I liked was the character growth - the main character actually evolved and grew as the story went along, something the previous movies mostly lacked.  

Two other really nice touches: the predator technology is crude compared to previous movies (though still quite advanced compared to both the Comanche and colonial weapons the humans had available) which makes perfect sense as it takes place 300 years in the past. Predator tech has progressed, just as ours has.  And the filmmakers also gave the script to two Comanche activists who ensured it was both culturally accurate and non-stereotyped.  Definitely worth watching.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review #6: David Lebovitz's Vanilla Ice Cream, French Vanilla

 “Vanilla Ice Cream,” on page 28 of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other vanilla ice cream reviews can be found here.

This ice cream recipe uses 6 egg yolks, which is on the high end, but no sweet syrup, nor texture agent such as corn starch or tapioca flour.  It still turned out well.

I tried out a technique I read about at Serious Eats - I added all of the ingredients except for the vanilla extract into the pan, turned on the heat, and whisking regularly (not quite constantly), I brought the mixture to 165F (74C), when it began to thicken.  I removed from the heat, added the vanilla extract, then chilled the custard.  It turned out perfectly, and was far less work than the typical method.

I prefer vanilla beans from Vanilla Bean Kings, but I'm still using up existing stock of vanilla beans (in this case from Penzey's), and I used vanilla crush extract from Sonoma Syrups, which is an excellent extract.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor.
  • With the exception of the vanilla extract, I put all of the cold ingredients (including the egg yolks) into a pan at once, and whisked regularly until it began to thicken.
  • The recipe directs you to pour the custard through a sieve into the vanilla-infused milk before chilling. I ommitted that step which is only really necessary if you scramble the egg yolks.

Results:

  • Same day: The soft-serve stage is silky smooth and the vanilla flavor is great.  I got more overrun than usual (beating more air into the ice cream), so the soft-serve phase was a little less dense than I like.
  • Next day: The flavor and texture are excellent. I definitely prefer the strong vanilla flavor that combining beans and extract provides. The texture is perfectly smooth, and it's not frozen too hard.

Uses:


Ice Cream: My new favorite topping: Mazapán

I tried the chocolate-peanut Mazapán ice cream recipe from Fany Gerson’s Mexican Ice Cream book, and I cannot say enough good things about mazapán, which will be a delicious stir-in to many ice creams.

What is mazapán, you may ask? Well, it's a little like marzipan, but made with peanuts instead of almonds, and it's somewhere between a cookie and a candy.

 It's very simple, typically made with two ingredients: unsalted, roasted peanuts, and powdered sugar.  You process them in a food processor until it holds together, then you press the mixture into molds to make a delicate, crumbly cookie.  

It's a little like the center of regular Reece's peanut butter cups, but drier and more crumbly.  

Anyway it's delicious in ice cream - (when you cut the cookies up, leave the chunks reasonably large, at least chocolate-chip sized). Keep the mazapans in the fridge until it's time to stir them into the ice cream once churning is complete.

Here's a recipe:

https://www.allroadsleadtothe.kitchen/2011/09/mazapanes-de-cacahuate-peanut-marzipans.html

If you’ve never tried it, be sure to look at several recipes (google for "peanut mazapan"), and watch a few videos to get a feel for how to make it (you MUST work the mixture in the food processor until fine enough to hold together, and that takes awhile. If you find you can’t get the mazapans to hold together, put them back in, and work it longer). I also pressed it out in a mat and cut circles with a cookie cutter instead of loading them individually. I pressed the mixture down in the cutter with the back of a spoon before removing the cutter and transferring the cookie. I grabbed the leftovers and made a smaller mat… rinse and repeat.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

May 1946: My grandparents' first car? - a Fiat Simca 5

My grandparents didn't own a car before WW2 started, and they didn't have one during the war, either.  But, after the war ended, my grandfather started working for the French government, helping to rebuild France, and they provided him with a car for use in his job. It was probably this car:


Source: Par Pantoine — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 2.5 

Ok, I probably shouldn't say it was their car, as they didn't own it, but the family photos below give me reason to believe they were allowed to use it for personal use, to visit Grandpa's father and stepmother in Belgium.  

He told me about the car in 1988 when I recorded his oral testimony about the war:

Arthur: The administration of France was restarting as an independent country, and we were a section of the department of rebuilding France. I became a, not a civil servant, but a temporary agent of the Ministry of Urbaine. Urbanism and reconstruction. You know what is urbanism do you?     

Me: City.

Arthur: City, yes. Designing cities. And so I work as a, in charge of the city of Valence, of this as an agent of the ministry.

Arthur: Yes. I got a car and gasoline coupons. You say coupons [pronounced: “cue-pons”] or coupons [pronounced: “coo-pons”] ? How you say?

Me: Either one.

Arthur: I … gasoline coupons, in large numbers. Well, France was a country in a complete mess after the war. Gasoline was nearly in-existant and Roma could exchange those gasoline coupons against a lot of food and shoes and I don’t know what else. That’s the way it worked over there. And, ah … But I have a car, and to drive to the mountains, to take care of the workers. 

He mentioned the car again when he told me about my mom's birth:

     And the car I had, which was not mine, I was given because of the reconstruction, and used it as much as I wanted. It was difficult to start in cold weather. So every couple of hours, I went down and walked half a mile to where my car was parked in a porte cochère [carport], and started the car, heated the engine for five minutes, and go back ... So when it became apparent she was supposed to go to the hospital, I went and got the car and drove her to the hospital, and Paul remained with Lillian who was at the time, well, five-and-three quarter. 

I didn't think much about the car, until I was re-reading my Aunt Lilly's autobiography Across the Ocean Bars which she wrote for school when she was 15:

     During September 1945 we moved to Valence, a city of 50,000 inhabitants. Are (sic) home was a tiny apartment and through good fortune we obtained a car or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Our car was a two passenger vehicle named the “Simca Cinq.”

With a bit of digging (and the help of my historian friend in France), I found out that she was referring to a Simca 5, and she was right that it was a two-seater, and it is absolutely adorable car:  


Par Arnaud 25 — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0

Source: Par Arnaud 25 — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0

Then, I remembered there were a couple of photos that included a car in the photo album:

May 1946, Antwerp, Belgium
L-R, Arthur and Roma Lubinski,
Felicie Turska, Lillian Lubinski (on car)

Note: I know the probable date and location from clues on other photographs.

Looking at the front of the Simca 5, it's clearly the same kind of car shown in the family photos. But ... it had no back seat! And the photos were taken in Antwerp, Belgium ... which means my grandparents drove about nine hours from Valence, France to Antwerp (about 850 km/528 miles) with their two children (my mother would have been about 5 months old at the time) all crammed into this tiny car!  

I do wonder when Arthur learned to drive, though.


L-R: Lillian, Roma, Arthur
May 1946, Antwerp, Belgium

L-R: Lillian and Roma Lubinski
May 1946, Antwerp Belgium. 
This is the photo that allowed me to identify
that it was 1946 (not '47) and Antwerp - it's written on the back.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

July 1944: Arthur witnesses the destruction of an airfield (variations on a theme)

The Chabeuil Airfield was an outright thorn in the sides of the Maquis. The German Luftwaffe used it to send gliders full of soldiers to the Vercors plateau and to bomb the towns there. 


Heinkel 111z towing two Gotha 242 gliders. 
Gliders like these carried German troops to the Vercors Massif, to Vassieux in particular.

It was only a 5-10 minute flight from the Vercors massif, and the flight path went right over where my grandfather was stationed during the summer of 1944.

Note the Vercors Massif (dark green on the right)
The Chabeuil Airfield was less than 20 km/12 miles away

The Resistance made multiple requests that the Allies destroy it, and eventually, they did (but not before bombing the wrong airfield ... twice!).  In this case, I have descriptions from many places, including verified historical sources.

Arthur wrote in 1974 (and I love both his poetic description and that he admitted to disobeying orders):

    One day at noon, once more we heard planes above. But their roar was different, more powerful, more singing, more friendly. In spite of orders we were all out at once to see a squadron of two-engine silver planes, with stars, flying overhead and then diving toward the plain below.  Shortly after, a violent bombing and gun fire could be heard at the distance from the direction of the airfield and then – everything became silence. Never again German planes came back. 

    Twelve hours later at midnight a squadron of RAF night bombers appeared and we all run, as far as one mile, to the edge of the high plateau and we saw from there the most beautiful fireworks I ever could dream. Parachutes with magnesium white and color burning lights were slowly dropping down amid German flak bursting around. Then a new wave of invisible airplanes roared in the black sky, powerful bombs exploded starting many fires which very soon shrouded the airport at the distance in a red and orange mist.

        The enemy air power was over, but we could not enjoy it very long.


Dr. Michel Planas in 1955:

I am in charge of a liaison mission at the end of the afternoon and arrive at the KIRSCH cantonment on the plateau to attend the bombardment of the Chabeuil aerodrome by the English air force. It was a huge fireworks display for a national holiday.

I believe Dr. Planas was mistaken about the date (he wrote that it coincided with Bastille Day/Fête Nationale on July 14). While it was possible that the airfield was bombed then - it was a target on multiple occasions - I cannot find outside evidence that the airfield was bombed that day, and other historical sources state that the bombing occurred later. The description of it as a fireworks display matches other sources that place it on the 24th-25th of July.

Michael Pearson wrote in his book Tears of Glory in 1979:

At last, after all these repeated pleas, the Allies have gotten around to bombing Chabeuil!  At last they had found the correct airfield! The raid destroyed or damaged 30 German aircraft on the ground – some of the planes, no doubt, that had caused so much havoc among the troops on the plateau. Like so many of the events connected with the Vercors, it was useless because it came too late.

It's worth noting that my grandfather did not agree with Pearson about it being a useless gesture, nor too late (possibly because Grandpa was one of the survivors of the air raids).

The Museum of the Resistance Online is somewhat more clinical:

07/24/1944: At 11:29 a.m., 70 American planes flying at 3,000 meters dropped 3,000 kg of 10 kg bombs. One in five bombs does not explode. They did not destroy any planes from Chabeuil but killed around fifty French people in Chabeuil, Malissard and Valence; there were 27 dead, 56 injured, 10 buildings destroyed or damaged.

07/25/1944: At night. Two hundred bombs were dropped on Chabeuil during a second bombardment and caused significant damage to the airfield and its annexes, numerous injuries but no deaths.


Bibliography: 

Monday, March 25, 2024

August 1944: Arthur and Michel meet the American Army (variations on a theme)

 Another example where Grandpa Arthur's story matches that of Dr. Michel Planas's. They both agree that on August 21, 1944, they met the American army as it attempted to prevent the German retreat:

Michel was very matter-of-fact:

We leave in a vehicle lent by the battalion and after the crossroads of La Croix in ROMANS on the RN 538 we see, before VAUNAVEYS, the first American elements, part of a platoon of PATTON tanks lined up along the road. We stop to greet them and fraternize. They fill us with food, cigarettes and give us two jerry cans of petrol. --1955

Grandpa was a bit more excited about it:

A few more days elapsed and the moment came which for ever will vividly remain in my memory. The 4th Company was marching North in an open highway. Two long lines of FFI were moving Indian-style on the two shoulders of the highway. On the pavement moving in opposite direction hurried jeeps and trucks and tanks. In endless white-star vehicles young American soldiers kept waving and smiling to us.  I felt elated. Years-long dream was finally becoming true. Somebody came to relieve me in carrying the heavy automatic rifle. Every one of us was supposed to carry it for 15 minutes, but I refused because this time I did not feel its load on my shoulders. --1974 

     Then I remember when we were walking along a highway, already on the plain below the mountains, and we were walking on two sides of the highway, and we have one heavy machine gun, which was very heavy to carry; it was not made to be carried by a man. So we carried it, for five minutes each person of the resistance, of the FFIs – changed themselves. 

     In the middle of the highway were driving American jeeps, American tanks, and American trucks and I felt a fantastic elation, to such an extent that I didn’t feel the extremely heavy load of the machine gun. Not a submachine gun, but a heavy, huge machine gun. Extremely elated after years and years of dreams. It became suddenly true. --1988


Bibliography: