Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Ghostbusters”

In the mid 80’s, writers Dan Aykroyd and Harrold Ramis, with the help of director Ivan Reitman, managed to catch lightning in a bottle with their iconic hit film Ghostbusters. The film was a bold and risky endeavor as it would blend the horror and comedy genres. Aykroyd and Ramis used clever writing and excellent special effects to make Ghostbusters an instant classic.

The zany plot revolves around three scientists: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz, (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harrold Ramis). They work together in the field of paranormal investigations and are making head way in documenting and studying ghosts when their funding is cut, and they subsequently fired by the college that employs them. Rather than giving up, they decide to go in to business for themselves as professional Ghostbusters who eliminate unwanted spirits haunting the people of New York. The business begins to grow and prosper as ghosts and ghost sightings seem to be plaguing the city, alluding to an evil entity that is attempting to cross over into our world. While they become icons and popular celebrities across the city, Venkman begins to fall for his first client Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who happens to be haunted by a particularly nasty spirit. Soon the Ghostbusters are targeted by an unscrupulous bureaucrat who unknowingly hastens the arrival of an apocalyptic force. It falls to the Ghostbusters to save Dana and the people of New York from an ancient evil.

Despite its strange and risky premise, Ghostbusters became an enormous pop culture phenomenon. Its use of sharp and witty comedy with bizarre and stylish horror aspects were a hit with audiences. The characteristic logo and equipment became a mass marketing success in a similar way to Star Wars merchandise. Ghostbusters would go on to start a whole new sub-genre of films that attempt to make audiences laugh and shriek. The film has consistently made it among various publications’ Top 100 Films Of All Time lists. The popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes still holds it at a 97% fresh rating.  Ghostbusters would go on to start its own franchise and the film itself racked in nearly 300 million dollars. I grew up watching this film, and my family and I can quote nearly every bit of dialogue in this memorable movie.

Ghostbusters was rated PG at the time, but today it would be in the PG-13 category for some use of language, innuendos, and some frightening scenes. Ghostbusters is available at the Union University Library.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “King Kong” (2005)

In 2005, director Peter Jackson was riding high off of the success of The Lord of the Rings franchise. But he had always dreamed of remaking the classic 1933 film King Kong. Jackson was a young boy when he first saw the film and instantly fell in love with its timeless story. In fact, King Kong impressed him so much that it would eventually lead him to becoming a filmmaker himself. Jackson’s own King Kong is a re-imagining of the great classic that uses state-of-the-art visual effects that help bring the giant ape to life (as well as realistic motion capture) and show off impeccable set design, stunning visual sequences, and awe-inspiring sound.

The film’s plot revolves around an ambitious filmmaker out to make a name for himself who manages to con some down-on-their-luck actors, a captain, and his crew into venturing to the uncharted and mythical Skull Island. They hope to shoot the first on site film and use the mysterious island as its backdrop; however, the island turns out to be populated by hostile natives and, worse still, all manner of giant monstrous creatures.  The fiercest of these creatures are what the natives have dubbed “Kong,” a giant gorilla that they worship as a god. The leading actress is captured by Kong, and the cast and crew must attempt to rescue her. They then decide to capture and bring Kong back alive and to show off the beast to stunned New York crowds. This inevitably leads to disaster as Kong escapes and terrorizes the city.

This film’s cast includes Naomi Watts as the aspiring lead actress Ann Darrow. Although Ann is captured by Kong, she soon realizes he is not a mindless brute but can be quite tender and protective. Adrian Brody stars as Jack Driscoll, a pragmatic screenwriter who attempts to rescue Ann and ultimately falls in love with her. Lastly, Jack Black stars as Carl Denham, the man who is desperate to achieve greatness and is willing to risk everyone’s lives to do it.

King Kong did extremely well with critics, who praised its visual effects and imaginative retelling of the classic 30’s film. The film pulled a whopping 550 million in box office revenue. It still holds an 84% fresh rating among audiences and users on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.  King Kong went on to win Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

King Kong is a fantastic retelling of a classic piece of early cinema that modern audience will appreciate and enjoy.  It is available at the Union University Library and is rated PG-13 for some mild violence and language.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “War Horse”

Director Steven Spielberg has brought audiences many fantastic and awe-inspiring films set as historical period pieces. However, his 2011 hit War Horse showed us an often-overlooked period that is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest: WWI. This film is as much a war film as it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit and the bond people naturally share with animals.

The plot revolves around a horse who is auctioned off and sold to an English farmer. The farmer’s son, Albert, soon comes to love the horse and names him Joey. The two quickly become inseparable. Unfortunately, fate steps in, and war is declared on Germany in 1914. The farmer, short on funds, must sell Joey to the British Army for the war effort.

During the course of the war, Joey is captured and forced to serve the Germans. Joey has brief moments of freedom and kinship with those soldiers and civilians who are kind to him. As the war drags on, Albert eventually comes of age and is drafted into the British army. Albert still remembers his beloved horse and hopes against hope that he may be lucky enough to one day be reunited with his long lost friend.

War Horse is a fantastic film; it features Spielberg at his very best. War Horse features the gritty and heartbreaking periods of war and strife while at the same time focusing on the love and inner humanity that animals help bring out in us all. This film was based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo by the same name, and Steven Spielberg has done an amazing job in bringing this book to life. The cast is quite large and star-studded with top celebrities such as Jeremy Irving, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The set design and period clothing take you right back in time. The film’s moving and emotional score is composed by the great John Williams, who is always a staple in any Steven Spielberg film.

War Horse was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and still holds a 75% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

War Horse is available at the Union University Library. It’s rated PG-13 for war-related violence and some language. We are also happy to offer both the novel and audiobook in these links below:

 

Moments In History: October 3rd, 52 B.C.

vercingetorix

*painting by Lionel Royer

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 3rd, 52 B.C.

The Surrender of Vercingetorix & The Roman Conquest of Gaul

From 58 B.C to 50 B.C., Julius Caesar was carving out huge parcels of territory from the  feared Celtic Gauls of modern day France, Northern Italy, and Belgium.  Rome had been sacked earlier in its history by an invading Gallic tribe, and the Gauls had ever since been the “bogymen” of the Roman psyche. Caesar saw Gaul as a spring board to riches and greater political power; if he could do the unthinkable and conquer this vast country, not only would he become rich, but he would win the undying love and support of the people of Rome.

By 52 B.C., the stage was set for a final climatic showdown. Over the years Caesar had succeeded in subjugating various tribes one by one, picking them off or turning them against old rivals until he crushed them. This changed when a charismatic king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, Vercingetorix, united a large coalition of tribes to attempt to destroy the occupying Romans for good. Most of the Gallic tribes joined in the general revolt and their numbers swelled to over 80,000 men. Caesar rushed to the scene with as many reinforcements as he could muster; he managed to surprise the Gauls in their fortified city of Alesia. Caesar decided to besiege the settlement, hoping to starve the Gauls into surrendering. Caesar and his legions set about the herculean task of digging trenches and building a wall around the city of some 11 miles.

The Gauls, running short of food, called for more tribes to unite and attempt to revive their besieged kin. Within a short time, tens of thousands answered the call, and the Roman legions found themselves surrounded as the Gauls attacked from both sides of their fortifications. The Romans were on the breaking point, but Caesar personally rode to where his troops were most hard pressed and cheered them on as they fought for survival. The Romans persevere, and by morning the Gallic relief force and those still alive in Alesia had given up. The morning of October 3rd, 52 B.C., Vercingetorix rode down to the Roman Camp in his finest armor, stripped himself naked, and knelt before Caesar himself in surrender. This moment was the end of organized Gallic resistance to Rome.

In the coming years, Gaul would become a Roman province and would remain so for the next 500 years. Vercingetorix would be kept prisoner for the next 5 years until Caesar’s triumphant march in Rome, where he was executed in front of the crowds. The end of the Gallic Wars would go on to bring about a series of civil wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Caesar’s own assassination. Finally the republic would be reorganized as an empire under Caesar’s nephew, Octavian.

If you would like to know more about the events surrounding the conquest of Gaul and the battle of Alesia, please follow the links bellow:

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Bedazzled”

The late great director Harold Ramis has many fantastic films in his long and storied career. He always had a natural bent towards comedy, and most of his characters in his films tend to be very relatable to the audience. His remake of the 1967 film Bedazzled is one of my personal favorites as a comedic take on the popular tale of Faust.

Bedazzled’s  story centers on our protagonist Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser). Elliot sees himself as a hopeless, down-on-his-luck loser. He is socially awkward, and his co-workers constantly dodge his attempts at friendship. On top of it all, he is deeply infatuated with a woman he works with, Alison Gardner (Francis O’Conner). Elliot feels that if he could win her heart, he would finally be happy and his life would have purpose and meaning; unfortunately, he is too nervous to actually ask her out and feels he has little to offer her anyhow.

It is at this moment, while bemoaning his situation, that Elliot says he would give anything to be with her.  Suddenly, a mesmerizing and seductive woman strikes up a conversation with him. She asks if he is happy with his life and offers to make the world love, respect, and even fear him. Elliot wonders how this strange woman can know so much about him and his deepest desires. She informs Elliot that she is actually the Devil and has come to grant him seven wishes in exchange for his soul. The Devil is portrayed by Elizabeth Hurley, and she is instantly captivating, sharp-witted, and devious.  Elliot agrees to the offer and begins to make wish after wish, but it appears that the devil corrupts each wish and nullifies Elliot’s goal of having Alison fall in love with him. After a while Elliot starts to doubt himself further as he tries to come up with a full proof wish and beat the Devil at her own game. Will he come up with a perfect wish or will he find some other way of getting out of the contract?

This really is a fun and light-hearted take on a famously dark story. It’s a rather zany comedy, but it does have a positive message in the end which proves memorable.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

* It is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material.

 

 

 

Moments In History: September 28th, 1928

penicilin

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 28th, 1928

Discovery of Penicillin

On this fateful day, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that would go on to change medicine forever. While working on research and experiments with Staphylococcus bacteria in his lab, he woke the morning of the 28th of September to find one of his Petri dishes had its lid popped off and had been contaminated. While investigating the source of the contamination, he noticed a strange green ring that had appeared around the dish. This ring was a green fungus mold known as “Penicillium notatum.”

What he found so fascinating was that the bacteria surrounding the ring had not only not penetrated it but had been destroyed by the mold. Meanwhile, those farther away from it were unharmed and still growing. He would later remark:

“I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

It would still take many years of peer review, as well as isolating and growing the mold into a pure culture and tested on patients for its effects as a treatment of bacterial infections.

However, by 1942, penicillin was in mass production and might even have helped tip the scales in favor of the Allies during WWII, as it is thought to have saved as many as 12% to 15% of Allied soldiers’ lives from sepsis and other infections from recently amputated limbs. It would also be used to treat prominent illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

On average, 33 million pounds of penicillin is produced around the world each year. All told, it is estimated that penicillin has saved around 200 million people worldwide and continues to do so today.  In 1999, Alexander Fleming was named among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century in Time magazine.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about Alexander Fleming and his work, I encourage you to follow the link down below for a fantastic book and on the subject.

 

Book Review: “Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World” by Nicholas Ostler

empires

Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World is a fascinating book about the historical evolution of the world’s major languages. This book describes how and why certain languages persisted and became dominantly used in the world and why others fell out of use. This is as much a cultural anthropological history book as it is a dynamic linguistics book.

Empires Of The Word spans the historical antiquity of the first dominant languages, including Greek, Latin, and Ancient Chinese. As time goes on and empires collapse and expand, the book shows how different cultures begin to adopt or dominate different linguistic groups.

Author Nicholas Ostler describes what he calls the “Death of Latin” and the eventual emergence of the Romance languages from Germanic invaders. I found the development and spreading of Spanish and English to be particularly interesting. The section of the book dedicated to the evolution of the Semitic language groups of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are equally insightful.

Lastly, the book deals with the current top 20 languages of the earth and what the future may hold for them. Ostler then gives his hypothesis of which will become dominant and which will recede from use based on population trends and common usage.

Empires Of The Word is such a joy to read because it offers great insight into history from both social and cultural sources. It is remarkably in-depth and dense, but I found it to be an easy read for a layman with passing curiosity on the subject.  I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wondered how and why we came to speak the wide variety of languages that we do. It’s a fun travel through time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Signs”

M. Night Shyamalan has brought us some thrilling movies over the years, and his 2002 hit Signs is definitely one of them. It was written, directed, and produced by Shyamalan, and with that much creative control he really was able to implement his artistic vision and take credit for the finished project.

The setting is a rural farm home owned by Graham Hess (Mel Gibson). Hess is a recent widower and has apparently lost his faith. He lives with his young son and daughter. His son Morgan (Rory Culkin) uses his inquisitive mind and quirky nature to mask his pain over his mother’s recent death. The younger daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) is socially withdrawn and has developed an odd compulsive behavior since her mother’s passing. Recently, Graham’s younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) is also in a current low point in his life and has moved in to help the family.

One morning, the family is awakened to find large acres of the corn crops have been meticulously bent and arranged into strange shapes- from the air, they look like crop circles. Graham, a prudent and pragmatic man, believes these to be the actions of vandals and pranksters seeking media attention. Soon these strange formations begin to happen across the globe. As the days go on, more and more strange sightings and panic begin to spread throughout the nation and in the Hess home itself. With all things considered, Graham slowly starts to believe the threat is real and seeks to protect his family. Only by a renewed since of faith can he pull his family together through their shared love for one another. Will they survive this frightening ordeal simply by chance, fate, or perhaps even a miracle?

Signs is a fantastic slow burn thriller that uses escalating tension to rise to a fever pitch towards the end. Shyamalan has been compared previously to a modern day Alfred Hitchcock. The dialogue of his characters are often dry and mundane and help the audience relate to the tedious periods in our day to day lives. He also taps into the fear and dread of the unknown, and how people must overcome their own shortcomings and flaws.

Signs made a respectable $400 million of a budget of around $70 million, and while some critics had negative opinions on sections of the script, most found it fresh and original.  Most audiences give it about 75% favorable to 25% unfavorable rating. Most will enjoy this suspense/thriller, but I can agree it’s not for everyone.

Signs is available at the Union University Library.

*It is rated PG-13 for some language and mild violence.

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “12 Years A Slave”

In 2013, director Steve McQueen adapted a film from the memoir 12 Years A Slave, which tells the harrowing story of the life and enslavement of Solomon Northup. Born a free man in New York in around 1807 or 1808, Northup was a farmer and a violinist. Grave misfortune befell him when he was lured into the company of men who drugged and kidnaped him and sold him off as a runaway slave. Northup was sold in New Orleans and remained a slave in Louisiana for 12 years as he struggled to survive and attempted to contact his family and friends in the north.

12 Years A Slave features an amazing cast who are so superb in their performance that it’s hard to imagine anyone else come close to pulling it off. The cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt. Michael Fassbender portrays the cruel and sadistic slave master Edwin Epps. Lupita Nyong’o landed her breakout role in this film for her moving performance as the slave Patsey. Her performance in this role would earn her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Each of the supporting actors adds their amazing talents to bring depth to this film Sarah Paulson in her role as Mary Elps shows that she can be just as cold and frightening as her husband. Benedict Cumberbatch, through the character of William Ford, gives us insight into how an honest and good man (who is also a Christian preacher) deals with the culture of Southern slavery. Lastly we are introduced to Brad Pitt’s character, a Canadian carpenter/Quaker who laments the evils of slavery and eventually helps Solomon in his quest for freedom.

This film is an amazing achievement, especially in its subtleties, which include: using period specific clothing, shooting on location of historically preserved plantations, and even researching dialect and speech patterns of the time period. All of this is made even more powerful by the film’s amazing score thanks to its famed composer Hans Zimmer. The precise attention to detail shows how immersive the scale of this production was.

12 Years a Slave would go on to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screen Play, and as mentioned earlier, Best Supporting Actress. The film was also a huge success at the box office, earning nearly 188 million off a modest budget of 20 million. This is a monumental period piece and an astounding film. At times it’s quite difficult for a modern audience to comprehended how such callously horrific events could even occur in our nation’s past. It goes to show why the Civil War was imminent in the coming years, as hundreds of thousands of men would give their lives to end the scourge of slavery. This film also highlights the nearly unbreakable human spirit and our quest for justice and freedom.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note: this film is rated R for intense and violent scenes throughout, some nudity, and harsh language.

 

 

 

Moments In History: September 12th, 1683

veinna

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 12th, 1683

Battle of Vienna

Late in the afternoon of September 12th, 1683, the fate of Christendom and the future of Western civilization would be decided. To better understand the significance of this turning point in history, we must go back all the way to 1453 to the Fall of Constantinople. The Ottoman Turks had been fighting a series of wars for close to two hundred years after the conquest of Greece and the Balkans.  Large scale naval raids and piracy had long plagued the coast of the Mediterranean. The practice of slavery was so common that, through the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 2.5 million slaves were taken from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean respectfully.  The Ottomans had conquered most of the Balkans and Hungary by 1541.

Many assumed the Turks’ westward expansion seemed nearly unstoppable. In response to the Ottoman threat, various kingdoms of Christendom would unite to form holy leagues and Christian collations under the backing of the Pope that routinely managed to slow the advance or halt conquest over the decades. The Hapsburgs of Spain, funded by the conquered gold of the new world, funded the majority of campaigns from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 to the enormous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. These defeats shocked the world because beforehand the Ottomans were believed to be invincible.

With these events in mind, fast forward nearly one hundred years. In the 1600s, the Ottomans had recovered from their losses, and the Christian nations of Europe were in disarray following the Thirty Years’ War that claimed the lives of nearly 8 million people in the struggle between Protestants and Catholics.  The Ottomans had long sought to take the city of Vienna as it had been a strategic location of trade and offered numerous military potentials for future conquest into the heart of Europe. With the alarming news of the mobilization of the Ottoman army, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I began to prepare for the titanic struggle that was to come. He sent envoys requesting reinforcements to the Pope and most importantly asked that the Polish King John III Sobieski lead a relief force to the city’s aid. By August 6th, 1682, the Ottomans marched out of Constantinople with a force of nearly 170,000 men, cavalry, artillery, and siege equipment and headed straight for Vienna.

By July of 1683, the city of Vienna was under siege and by late August its 15,000 defenders were on their last legs as starvation looked imminent. The Ottoman General had taken a rather passive approach to the siege, possibly wanting to capture the city intact in hopes of vast quantities of loot and plunder that would rival the splendor of Constantinople. Ottoman sappers (infantry soldiers) had dug elaborate tunnels with the intent to blow up the city walls and lead a final assault before the relief force could arrive.

But by the afternoon of the September 12th, the vanguard of John III Sobieski’s army began to arrive and were sent into the fray. The Christian Coalition numbered around some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Germans and Poles. As the battle began to turn in favor of the Coalition, Sobieski unleashed his full might of cavalry as some 18,000 horsemen began charging down the hills towards the wavering Ottomans.  Sobieski charged at the head of his 3000 elite heavy cavalry, known as the “Winged Hussars,” who were famous for their attire of large wooden frames shaped like wings strapped to their backs and glittering with hundreds of feathers from eagles, swans, or even ostriches in order to give them a terrifying appearance.

This was the largest single cavalry charge in human history; it broke the back of the Turkish army by the evening when as many as 15,000 Ottomans lay dead. With the rest of their army routed and their entire camp looted, the battle was over.  All of Europe celebrated Sobieski as the savior of Christendom. For many historians, this is the starting point for the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, who would lose control of Hungary in the coming decade and would never again go on such a grand offensive with hopes of deeper European conquest.

If you would like to learn more about the struggles between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, the Union University Library has some amazing books dealing with this subject: