Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The King’s Speech”

Director Tom Hooper has many amazing films under his belt, but my favorite by far is The King’s Speech It is a period piece drama regarding Prince Albert Duke of York (Colin Firth) who, through family scandal and circumstances of succession, ends up becoming King George VI of Great Britain.

The conflict of this film is that Bertie (as his family calls him) has a severe speech impediment and detests the formality of public speaking that goes along with his royal duties. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) believes that a speech therapist might work whereas other doctors have failed. She sets Bertie up an appointment with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The two clash frequently, but soon Bertie warms up to Lionel and his inquisitive and eccentric demeanor. They soon become trusting friends as Bertie begins to improve, and Bertie also shares with Lionel his own doubts and stories about his troubled upbringing.

The film picks up as the seriousness of royal politics sends Bertie to the throne just as world politics witness the rise of the third Reich and Hitler to power. Finally, with the onset of World War II, Bertie must overcome his stammer and fear and address the whole of the British Empire via a radio speech.

The King’s Speech is a fantastic, inspirational drama with great wit and comedic elements that make it an enduring film. It has a positive message of overcoming adversity and becoming your true self.  Audiences agreed as it raked in over $400 million internationally. Critics also marveled at the film as it received twelve Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Picture. The film retains a 95% fresh rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

The King’s Speech is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note it is Rated R for strong language.

Book Review: “Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan

machines

I read Atonement a few months ago (you can read the review here) and fell in love with how Ian McEwan writes. So when his new book about an AI man came out this year, I had to get my hands on it. Machines Like Me is about an impulsive man, Charlie, who buys an AI named Adam. Their interactions grow increasingly strange and morally compromising as they navigate dilemmas with their mutual love interest, Miranda. The setting is an alternative 1980s England.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Machines Like Me gets right:  I loved reading about the philosophy and morality behind AI versus humans, and Adam was fascinating to me from the beginning. It was hard for me not to read ahead to see what he would do next. I mean, he figures out how to make haikus! And his version of morals- well, let’s just say it doesn’t mesh well with his human companions.

There was a weird tone throughout the book- one of both curiosity and dread- that kept me interested even through some of the less exciting scenes. Everyone who Adam comes into contact with is a test- what will he say to them? Will they recognize him as an AI? And why did Charlie buy him in the first place? Machines Like Me will keep you guessing until the end. And the ending, while a little unexpected, is mostly satisfying.

What Machines Like Me does wrong: As usual, Ian McEwan’s writing is superb, and I was hooked on the premise from the beginning. However, I couldn’t help but think there was a lot of unrecognized potential. AI is such a controversial topic, but McEwan’s story sizes it down to make it seem almost pedestrian. I thought Adam could be a true villain, but I think his potential was ultimately unrealized.

Charlie and Miranda were both boring/frustrating people, so they were hard to read about at times (especially because Charlie narrates the story). Charlie makes the weirdest, most random decisions, which is entertaining but so annoying. It’s like he doesn’t think about any consequences, ever- which is dangerous to do when dealing with AI.

Who should read Machines Like Me: Readers who are interested in AI, science fiction, and history. The alternative 1980s setting would be especially fun to read about for fans of Alan Turing.

Who shouldn’t read Machines Like Me: Readers who don’t care for science fiction or don’t know much about the history of AI. This book will be a little confusing if you are not familiar with certain historical events.

 

Machines Like Me is not currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Content note: brief suggestive scenes, brief language. There is also a subplot that involves a terrible crime.

Moments In History: August 23rd, 1305

william-wallace-statue

 

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.

 

 August 23rd, 1305

Execution of William Wallace

 

Many historical figures become enshrined in the annals of history as larger than life folk-heroes. This is certainly the case when it comes to William Wallace. He is not only celebrated as a national hero of Scotland, but has become a symbol of resistance against oppression worldwide.

William Wallace was born in the year 1270 A.D. at a time when Scotland’s squabbling nobility was threatening civil war due to a session crisis which started with the death of their king (who left no heir). The English King Edward I offered to mediate the crisis but in reality invaded Scotland and turned the country into a vassal state of England through oppressive taxation and forced conscription into the English army. The Scottish peasantry were rife with grievances, and a revolt seemed imminent. What they needed was a leader who could unite the clans under a common cause: namely, driving the English out of Scotland for good.

William Wallace was just that man; he had to have been a charismatic figure and was likely born into nobility. A common misconception, thanks to Hollywood and popular fiction, was that he wore a kilt and was a Highlander. In fact, he was born in the Lowlands and wore dress that would have been nearly indistinguishable from an average English Knight. Wallace would go on to lead a revolt that would become known as the First War for Scottish independence.

Wallace had early successes and inspired his countrymen by defeating a large English army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1297.  This came as a shock to the English and Scots alike as his army did not rely on heavy cavalry. This was traditionally the deciding factor in warfare at the time as the knight on horseback was thought to be invincible by infantry of the era. Wallace was successful though his use of Scottish Schiltron’s, which basically turned an army of peasants into a hedgehog of spears to ward off horses.

Unfortunately for Wallace, his successes would not last forever. He was defeated in 1298 at the Battle of Fallkirk two years later and would go into hiding. Wallace would continue to be something of a bogeyman and a thorn in the side of the English until his betrayal and capture in 1305. He was brought to London and put on trial on the charge of treason. William Wallace boldly defended himself against this charge by saying that he had never sworn allegiance to King Richard in the first place. It was, however, a forgone conclusion that he was going to be found guilty.

Upon the guilty verdict, Wallace was executed by the gruesome method of hanging, drawing, and quartering on August 23rd, 1305. His head was set on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs sent to be displayed across parts of northeast England and Scotland as a warning, but ultimately they had the opposite effect. Eventually, Scotland was united under a contemporary of Wallace, Robert Bruce, who would go on to be crowned King of Scotland and rule it as an independent power.

A plaque now stands near his execution site and the last portion of it is inscribed in Latin and reads: “Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunqual servili sub nexu vivito fili.”  (I tell you the truth. Freedom is what is best. Sons, never live life like slaves). There is also the Gaelic “Bas Agus Buaidh” (Death or Victory).

If you would like to know more about William Wallace and the War for Scottish Independence, check out the links below:

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

atonement

 

*This post contains mild spoilers for Atonement

First things first: Atonement is a controversial book, but there can be no doubt that it is well-written. Ian McEwan gets inside the minds of his characters with a precision that is almost uncanny- how can an adult man so accurately capture the motivations of a dreamy (and judgemental) thirteen-year-old girl? Yet the story unravels in flowing prose that compels you to read more, and you believe the characters, as dysfunctional as they are.

To summarize without spoiling, Atonement is mostly about the connection between a  young man and woman and how it is dangerously misunderstood by a thirteen-year-old girl. This leads to a great injustice, tearing apart the family at the story’s center. McEwan also throws in a lot about WWII in the second half of the story and how simply trying to survive can alter one’s reality.

What Atonement gets right: the writing. To me, Ian McEwan’s style is like a mixture of F. Scott Fitzgerald (modern) and Jane Austen (Regency era). That’s hard to pull off, but Ian McEwan succeeds. His story is all about the characters and their inner workings, so the plot revolves around their reactions and decisions. Thus, the different events in Atonement make sense to the reader because we know what’s really going on with the characters (even if they don’t), giving us the satisfaction of being “in on it.”

What Atonement gets wrong: In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to read about a rape that essentially goes unpunished. The main witness to the crime (who is not credible at all) takes control of the situation, which leads to the actual victim essentially not even having to give a testimony. This is an obstruction of justice, and McEwan’s attitude toward the young girls involved is detached at best and coldhearted at worst. In fact, most of the adults in the book are extremely neglectful of the children they are supposed to be taking care of, and McEwan writes as if this is normal and expected (instead of, you know, wrong).

Who should read Atonement: I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys books about fictional crime, in-depth character analyses, WWII, nursing, literature in general, and very complicated romances.

Who shouldn’t read Atonement: People who like books where they can escape and be happy in that escape. This book isn’t light or positive.

 

Ian McEwan’s new science fiction book, Machines Like Me, is due out this year. You can find two of McEwan’s books, including Atonement, here at the library. 

 

Featured Book: “Surprised By Oxford”

surprised by oxford

 

Christians should never underestimate the power of their priesthood among nonbelievers. I was hooked, and drawn deeper into the faith, by the character of various believers and how it spoke of their God: by their humility, humor, compassion, perspective, even priorities. – Carolyn Weber

Surprised By Oxford by Carolyn Weber is a memoir that shares the author’s testimony. Weber arrives at Oxford ready to hit the books but is surprised when she instead begins wrestling with what she believes about the afterlife, the Bible, and theology in general. She also meets a fellow student who intrigues her, but she is wary of dating and Christian men in particular. What follows is a beautifully written tale of discovery, faith, friendship, and a little bit of romance.

If the title of the memoir sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Surprised By Joy, the autobiography of C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, Weber also struggled with theology before coming to accept Christ as her Savior. And also like Lewis, Weber recorded her story so that others might have hope and believe.

To learn more about Carolyn Weber and her book, you can read her interview with The Gospel Coalition. Surprised By Oxford is available at the library in our main book stacks.

 

 

Featured eBook: “The Cambridge Art Book”

cambridge art book

Are you an Anglophile? It’s okay, you can admit it. If you drink Earl Grey every morning, have the Union Jack hanging on your dorm room wall, or dream of going to grad school at Cambridge, you probably are.

For now, you can get all the British feels just by scrolling through this eBook on your iPad or laptop. The Cambridge Art Book is not your average travel guide. It’s an artistic celebration of the ancient college town “through the eyes of its artists,” as the cover proclaims. Vibrant and energetic, the artwork in this book includes everything from woodcuts of architecture to watercolors of those classic red phone booths.

Whatever style or medium of art is your favorite, you’ll find something to enjoy in this lush collection. It’s basically a local museum you can click your way through!

Search for more of our eBooks at http://guides.uu.edu/databases/ebooks.

 

*written by Danielle Chalker