Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Breakfast Club”

The 1980s were filled with a plethora of teen dramas and coming-of-age stories.  Those living through the 80s as teenagers or young adults were generally considered Gen X and are often associated with being cliquey, cynical slackers with a sense of rebellion and a lack of adult supervision. Acclaimed writer and director John Hughes would personify these social archetypes in his hit film The Breakfast Club.

The film takes place on a Saturday in a high school’s library, where five students have been sentenced to detention for the day. Each student represents a various clique in school. First we have Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) as a typical upper-class popular girl who comes off as stuck up and cold. Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is a star athlete with a short temper. Next comes Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) who, due to his scholastic successes and social awkwardness, has been labeled a nerd.  The next character is that of Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy); Allison is considered a social pariah due to her strange and nihilistic behavior. Lastly, we are introduced to the bad boy of the group, John Bender (Judd Nelson). John is angry at everyone and everything in the world. He lives a rash and anarchistic lifestyle and challenges every social taboo.

The antagonist to this group is the Vice Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). Principal Vernon is a cruel authoritarian who cannot or refuses to understand or sympathize with the current generations of kids he oversees at the school. He is determined to prove to those unwilling to follow the rules that they will never amount to anything.

As the day progresses, the group goes from being at each other’s throats to slowly coming to realize that each of their problems at school or at home aren’t so different. They leave seeing each other as individuals and wish the world would see them that way too.

The Breakfast Club is easily one of the most identifiable films of the 1980s. It holds its place in the nostalgia of anyone who grew up during that time period and continues to inspire countless teen dramas today. In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The Breakfast Club is available at the Union University Library. Please note: it is Rated R for language.

 

Moments In History: The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist

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The vast, snow-capped country of Canada brings many iconic cultural images to mind: the giant bull moose, the rough and rowdy sport of ice hockey.  However, there is no image as iconic as the maple leaf that is represented on the nation’s flag.  The maple tree and its chief produce, maple syrup, is how this strange true story begins.

The origins of this incident lay with the creation of the FPAQ, also known as the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The FPAQ began to corner the market on maple syrup production in the 1960’s.  Using strict price control and quotas systems, they quickly became Canada’s largest maple syrup producer, generating 94% of Canada’s maple syrup and 77% of the world’s supply. Many have called it a government controlled “Cartel” akin to OPEC or Narco trafficking organizations. The corporation even set up a strategic maple syrup reserve in case of national crisis or shortage. Maple syrup exceeds the price of crude oil per barrel by about 10 times the value. Realizing the value of such a commodity, it was only a matter of time before some greedy thieves would get their hands sticky.

Over the course of several months between 2011 and 2012, Richard Vallieres along with several others broke into to the FPAQ storage facility and stole more the 122,000 barrels of maple syrup (roughly 3,000 tons worth nearly $C19 million dollars).  The gang would siphon out the syrup before refilling the barrel with water. Then they would truck the product to illegal syrup dispensers in the U.S. The gang was caught when they got so lazy as to not fill up the looted barrels with water and an on-site inspection crew started finding the barrels empty. In all, seventeen men were connected with stealing, transporting, and distributing the stolen syrup.  As the accused ringleader, Richard Vallieres was sentenced to nine years in prison and was ordered to pay back millions from his illicit gains. Adjusted for inflation, this heist still remains the largest in Canadian history.  So the next time you’ve got a plate full of flap jacks or a nice Belgian style waffle in front of you, think back to this strange and sweet historical event.
For more information about Canadian history, check out:

Canada: A Modern History

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Star Wars is as popular a franchise as it has ever been, and with the release of Solo, the franchise told an origin story of one of the most iconic characters: Han Solo. The film was directed by Ron Howard after there was an uproar by Disney executives and the film’s actors, who felt that the previous directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, had taken the wrong approach. As much as seventy percent of the film needed to be reshot as a result.

The plot of the film centers on a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) growing up on the crime-ridden world of Corellia. Han dreams of getting off-world, becoming a pilot, and making his fortune in the galaxy with his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clark).  These dreams are soon put on hold as Han is forced to join the Imperial Navy. Han dislikes war and serving the Empire, but he is soon court-marshaled for insubordination and desertion.  However, he befriends and teams up with a ferocious Wookie named Chewbacca, and the two make their escape.

Desperate and short of options, the duo join a thieving band of mercenaries led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) in order to survive.  The band of brigands are on a hunt for a powerful fuel source that can be sold illicitly on the black market. They are in debt to a powerful underworld criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who orders them to take on the impossible task of stealing the fuel and then smuggling it back through hostile territory. Han agrees because he sees it as a way of redeeming himself to Qi’ra and wining back her affection.

What follows next is an exciting, fast-paced heist that tests the courage and morals of the band as Han begins to become the scoundrel who fans are more familiar with. By the end of the film, Han has to walk a fine line between doing what’s right and surviving in this morally gray, dog-eat-dog galaxy.

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics and fans alike. It can be difficult to appease everyone while not upsetting the established nostalgia of a character already played so well by Harrison Ford. Due to the reshoots and rewrites, Disney felt it underperformed with an over-blown budget and only breaking even at the box office. I, however, was pleasantly surprised by the film. I’m definitely a fan of the franchise’s off-shoots like Rogue One and The Mandalorian.

Solo is a fun film that adds depth to the ongoing legacy of the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available at the Union University Library. It is rated PG-13.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Matrix”

In 1999, the science fiction film style of cyberpunk was turned upside down with a revolutionary film that would come to define the genre for decades. This film was The Matrix, written and directed by a sibling team collectively known as the Wachowskis.  The film is set in the dystopian future of a large city where people go about mundane and dogmatic lives. We are introduced to our protagonist, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who works as a computer analyst by day and a jaded internet hacker by night with the alias of Neo. He begins to question the order of things in the world and is puzzled by the reappearance of the phrase “The Matrix” online in hacker chat rooms.

Neo agrees to meet with an infamous hacker know as Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Trinity reassures him that the answers he seeks are held by a man named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but he must be prepared for the consequences. Neo is soon caught by the authorities led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith warns Neo that Morpheus is a terrorist and the most dangerous man on the planet. Undeterred, Neo finally meets with Morpheus and his group of followers where he is giving a choice between two pills: one red and one blue. The red will answer his questions about the matrix, and the blue will make him forget and he can return to his normal life. Neo chooses the red pill, and the reality around him begins to distort. He then awakens in a nightmarish world but is soon rescued and brought aboard a hovering ship.

It is explained to Neo that his world is a simulation of the 21st century and, in reality, it’s closer to the 22nd century. Morpheus explains that, in the past, mankind went to war with an advanced form of artificial intelligence and lost the war. As a result, humans are now made to serve the machines as incubators for energy, and the Matrix was designed to give humans the appearance of a normal world to hide them from the fact that they are slaves to the machines. Morpheus and the few remaining humans unplugged from the Matrix believe that one day there will be a prophetic one who can defeat the machines and liberate humanity. Morpheus believes Neo is the one prophesied and begins training him for the conflict to come. Throughout his training, Neo questions Morpheus’s faith in him as he doesn’t feel special. But once disaster strikes, it falls to Neo and Trinity to attempt to save humanity from the machines.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy and spawn a multitude of spin-offs, graphic novels, and video games. The cinematic nature of the Matrix was ground-breaking for introducing cinema to a blend of high wire stunt chorography, Kung-Fu, and slow-motion cinematography aptly named “Bullet Time.” The themes expressed in The Matrix are as varied as they are transcending: the classic epic hero myth aspects of both Christianity and Buddhism, Platonic thought, and Utopianism.

The film review website Rotten Tomatoes still hold it at a solid 88% fresh. In 2012, it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Matrix is a detailed film that will continue to be studied for decades. If you would like to re-watch this masterpiece or watch it for the very first time, I encourage you to do so.  The Matrix is available at the Union University Library.  Please note it is rated R for violence and some language.

 

Book Review: “Bad Days In History” by Michael Farquhar

bad days in history

To kick off the start of a new semester and to put a little bit of a spin on my Moments in History blog series, I have found an interesting book that chronicles random events that occurred on each day of the year: Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year by Michael Farquhar. The events include various political disasters, military blunders, international scandals, and general accounts of bad luck.

One example is on November 2nd, 1932: The Great Emu War in Australia began, which pitted a company of soldiers against 20,000 emus that were destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. Another grisly incident is how on January 15th, 1919, two million gallons of molasses exploded in a storage tank in Boston, Massachusetts, sending a 15 foot wall of hot molasses rushing through the streets at 35 mph (killing 21 people and injuring another 150). The book brings up other malicious events, like how on January 27th, 1595, the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed III had his 19 brothers put to death on the day of his coronation. This practice was instituted to prevent rivalry and potential civil war in the empire.

Those are just 3 of the 365 moments in history this book has to offer. I encourage you, if are a fan of random history moments like myself, to give this book a read. I found it thoroughly entertaining, and I hope you will as well.

This book is available at the Union University Library.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released in the year 2000 by the Coen brothers.  It is a comedy/satire based on Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.  It depicts aspects of magical realism during the depression in Southern Mississippi. The musical score is a driving force that is characterized as “ole timey” Southern Folk music that sets the tone of the film.

O Brother, Where Art Thou tells of adventure, temptation, and redemption. The movie stars George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill: a fast-talking, wise-cracking everyman who is always the smartest man in the room and on a mission to be reunited with his wife and children. His two bumbling sidekicks are Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson); both are small time crooks who are manipulated by Everett for the promises of fortune. Through their haphazard adventures, they find themselves challenged by roadblocks. The trio encounter characters that are archetypes  straight out of Homer’s Odyssey.  These include: a cyclops, sirens, and a character akin to Poseidon or Satan. Throughout these misadventures, the trio experiences both highs and lows as divine providence (or luck) brings them to redemption.

This film earned 72 million dollars with only a 26 million dollar budget. The soundtrack won a Grammy for album of the year; it borrows heavily from both Primitive Baptist, African-American, Bluegrass, and Delta Blues.  The hit song, “Man of Constant Sorrow” was widely acclaimed by music critics and crossed over into multiple public venues.  It reached number 35 on U.S. County Music Billboard. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a truly timeless period piece that the entire family can enjoy, and a personal favorite of mine!

*It is rated PG 13 due to some mild language and suggestive scenes.  It is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Mississippi Grind”

Games of luck and chance are often followed by loss and regret, but rarely the game can turn in your favor and you can win big.  Gambling and the rush of action can be as addicting as any chemical drug, and, more times than not, it leaves sorrow and misfortune in its wake. Mississippi Grind highlights these themes in a powerfully acted and stylishly atmospheric film.

It was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who would go on to also do blockbuster films like Captain Marvel. It stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as a pair of down-on-their-luck gambling addicts who team up to hit all the major casinos and private games in order to participate in a $25,000 high stakes poker game in New Orleans. Curts (Reynolds) is a drifter who dreams of winning enough money to finally settle down, but his obsession with gambling continually leaves him on the road looking for the next big thing. Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a divorced real estate agent who is deeply in debt to everyone who knows him including loan sharks. He longs to win big so he can pay off his debts and reconnect with his wife and daughter.

This film is masterfully done as the tension and high stakes contrast the moments of friendship and bonding the two characters show for each other. Although they have different philosophies, and both have very negative character flaws, they come off as sympathetic and remarkably human and relatable.

Mississippi Grind retains a 90% fresh rating on the popular internet movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

Mississippi Grind is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note: it is rated R for language and some suggestive situations.

 

Moments In History: January 17th, 1920

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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.

January 17, 1920

The Volstead Act

Also known as the National Prohibition Act, the Volstead Act went into effect to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol in the United States.  This act came into being through the acts of the Temperance Movement, a largely female-led political and religious movement that sought to rid America of the temptations and suffering of alcohol dependency. While the good intentions of the Temperance Movement may have been noble in responding to debilitating effects of alcoholism on many Americans, it was none the less naïve to think that the federal government could successfully regulate and enforce such a law.

While there was general decline in alcohol use during the Prohibition era, it was also a time marked by widespread crime, corruption, and violence. This was highlighted by the creation of organized crime syndicates that soon began dotting the major American big cities. The creation of the Italian Mafia and other crime families quickly capitalized on the control and distribution of the illicit selling of alcohol. Illegal bars known as speakeasies began to pop up in many American cities and towns. Alcohol was smuggled in from other nations like Canada, Ireland, Cuba, and Mexico. The illegal production within the United States was often done locally in southern states in the form of whiskey and moonshine.

The attempts to enforce Prohibition led to the creation of the Bureau of Prohibition, a federalized agency that could act where local ineffective and often corrupt police agencies couldn’t or wouldn’t. The use of federal agencies to combat organized and inter-state crime would eventually evolve into the Federal Bureau of Investigations or F.B.I.

Eventually, popular opinion, as well as the states’ need for tax revenue, led to the repeal of Prohibition by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1935.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, the Union University Library has various books and media that cover this tumultuous time period:

 

 

 

 

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.

Moments In History: January 12th, 1967

pex cryo

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.

 

January 12th, 1967

The Cryogenic Freezing of James Bedford

The cryopreservation of living tissue and cells is a relatively common practice today usually reserved for stem cells, fertilized eggs, embryos, and semen. However, in rare and bizarre cases throughout history, a select few people have opted to have their entire bodies cryogenically frozen and preserved upon death. Their hope is that, if the body and brain are preserved well, perhaps far in the distant future medical science may unlock the key to immortality and possible reanimation of their frozen corpses. This practice has often been labeled as unethical pseudo-science.

However, for the right price and cost of upkeep, there are several Cryo facilities that still cater to this macabre practice. The first man to undergo this procedure was Professor James Bedford, a psychologist at the University of California. Professor Bedford died on January 12th, 1967, from kidney and lung cancer. Although the processes for human cryopreservation have adapted and evolved over time, the usual processes involve the use of liquid nitrogen. James Bedford is currently the oldest person to still be maintained cryogenically frozen in the United States.

The practice has become mostly discredited due to a better understanding of neurology and the distinction that the concept of the “mind” vs. the organic nature of the brain are vastly different from each other.  Still, some people insist that, in the future, medical breakthroughs within nanotechnology and digital quantum computing could allow us to upload and store our consciousness in some form.

If you found this article interesting, the Union University Library has a book that goes into greater detail on the subject of possible future breakthroughs in these respective technologies linked below: