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.

 

 

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:

 

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: “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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Insomnia”

Insomnia by director Christopher Nolan is a hidden gem and one of his lesser known works. While Nolan is mostly known for his epic action pieces like The Dark Knight franchise or his sci-fi themed dramas like Inception, Insomnia is a modern take on noir, mystery crime thrillers. The film features a star studded cast that includes Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank.

The plot centers around Will Dormer, a veteran detective with a troubled past who agrees to help out an old friend with a case in a remote Alaskan town. There he finds that a young girl has been murdered, and it is up to him to find the girl’s killer. While attempting to track down the culprit, he soon finds that the tables have turned, as the killer has learned of a terrible mistake that Detective Dormer is responsible for. The killer uses this information as leverage and blackmails the troubled detective into helping him attempt to clear his name from growing police suspicion.

Detective Dormer struggles with the guilt of his crime and his sense of duty in bringing the killer to justice. The tension of the film builds due to the location and time of year: in Alaska during the summer months, it remains bright and sunny even at night. Along the way, a young local detective named Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) who idolizes Dormer begins to suspect that things are not what they seem with the veteran officer. The film ends with a long anticipated showdown between Dormer and the killer, culminating into a dramatic confrontation.

This film tends to fly under most people’s radar and is usually eclipsed by Christopher Nolan’s more famous works, but I find it quite thought provoking and the acting is spot on. The intensity and depth of the characters is remarkably both genuine and realistic.  The film still stands at a solid 92% on the website Rotten Tomatoes.

Insomnia is a great addition to Mr. Nolan’s filmography; it’s an engaging thriller and not your average murder mystery. It is available at the Union University Library and rated R for violence and language.

Moments In History: September 5th-6th, 1972

German Olympics

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 5th-6th, 1972

Black September & The Munich Massacre

 

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics Games in Munich Germany, an event would take place that would shock the world and create a flash bulb moment in history. These moments are a type of collective memory that large portions of the population share, as each individual can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned about the given event. Examples of this include The Moon Landing, JFK’s assassination, and (in my own life time) 9/11. These events are becoming much more common as information is being spread at a faster rate through the use of the Internet and 24/7 news coverage.

On September 5th, 1972, eight members of a terrorist group infiltrated the Olympic housing compounds of the Israeli Olympic Team.  They were members of Black September, a group affiliated and connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization or PLO. The terrorists were armed with AK-47’s, pistols, and grenades, and in the ensuing chaos of entering the dormitories, several athletes were injured and two killed while they bravely attempted to fight off and barricade themselves from their attackers. Eventually, the remaining 9 athletes were subdued.

By morning, nearly a billion people around the world were watching the tense standoff unfold on television. The terrorists demanded the release of some 234 Palestinians prisoners as well as a few other secular non-Islamic groups. The official Israeli position at the time was no negotiation with terrorists at any cost, due to the fear that such concessions would only lead to more hostages and threats against Jews.

The German government dragged out negotiations as long as they could. They quickly devised a plan to raid the building and attempt to rescue the hostages. As they were moments away from making entry, the terrorists appeared on the patio, threatening to kill two Israeli hostages.  Their entire plan was ruined because there were dozens of news agencies on site reporting on what the police were doing, and the terrorists were inside watching it all unfold live on television.

The government finally agreed to charter a plan and have the entire group flown to Cairo, Egypt, where negotiations could continue. This was a ploy to plan an ambush at the airport. The terrorists were driven to waiting helicopters and then to an airport where a jet was waiting. The jet was supposed to have police on board dressed as flight crew, but through a series of poor communication and lack of centralized command, the German police abandoned this plan and all that were there to rescue the hostages were five police acting as snipers hundreds of meters away. They had no radios nor did they have night vision or scopes on their rifles.

What happened next was a disaster. The terrorists soon discovered that the jet was empty of pilots and crew, and the police sharpshooters soon began to open fire. In the resulting two-hour gun battle, 5 of the 8 hostage takers were killed along with 1 German police officer. However, the worst was still to come.

The situation was so chaotic that a German government spokesman issued a statement that the operation had been a success and all hostages were saved. Only a few hours later did the truth come out when Jim McKay, a sports journalist covering the Olympic events, received the fateful news:

We just got the final word . . . you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were 11 hostages. 2 were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, 9 were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.

It turned out that, during the ensuing gun battle, the Israeli athletes were killed. The aftermath of this horrific event caused ripples across the world for the German government; it showed they were woefully unprepared for violent hostage style crises that were becoming increasingly prevalent all over the world. Each major nation took note of this event and began to develop units of highly trained police and counter-terrorist specialist to deal with such events.

Back in Israel, the nation was in mourning and many of its people furious as the Olympics continued after only of 34 hours of postponement. Israel would go on to bomb numerous training camps belonging to the PLO in Lebanon and Syria. What they are most famous for was Operation Wrath of God, in which they would send out covert agents of Mossad and attempt to assassinate the masterminds and financiers of Black September and high ranking members of the PLO. For over a decade, they would track down targets all over the world and assassinate them.

This moment in history is often considered the starting point of when the world was first introduced to terror threats, hostage taking, and mass killing that has now become all too familiar.

Here are some great resources at the library if you wish to learn more about this topic:

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Pan’s Labyrinth”

pans

 

Pan’s Labyrinth is from the visionary and imaginative mind of writer and director Guillermo del Toro. This dark fantasy film is widely considered a masterpiece in bringing magical realism to the big screen.  Magical realism is loosely defined as adding fantastical or mythical elements into a story’s narrative when its setting is otherwise highly realistic fiction. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in Francoist Spain in 1944. This was a dark and oppressive time period for common people living under fascism. The realistic setting is in contrast to the magic and wonder our protagonist experiences.

Ofeilia, played by Ivana Baquero, is an eleven-year-old girl who is traveling to the Spanish countryside with her mother Carmen (Airadna Gil) who is with child. They are going to live with Ofeilia’s stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Captain Vidal is a vile and cruel man dedicated to the fascist cause of exterminating any resistance to the Spanish regime.

One night, Ofeilia discovers a fairy that leads her through an underground labyrinth, where she meets a mysterious goat-like forest creature called a Faun. He reveals to her that she may be a long lost princess of the underworld, but to return and be with her real family, she must go on a magical quest to prove her worth.  The quest is fraught with danger as she sneaks out of her house each night to complete the tasks, each one becoming stranger and more perilous than the next.

Pan’s Labyrinth is best described as a fairy tale for adults, as some of the scenes and real world problems are too intense for young children. The film itself is in Spanish, but the subtitles are done quite well and English speakers won’t feel as if they’re having to try and keep up. Pan’s Labyrinth was highly regarded by many to be one of the best films of 2006 and still holds a score on the website Rotten tomatoes of 95% with its critic’s consensus stating:  “Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable.” The film would go on to win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup.

Pan’s Labyrinth is available at the Union University Library.

* This film is rated R for some graphic violence and some language.*

 

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: