Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Argo”

In light of the recent escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran, I feel it’s a good time to recommend an excellent film that helps trace the history of the long-brewing conflict between these two nations.

Argo is a film that was directed, produced, and starred by Ben Affleck. The film details the Iranian revolution of 1979, during which the Shah of Iran, who was despotic and pro-western, was removed from power by Islamic fundamentalists. In the process, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S embassy in Tehran and took sixty Americans hostage. However, unbeknownst to the Iranians, six embassy staffers escaped and were hidden away in the Canadian ambassador’s home.

Back in the United States, it falls to CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to find a way to infiltrate the country and then escape with the six embassy staffers. In one of the more audacious and bizarre moments in history, a plan is conceived to make cover I.D.’s for the staffers and portray them as a film crew scouting locations in Iran for a sci-fi fantasy film akin to Star Wars. To do so, Tony must travel to Hollywood and find a producer and film studio to make it appear that they are in pre-production of the film without letting in on the fact that it’s a total fake. Once in Iran, it’s a race against time as the Iranian revolutionaries attempt to track down the missing staffers while Tony works to smuggle them out of the country.

Argo is a fantastic suspense-filled caper and was widely praised by critics. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

Argo is available at the Union University Library. It is rated  PG-13 for some violence and mild profanity.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Zootopia”

Disney has long used animals to entertain us, but they also insert a subtle message or morals into their stories. Most of the time, it’s a simple message of being brave or learning that you have inner value and that your dreams can come true. Occasionally, the story can take on a deeper meaning that both children and adults can relate to and value. Zootopia is one of those films.

It is the story of a world where anthropomorphic animals evolved over time to where predators and prey now live in peace and harmony with each other. The animals in this world have jobs, just like regular people, but they’re more catered to their habitat and size. The animals in this world usually stick to their natural inclinations or temperaments most associated with the various species. This is not always the case, however, as we meet our protagonist: a rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin. Judy dreams of leaving her small town and becoming a cop and serving her fellow animals in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia. She is consistently regarded as inferior due to her size and species. Most police in this world are physically larger and brutish animals like lions, bears, and wolves. Judy, however, wishes to make her mark and earn the respect of her fellow officers.

Judy soon stumbles upon a sly fox named Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman. Nick is a professional con artist who has become disillusioned with his original hopes and dreams and has let himself become exactly what other animals always accused his nature of being. The two become unlikely partners and eventually friends due to a mysterious plot involving disappearing predatory animals and a more insidious agenda that could lead to chaos in Zootopia unless they can stop it.

This film tackles issues involving prejudice, bullying, and bigotry. It handles these issues in a very easy to understand way, becoming even tongue-in-cheek at times.  The lesson is simple and well-timed given our current social climate; Zootopia teaches that you should never prejudge someone based on their immutable characteristics, let alone an entire group.

Zootopia was extremely well received among audiences. It grossed over one billion dollars worldwide, making it one of the highest grossing animated films of all time. It also went on to receive an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Zootopia is a witty, PG-rated film for the whole family, and it is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Book Review: “Hitler’s Collaborators” by Philip Morgan

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In one of the darkest periods of European history, much of the European continent was under the direct control of the Nazi regime. Following its conquest and subjugation of nearly the whole of Europe, the Nazis sought to establish administrative rule over their vast territories. The problem facing them was that they did not have the man power or resources to effectively administer and police these newly conquered countries. The political leaders of the occupied countries also sought to adapt to their new circumstances. While a small percentage of the populations joined secret resistance groups, an equal part of the population turned to actively supporting their Nazi occupiers and acting as collaborators. The library’s new book, Hitler’s Collaborators, explains this part of history.

The collaborators joined with the Nazis for a variety of reasons; most just wanted some version of a say in their country’s future while under occupation. Others started puppet governments and actively sought to establish their own version of the Nazi party to curry favor with the Germans. In doing so, they gained a semblance of independent control over some areas of their countries. This freedom from direct German control came at an often terrible and unpopular price. Most, if not all, economic output was to be used to aid the German war machine. This would also mean that hundreds of thousands of men would be shipped to areas where they would be used as free labor for the Nazis. The worst to come were the collaborators who chose to aid the Nazis in turning over their own Jewish citizens in an attempt to appease the Gestapo.

In nearly every occupied nation, the Nazis were able to find thousands of volunteers to join the Waffen S.S. in its crusades to exterminate Jewish people and end Soviet Bolshevism. Many of these ardent volunteers were some of the last remaining soldiers defending Berlin in the final days of the war, as they knew they would be put on trial or executed as traitors to their own countries following the defeat of Germany. The day of reckoning for the collaborators would come at the end of the war, in which thousands were put on trial for aiding the Nazis. Many received prison sentences, and others had their citizenship stripped away. The guiltiest parties were tried for treason and executed.

Hitler’s Collaborators documents in stunning detail the motivations and degrees to which various collaborators sought to empower and/or retain some form of control over their countries while in service to the Nazi regime.  This book will be immensely useful for anyone interested in learning what life was like in Nazi-occupied Europe.

This book is available at the Union University Library in our New Books section.

*written by Matthew Beyer

Moments In History: November 22nd, 1963

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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.

 

November 22nd, 1963

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

On a bright and sunny day at 12:30PM in Dallas, Texas, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was making his way through the city as a campaign stop and to solve minor disputes within the Democratic party. Along with him was his wife, Jacqueline, and Texas governor John Connally.  As his presidential limo and motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, the unthinkable happened: a series of shots rang out in rapid succession. The crowds panicked and screamed. Onlookers cried out to their horror that the president had been shot. In truth, three separate shots had been fired, two of them striking President Kennedy and one striking and wounding Governor Connally.

Dallas police and Secret Service agents tried to make sense of the situation, rushing up a grassy knoll hill where the shots had possibly come from. The scene was utter chaos, made more difficult by the crowds giving contradictory statements. The nature of the city made it to where the echo of the shots could have originated from several places. One witness stated that he had seen a man leaning out of the sixth-floor window of the Texas schoolbook depository. Upon later investigation, a rifle was found hidden away with three spent shell casings nearby. Nearly all the employees were accounted for except for one: Lee Harvey Oswald. Less than an hour and a half later, Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D Tibbits, who was shot and killed by Oswald after confronting him in the street three miles away from Dealey Plaza.

The country was in a state of shock. Many sat glued to their televisions and radios, listening to the tragic details as they learned that President Kennedy had succumbed to his wounds. Many feared this was a targeted assassination by the Soviets and that even nuclear war could be imminent. By 2:38PM, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was quickly sworn into office on Air Force One; the moment was captured in an iconic photo with Johnson next to Jacqueline Kennedy still wearing her blood-stained clothes. What no one knew at the time is that the assassination was caught on film by a local, Abraham Zapruder, on a small 8mm film.

This incident shook the United States to its core; many feared conspiracy and the aftermath led many to believe this could be the case. Two days after the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to a different jail when he in turn was shot and killed by a local bar owner, Jack Ruby. This development would eventually have to be settled by a federal commission called the warren commission, who looked into the motives and attempted to piece together these chaotic events to determine blame and how this could have transpired.

Today, most historians agree that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in taking the life of President John F. Kennedy. In all American history, this singular event continues to be studied and debated to this day.

If you would like to know more the about this topic, the Union University Library has a vast number of resources from books to documentaries on this subject. Here are some links below:

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short novel by famed author Stephen King. It was adapted for film by writer and director Frank Darabont. The story is set in Maine in the late 1940’s, where a mild mannered banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), is convicted of the double murder of his wife and her lover. He is given a life sentence and is set to serve it at Shawshank State Prison.

Once Andy arrives at prison, we are introduced to Ellis Boyd Redding or “Red” played by Morgan Freeman. Red is a popular prisoner for his ability to smuggle in contraband for other prisoners. Andy and Red soon strike up a friendship after Andy uses Red’s smuggling services. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) soon singles out Andy for his intellectual abilities concerning finance and enlists him in some accountant work in the warden’s shady business dealings. As the years pass, Andy attempts to retain his humanity by refurbishing the prison library and clings to his stoic nature in spite of the harsh conditions and having to participate in Norton’s corrupt business dealings. Andy and Red are conflicted about the nature of their situation as Andy retains hope of living beyond the walls of the prison; whereas Red fears he would not make it on the outside as prison is all he knows. As events later take a turn for the worst, Andy begins to lose hope and is forced to make a fateful choice.

This film highlights the horrors of an unjust prison system. It does this by humanizing most of the prisoners as normal, rational people who have made mistakes in life and are now faced with living in oppressive conditions as a result. The film features many elements that hearken to religious interpretations of key moments in the film, from a falsely pious warden to Andy’s reoccurring attempts to bring the feeling of freedom to the prisoners if only for a moment.

While this movie did not earn much gross revenue at the box office, it was an outstanding success among critics and the public later on. It would be nominated for seven Academy Awards. It was eventually selected for the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for it being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Shawshank Redemption remains to this day on the popular website IMDB as rated #1 on its top 250 films of all time. This film has such a powerful impact on anyone who watches it.

The Shawshank Redemption is available at the Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for violence and harsh language.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “We Were Soldiers”

Director Randall Wallace has written, produced, and adapted many moving stories into outstanding motion pictures, such as Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, and classics like Secretariat. In 2002, he brought to life the harrowing true story of how on November 14th, 1965, the brave men of the U.S. 7th Cavalry found themselves in the first major battle of the Vietnam War.

We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson as Lt. Colonel Hal Moor, who has recently been chosen to command the U.S. 7th Cavalry.  Knowing that war is likely imminent in Vietnam, Moor must train his soldiers in the use of helicopters as a way of getting them into to battle. Moor quickly bonds with his enlisted men and earns the respect of his officers. Secretly he fears the ominous legacy that the 7th Cavalry has incurred ever since it was nearly wiped out in the past at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When tensions escalate, the 7th Calvary is called to Vietnam. Unsure of where the enemy is, Moor’s orders are simply to find the enemy and destroy them. The eventual battle would come at the Ia Drang valley.

The North Vietnamese Army had been wanting to lure U.S troops into a trap, and as fate would have it, this proved to be a perfect opportunity. After Moor and the first detachment arrive, they soon learn they are severely outnumbered and are being pinned down by large numbers of NVA troops. The men of the 7th Calvary are cut off and surrounded on all sides, and they risk being annihilated like at Little Bighorn. Over the next four days, Moor and his men fight for survival day and night against frightful odds.

The film also cuts to the home front where Moor’s wife Julia (Madeleine Stowe) decides to help look after the soldier’s wives back on the base once they start receiving news of some of their husband’s deaths. We lastly see the story through the eyes of a young combat reporter, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), who documents the sacrifices of the young soldiers. Joe Galloway would later go on to author the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” detailing the accounts of the battle Ia Drang Valley. Victory in the battle finally comes for the Americans but at a terrible cost, and it becomes clear that, as a result, the war in Vietnam will only escalate in its scale and ferocity.

So many movies on the Vietnam war attempt to shock and dehumanize both sides of the conflict; this film stands out because it shows the bravery and humanity of both the Vietnamese and Americans who died fighting.

We Were Soldiers is available at the Union University Library. Please note it is Rated R for intense scenes of warfare.  We are also happy to provide you with the book that this film is based on and adapted from.

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: November 10th, 1929

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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.

 

November 10th, 1929

All Quiet On The Western Front

This Sunday marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of the great novel All Quiet on The Western Front. Written by Erich Maria Remarque, this novel is based in part on his own experience serving in the German army during World War I. The novel details the tragic experiences of common German soldiers, who are mostly reluctant to fight and quickly disillusioned by the horrors of the Great War. The main character acts as if he is merely a shell of his former self as he goes on day after day in the misery of trench warfare. When his comrades and friends are killed or wounded, it is not a glorious or chivalrous affair but horrific and matter of fact, as if it was bad luck.

All Quiet On the Western Front goes on to show that soldiers returning home on leave or after the war become a lost generation who has seen too much suffering and death. They feel as if they can never fully be themselves again and feel alienated to those back home.

This novel was a landmark success upon publication; it received great acclaim worldwide selling nearly 2.5 million copies. It was translated into 22 languages in a little over its first year in print. Unfortunately, due to its success at portraying the truly horrific nature of the war and its portrayal of the German army, it was deemed offensive to the German State and was one of the first books to be publicly burned in mass when the Nazis began to seize power. The novel was hailed by pacifists around the world as an important testament to the senselessness of war. It would go on to be adapted into a film in 1930, winning the first Oscar for Best Picture for a film that didn’t have a musical number accompanying it.

The film would eventually have a 1979 remake that was also highly praised. There are even plans for yet another updated remake in the works. This is an important piece of literature and film that was among the first to attempt to explain the true gruesomeness of war and the now understood post-traumatic-stress disorder that affects so many soldiers who have seen the devastating effects of war.

If this topic interests you, and you would like to learn more, the Union University Library has this novel and film available in the links below:

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Darkest Hour”

2017 was a big year for historical, period piece movies as the much anticipated film Darkest Hour was released. It follows the turbulent time at the beginning stages of World War II during Nazi Germany’s swift advance and conquest of much of Europe. Britain was left relatively isolated and with the decision to either make peace or continue to resist alone.

The film focuses on the newly elected prime minister, Winston Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman), as he attempts to convince the British Parliament to not sue for peace in spite of their current position in the war. We are shown the personal struggles Churchill goes through with his relationship with his wife and the heavy weight the war takes on his conscience as there was a very real threat of invasion and subjugation. As the film progresses, we are introduced to Elizabeth Layton (Lily Jordan) as Churchill’s new personal secretary who has the task of shadowing the prime minister and typing up the various letters to his allies in Parliament and his replies to various world leaders.

As the war rages on, Churchill continues to attempt to inspire the British public to courageously resist. His opponents in Parliament seek to oust him from power and elect a different Prime Minister to begin peace talks with Hitler. It soon becomes clear that, unless a miracle happens, the entire British expeditionary force in France will be destroyed as they are trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. To the surprise of all the troops trapped at Dunkirk, they are rescued by the British Navy and thousands of volunteer flotillas. As this happens Churchill gives his famous speech “We shall fight on the beaches,” which goes on to rally Parliament in his favor and unite the British public.

Darkest Hour is a perfect companion to Christopher Nolan landmark film Dunkirk. Gary Oldman has always been one of my all-time favorite actors, and in this role he truly shines and transitions flawlessly into the elder British statesmen. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill carries the film the entire way through.

Gary Oldman won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for this role. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and won an additional award for Best Hair and Makeup for the transition of Gary Oldman into the role of Winston Churchill.

Darkest Hour is available at the Union University Library; it is rated PG-13 for some mild language.

Moments In History: October 30th, 1961

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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.

 

October 30th, 1961

The “Tsar Bomba”

At 11:32 in the morning on frozen island of Novya Zemlya, the world’s largest explosive device ever tested was detonated by the Soviet Union. It was dubbed the “Tsar Bomba.” The goal was to create a bomb that would help tip the tide in the nuclear arms race with the United States. The bomb itself was truly gargantuan, weighing in at 27 metric tons and 26 feet long. It was too large to be on a missile, and any plane attempting to carry it would have to be heavily modified.

The estimates on the yield of the blast was anywhere from 50 to 150 megatons. The blast itself would eventually be measured at 57 megatons; the equivalent of the blast would be 57million tons of TNT. That makes this bomb 1500 times more powerful than the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The crew for this fateful mission were told to expect only a 50% chance of survival, as they needed to release the bomb and then fly 28 miles to get away safely from the blast radius.

The bomb exploded about 4000m near the targeted zone, and the resulting fireball was an astounding 5 miles in diameter and could be seen up to 600 miles away. The characteristic mushroom cloud rose 47 miles into the air. The results were truly terrifying; everything within 34 miles of ground zero was completely annihilated. The destructive heat from the blast could have caused third degree burns for up to 62 miles away. Windows were recorded shattering in one village nearly 560 miles away from the test site. The pilots of the bomber made it safely away but were still rocked by the tremendous shock wave that caused them to temporarily lose control of their aircraft. The shock wave was recorded by seismologists on its third consecutive pass around the earth.

The only positive result of this bomb’s nightmarish scale was the fact that only two were ever built, with this one being used for testing. The U.S and the Soviet Union realized the futility of ever carrying out such nuclear strikes on each other: it would ensure the destruction of both countries, if not the world as a whole.

Would you like to learn more about the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and how each country sought to compete in the nuclear arms race? The Union University Library has excellent books and media on the subject in the links below:

 

 

Moments In History: October 25th, 1415

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*painting by Enguerrand de Monstrelet

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 25th, 1415

The Battle of Agincourt

 

The conflict that would come to be known as the Hundred Years’ War had been raging for seventy-eight years up to this fateful day in late October. It began as a dynastic dispute of who would inherit the kingdom of France when its king Charles IV died leaving no male heirs. While the last three French kings had six daughters, the French nobility ruled out allowing women to inherit their husband’s title and lands. The King of England, Edward III, was the son of Isabella of France and grandson of the former French King Philip IV. The French aristocracy did not want an English monarch to sit on the throne of France, so they chose a distant cousin further down the line and elected Philip VI as King. Things were for the moment settled; however, there were still proxy wars and the seizure of English-held Duchy of Aquitaine in 1337.

Fast forward nearly eight decades later and the war began to reach its fever pitch, with the only pauses due to the horrific nature of the Black Death having ravaged France and England in the middle of this struggle. A new, vibrant English King Henry V had invaded France with the hopes of either wining the crown or restoring previously held Aquitaine. After landing in France and taking the port town of Harfleur, the English army found itself racked by sickness during the siege (predominately dysentery). Losing several thousand men prompted Henry to attempt to return to the English held port of Calais; however, the French had gotten ahead of him, cutting off his escape path to the channel.

On October 24th both armies made preparations for battle. For the English, the situation was grim weeks of marching nearly 300 miles. Disease had taken its toll on the army, leaving barely 8,000 men to fight. The overwhelming majority of the men left were English longbow men with a small contingent of dismounted knights and men-at-arms and no cavalry. Arrayed against them was the flower of French Nobility: anywhere from 15-20 thousand men many of whom were knights on horseback. The French were confident that they would simply ride down and smash the English in one thunderous charge. The site of the battle was chosen by King Henry, as it provided a narrow gap of pastureland surrounded by thick forest and marshes that would prevent the French from bringing their full numbers to bear and outflank the smaller English force. The English pounded large sharp wooden stakes in front of their archers to act as a hedgehog of spears to counter the French heavy cavalry.

This next moment would become immortalized a century later by William Shakespeare in his play Henry V. The English King gave an arousing speech and sought to inspire his men, raising their morale for the daunting task that awaited them:

From this day to the ending of the world,
we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.

The French nobles, confident of victory and fearing the battle would be over before they got a chance to claim their share of spoils, foolishly began a general advance and charged at the front of their men across the muddy fields. The English then began to shower thousands of arrows down upon the advancing French cavalry. The hail of arrows pierced the horses and any gap or opening in the knights’ armor. Those few French knights that made it to the English line ran straight into the prepared stakes and spikes as well as waiting English Infantry armed with pikes and polearms, all the while longbow men shot arrows at near point-blank range. Nevertheless, the French infantry, unaware of their comrades’ plight, advanced headlong down the field attempting to break the English line. They were hampered by the sodden ground already torn up by the rush of the French cavalry, which slowed their charge to a trot. Hemmed in by the narrow muddy terrain and unable to retreat or properly advance under the constant rain of arrows. The French found themselves stuck among their wounded countrymen and the corpses of the dead and dying horses. After close to three hours of intense and brutal combat in which Henry V was nearly killed in the fighting, the French army collapsed and fell back towards their camp.

The English were seemingly victorious; still, it looked as though the French were regrouping for another assault. As a result of this, the English had a terrible decision to make. They had taken thousands of French knights and men-at-arms prisoner in the hours of fighting. The code of chivalry demanded that men of aristocratic birth be awarded the privilege of ransom back to their families. Henry soon discovered that the number of prisoners taken nearly exceeded his own men.  In a panic Henry made the decision to execute all but the most valuable prisoners, an act that would taint and haunt his reign for all his days to come. At the end of the day, close to 8,000 French lay dead or were subsequently executed for the cost of a few hundred Englishmen. This proved to be one of the most disproportionate victories in all medieval warfare. As much as 40% of the French Nobility were killed off in a single battle. Many agree this was the turning point in which the age of chivalry began to die.

If this topic interests you, and you would like to learn more on this fascinating event in history, the Union University Library is happy to provide you with the resources to do just that with links down below: