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: “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. 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Saving Private Ryan”

This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a monumental military achievement that set the ground work for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. I can think of no better film that epitomizes the heroic struggle of the D-Day Normandy Invasions than Saving Private Ryan.  In 1998, director Steven Spielberg released this film to wide acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the carnage that was World War II. There have been many films that sought to establish themselves as gritty or iconic in their portrayal of the most famous American battle of the war.  Other famous war epics like The Longest Day had an all-star cast; and while it is a fantastic and ambitions film for its time, its portrayal of the horror of war is very tame.

Spielberg, while obtaining many celebrated actors, also sought to instill a sense of realism with historical accuracy paramount. Spielberg implemented skilled visual and special effects to bring the bloody beaches of Normandy to life.  Saving Private Ryan centers around Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). As a member of the Army Rangers, Miller and his men successfully fight their way ashore onto Omaha Beach. After the battle is over, the film takes a shift to the war department back home in the United States.  As casualty figures are amassed and letters sent to families to inform them of their loved one’s deaths, it is soon discovered that one particular family, the Ryan family, has lost four brothers within a few hours of each other and the fifth (private James Ryan) is missing.  The General of the War Department realizes what a public relations nightmare this could be and how it could jeopardize national morale. As orders get passed down the chain of command, it falls to Captain Miller and his small squad to locate Private Ryan and bring him home. This is made even more difficult because Ryan is a paratrooper whose unit was dropped as part of the Airborne Offensive the night before D-Day and was wildly blown off their intended objectives.

Along the way, Miller’s squad continues to suffer casualties and lose close friends. They begin to question why locating Ryan is worth risking all their lives. As the film draws to its climax they succeed in finding Ryan, who stubbornly refuses to abandon his friends who were ordered to hold a bridge at all cost. The group decides to aid Ryan and his fellow paratroopers hold off the German attack aimed at the bridge. The climax of the film is extremely tense and humbling as the soldiers fight against impossible odds.

This is an immensely powerful film; it shows the true horrors of war. The cost of young men who are fathers, brothers, and sons is utterly heartbreaking. The humanity and camaraderie shared between soldiers is so clearly brought to life by Spielberg’s film. Saving Private Ryan was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Director. It would go on to gross 480 million dollars. It is wildly considered one of the greatest World War II films of all time. In 2014 it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Saving Private Ryan is available at the Union University Library.

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

 

WWII Display

A WWII display, courtesy of the Union University Archives, is located on the third floor of the library.

The special photographs, documents, and artifacts will be on display until later this month. Take the time to learn more about our nation’s history and our veterans by visiting the library.