Martin Scorsese is a director of many talents. He is best known for the crime films set in the New York of his youth, but he has tackled other themes: a harrowing medical drama in Bringing Out the Dead, a sports drama in Raging Bull, a psychological thriller in Shutter Island, and, of all things, a children’s adventure in Hugo (review here).
This review discusses another non-stereotypical Scorsese venture: his biopic of inventor Howard Hughes, entitled The Aviator.
The Aviator may not be an easy watch. It borders on three hours of runtime. As such, it is something of a marathon through the life of Hughes, a man who very much deserved a biopic. (See The Aviator: The Life and Legend of Howard Hughes) He was an eccentric and troubled genius, one who was all too prone to self-destruction. He was a movie pioneer and an aviation pioneer, and the film shrinks on neither aspect of him.
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For decades, science fiction has dreamed of stepping through portals and entering new worlds. It were these sort of fantasies that birthed the modern alternate-history genre. To this day, stories are told with this device, such as Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series and Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World.
Here, I will discuss a modern example of this subgenre: Nightfall, the first book in Andrew J. Harvey’s Clemhorn series.
The book follows various members of the Clemhorn family in high places of the Cross-Temporal Empire, a polity which rules multiple alternate incarnations of Earth. Each of these worlds is run by a bureaucratic hierarchy, which meet in the central imperial government. The Clemhorns are aristocrats, related to leaders of this empire. Through their eyes, they experience a massive upheaval in the empire, with threats from within and without.
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We think of the most heinous crimes in human history as having being perpetrated by beings other than humans. We call them animals or beasts or a variety of other dehumanizing names to forget that we have a commonality with murderers.
With no other group has this canard been wheeled out more often than the Nazis. It’s almost unfathomable that something so monstrous as the Holocaust could be planned and carried out by people like us.
Countering such a misguided notion is the goal of Conspiracy, a 2011 coproduction between HBO and the BBC, written by Loring Mandel and directed by Frank Pierson. The cast boasts the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. It dramatizes the Wannsee Conference, a meeting held in an elegant mansion overlooking a lake outside Berlin in January 1942.
The agenda of the meeting was how to annihilate the Jews.
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An Internet friend of mine likes to say that the best war movies are essentially horror movies. They thrust you into a living nightmare, one where worms and locusts feast on the shredded cadavers of former comrades. As General Sherman said, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.”
It is no wonder then that horror movies will use the setting of such mass slaughters for their supernatural thrills. Recent examples include Overlord and Ghosts of War, both of which I have reviewed here. Leo Scherman’s 2017 film Trench 11 is another entry in the military horror subgenre.
Unlike the World War II setting of the two aforementioned films, Trench 11 takes place during World War I, that allegedly “great” war. It reminded me of a comment I saw on a video of Sabaton’s song Attack of the Dead Men, about the namesake event that defies belief but is true. It was about how strange the innovations of that miserable war must have seemed to the young men who were slaughtered in it; men flying, killing other men with bullets fired at speeds that render them invisible, riding in metallic machines, digging tunnels under the earth, and suffocating of toxic air. In that context, men rising from the dead does not seem that implausible.
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We in the alternate-history community have a tendency to hyperfocus on the lands on the Atlantic area. The bulk of alternate history is devoted to Europe and North America from the eighteenth century onward, to the neglect of the imperial peripheries that make up the Global South.
It is with great satisfaction, then, that I bring your attention a duology by D.G. Valdron that concerns events in South America, perhaps our genre’s most neglected continent. Axis of Andes was originally a timeline on alternatehistory.com and now consists of two books: Axis of Andes: World War Two in South America and New World War: Part Two of Axis of Andes.
I wholeheartedly agree with my Sea Lion Press colleague Gary Oswald’s review of the duology: Axis of Andes demonstrates the great accomplishments of which the online alternate-history community is capable. (I’d argue that many Sea Lion Press works demonstrate that too.) It is an impressive work, epic in scope and extremely detailed in every section about a number of different countries.
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Many of us in the Western world might think of Southeast Asia as a dense jungle where white people go to die. The French and the Americans died in Vietnam. The Dutch died in Indonesia. The British died in Malaya.
The Philippines are often overlooked. Americans may remember the islands played a role in World War II. They will speak of Corregidor (properly with a rolled “r” and a “g” pronounced like an “h” — it’s a Spanish word) and Bataan (a three-syllable word) and Leyte Gulf. What they may not remember is the war that gained Americans the Philippines, and the empire that ruled it before them.
That empire was Spain. Spaniards arrived in the archipelago four centuries before the Americans threw them out by concocting an espionage scandal out of a boiler accident. 1898, Los últimos de Filipinas, released in the English-speaking world as 1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines, is about the end of that war.
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Even as we pass eighty years since the days of Spitfires and Messerschmitts, Britain’s fight against the Nazis maintains an heroic luster. To many Britons, it was their country’s finest hour as people came together to withstand the German bomber fleets. Even many Americans like myself have had such feelings, for it is a seemingly obvious episode of pure good versus pure evil.
Here we will discuss an American take on the British legend: Stephen Hunter’s Basil’s War.
The protagonist, Basil St Florian, is compared to James Bond in one of the quotes on the cover, a comparison that is apropos. He is introduced in the bedroom of a film star of his day (I’ll let you have the pleasure of finding out who), to be called upon by his employers. Basil has a history as a troublemaker, losing job after job, post after post, until he accepts a position as agent that lets him do irresponsible things and be paid for it. He has a coolness that the more reserved Bond actors brought to the role, and one which takes Basil away from the zaniness of Roger Moore and closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (review here), if with more on-the-ground action.
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Much has been written about how much of the American South was complicit in the institution of slavery. Historian Ira Berlin wrote in Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in America (1998) that the South wasn’t just a “society with slaves”; it was a “slave society”. Chattel slavery was the institution around which life in those states revolved.
Slaves tried to break the chains that bound them. Many former slaves, and descents of slaves, fought in the Grand Army of the Republic for that reason.
There were also white Southerners who resisted. West Virginia broke from Virginia. Eastern Tennessee was in full revolt. Free State of Jones gives a third example of freed slaves and deserting white soldiers fighting together against the tyranny of Confederate rule.
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Sometimes I think it was a miracle that the American civil rights movement didn’t lead to open civil war. We remember the resistance as nonviolent, but there certainly was violence, the 1963 Birmingham Baptist Church bombing being an infamous example.
Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered for advocating nonviolence. Not all African Americans agreed with him. Malcolm X called King and his followers “hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence” in a letter to George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party, on the eve of the March on Washington.
Opposition to nonviolence was a reaction to the violence inflicted upon black Americans by police and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. One group that wasn’t afraid to take up arms was the Black Panther Party, and it is the subject of the award-winning Judas and the Black Messiah.
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More than a century removed from Versailles, where that armistice for twenty years was signed, we in the English-speaking Atlantic world tend to think of World War I as a static conflict. This is because we are mostly presented with the Western Front in fiction, where endless rows of trenches are bombarded with tear gas and brave men and foolhardy officers who go over the top are flayed by machine guns and corroded by poison gas. (Australians and New Zealanders had different experiences.) When the men are not charging and dying, they are languishing in squalor in the mud.
Not so 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, of Skyfall and Spectre fame, and released in 2019. This is a film of rapid movement and brutal battle. It is a film that will never let you forget that these men were not eating plum and apple jam, and the sergeant does not deliver the men breakfast in bed. They were the currency used to match the price of a mile.
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