This Week in History | The Pony Express


Our first modern postmen and their steeds

Founded on April 3 1860, now nearly 160 years ago, the Pony Express was a short lived business that became the stuff of legends in the wild west.

The Pony Express was founded by William Hepburn Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Bradford Waddell. These three men came up with a solution to the problem the gold rush in California and other areas of the west had caused–a lack of communication between families that lived across the country from one another. The route began in Missouri and ran over 2,000 miles to California. Before the express began letters took months to travel from the east to the west. The Pony Express cut the time it took for letters to travel down to a mere ten days. The first Pony Express ad read, “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages: $25 per week. Apply: Central Overland Pony Express Alta Building Montgomery Street”.

The route

The riders of the Pony Express were well known for their bravery and sacrifices made to get their precious cargo from one destination to the next. Even famed American author Mark Twain weighed in on the riders, calling them “swift phantoms of the desert”. Along the route, there were over 190 way stations that riders could stop at to feed and care for or switch out horses when their own become exhausted. These stations were set up every ten to twelve miles and were no small part of the business’s short-lived success.

One of the most famous riders was an individual by the name of Robert Halsam, who was more commonly known as “Pony Bob”. Pony Bob gained his fame for his bravery on one of his routes when he ran straight through the Paiute War around the age of 18 or 19. The uprisings in the area had shut down nearly all the other routes that ran through the territory.

Down in history

Unfortunately, less than a year and a half after the Pony Express began, it ended. The riders were quickly replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, which sent messages with even more speed than the riders could ever hope to keep up with. Still, due to the Pony Express’ short but impactful place in American history, it has gone down as a legend for the ages. Though many of the stories of the Pony Express are mostly myth now, it is still rooted in a real business that revolutionized how mail was delivered to people of the United States. The perils the riders of the express faced crossing the country to deliver their precious cargo cannot be forgotten.

“The King’s Choice”: More engaging than thrilling


Two of the most jam-packed days in Norwegian history

War movies. I am reasonably sure we can agree that films centering around the topic of war are rarely cheerful. They might have moments of comedic relief or a heartwarming or uplifting ending, but on the whole, an average war film will at least leave watchers with a single tear threatening to fall. With this in mind, I have not gone to see that many war movies over the years.

When I sit in a seat, potentially with some popcorn or candy, I want to laugh and be merry, not weeping openly over men and women who died because someone somewhere got on their high horse and tried to take over the world. However, if I had to watch a war movie for say, I do not know, a film review for “The Ranger News”, I would not run away screaming.

Maybe it is not so bad

As it happens, “The King’s Choice” was easier to get through than I had hoped. Set in 1940s Norway, the film takes place over the course of roughly three days, and focuses on the decision of King Haakon VII, during that time. At that point in the war, Norway was determined to remain neutral, but Germany was equally determined to overrun and occupy the country.

King Haakon and the rest of the royal family flee to a safe farm in the countryside, and thus begins the game of cat and mouse between the Norwegian government and the Germans.

No bark, massive bite

With a cast of sympathetic and engaging characters, “The King’s Choice” does a good job of capturing the attention of its audience and making them invest in the final outcome. Haakon himself is a tall, weary-looking sixty-eight-year-old who looks as though a strong wind could carry him away.

The gentle nature with which he speaks to his grandchildren and the young soldiers he comes across throughout the film is refreshing and more human than monarchs are normally portrayed as. This made it a genuine surprise when Haakon’s backbone shone through as he defended his country and all the people within it that depended on him.

The King’s Choice Awards

“The King’s Choice” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, but the only awards it formally won were from the Norwegian International Film Festival. The film was awarded with best Norwegian film, best music and sound design, best screenplay, visual effects, editing and best supporting actor.

If you missed UW Parkside’s run of “The King’s Choice,” the film is available for rent or purchase on YouTube and Amazon.

Newest “Tomb Raider” suffers pitfalls

Movie is mixed bag, yet Laura Croft is finally respected


It is no secret that video game movies are often notoriously bad. Faithfully adapting interactive entertainment into a passive viewing experience is quite the challenge, since it serves as a less engaging method of delivering a familiar story.

March 16 saw the release of “Tomb Raider” as an attempt to tackle the task and quell common criticisms of the genre. The film centers around video game icon Lara Croft, the titular Tomb Raider, as she embarks on an adventure to find her missing father on a mysterious, deserted island. The film does suffer some of the same predictable pitfalls as other adaptations, but Lara Croft’s footing is surprisingly stable this time around.

A re-imagined character

Back in 2001, Angelina Jolie portrayed the original version of Lara Croft: an oversexualized action heroine. In contrast, Alicia Vikander plays the far more serious protagonist of the rebooted Tomb Raider title of 2013 (which, by the way, is amazing), and she does it surprisingly well.

This Lara is a troubled young woman turned hardened survivalist. From her dramatic delivery to her muscular physique to her detailed expressions, Vikander commits. Lara is an instantly sympathetic character, and the dangers she faces are grueling, all thanks to the convincing performance.

Thankfully, director Roar Uthaug is the first of three filmmakers to treat the character like a human being. The camera does not oversexualize Lara Croft. This issue, commonly known as “The Male Gaze,” never burdens the film, and that is massively respectable.

The film’s shortcomings

Inevitably, “Tomb Raider” is not as good as the game upon which it is based. Over ten hours of story were crammed into two hours of footage, and it shows. The pacing takes a dip at the end of the second act. Some character motivations do not remain consistent. A few plot points could not hold up to even moderate scrutiny.

My biggest criticism of the film was of its villain–Vogel, played by Walton Goggins. Whereas I loved his performances in “Lincoln” and “The Hateful Eight”, Goggins mutes his performance here. He looks and sounds bored the entire movie, which is quite disappointing to see from such a skillful actor.

A final verdict

2018’s “Tomb Raider” is a mixed bag. Despite its flaws, the movie is undoubtedly entertaining. Not only is Alicia Vikander inspiring in the role, but the action throughout the movie is also clever, grounded and gripping.

The film is “popcorn” entertainment–pulpy action with a handful of effective character moments sprinkled throughout. Its protagonist is well-realized, and the the plot serves up a relatively robust adventure story, which is a miracle for a video game adaptation. On the movie grading scale, “Tomb Raider” gets a “B-” from me.

This Week in History | The Spanish influenza

Nurse Taking Care Of Spanish Flu Patients at Walter Reed Hospital Flu Ward (1)
A nurse taking care of Spanish flu patients at Walter Reed Hospital. COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.

The pandemic that defined a century


Flu shots—every year we are told to get them. The flu kills, they say. The flu is dangerous, they cry. Many Americans pass up the flu shot every year, believing it to be less of a big deal than the rest of the world makes it out to be. These fears that many express about the flu are not without their warrants. Many believe in our so-called modern world filled with “accessible” medicine the flu is only the killer of the old, the infirmed, children, and the impoverished. Though our technology and ways of treating the flu have indeed advanced it is still a deadly killer, and those who lived through the Spanish Influenza of 1918 know it all too well. This week is the anniversary of the first outbreak of Spanish Influenza in the United States.

Patient Zero

On Mar. 4, 1918 the symptoms of the flu were first recorded on an army base called Fort Riley. Fort Riley was being used to train hundreds of soldiers. When a company cook became ill the flu spread like wildfire. Although soldiers were not the only ones affected by the outbreak of the flu in the United States, they were the perfect victim for it. Soldiers trained strenuously for long hours and their positions were physically demanding. Soldiers were often overworked and malnourished and their immune systems suffered as a result. They were the perfect victim, and the close-quarter nature of their living arrangements guaranteed the rapid spread of the Spanish flu.

Devastating truth

The Spanish Influenza killed more people than World War I. It was seen globally and new evidence suggests that it may have been as widespread as China. The American people were devastated by this virus. The mortality rate was so high and the symptoms spread so rapidly that communities were unable to keep up with their ill. From crowded flu wards to mass graves the flu made everyday life hell. Patients reported respiratory problems and painful breathing and often died in a matter of days.


The flu killed far more than the old and unwell. It affected previously healthy adults just as badly as it did with weaker patients. Though it killed less of the global population percentage wise, the disease was more devastating than the Black Death was in terms of casualties. It gave way to tireless research and the vaccines of today, that we often write-off as unnecessary. Though the Spanish Influenza of 1918 was a tragedy it should serve as a reminder to all of us that history is worth remembering. The next time you consider skipping a flu shot remember why we have them and consider the sacrifices of countless innocent victims of the 1918 pandemic.

“Neruda”: Apparently I don’t get it

Neruda (1)
A screenshot from the film. COURTESY OF FANDAGO.COM

Probably the best film I will happily never watch again


“Neruda” has been a divisive movie since its 2016 release in Chile. Though it has all the hallmarks of a successful thrill-ride, the film also has intense drawbacks that only seasoned film connoisseurs, do not seem to mind. Stunning settings and stirring music are overpowered by flowery dialog and so few likable characters that it should be criminal.

The film revolves around two persons in particular. The first being the poet and communist politician, Pablo Neruda, who is forced to go on the run when President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla outlaws communism in Chile. Neruda is a wholly unpleasant man, who drinks too much and clearly believes himself to be not unlike a god.

The second person is a fictional police detective, Oscar Peluchonneau, that tirelessly chases after Neruda when he is forced to go into hiding. Peluchonneau would be a satisfactory character, where we to not hear his self-aggrandizing inner monologue throughout the duration of the film. Neither character is particularly likable, so by the time I got to the film’s “epic” conclusion (complete with tense orchestral backing and the slowest foot chase to ever take place in fact or fiction), I was begging for the sweet, sweet release of end credits.

To be fair, the relationship between Peluchonneau and Neruda is one of cat and mouse, and it is difficult to discern which is which at various points in the film. The two taunt and toy with each other in a manner reminiscent of Sherlock and Moriarty, even if Neruda seems to be ahead for the majority of the film.

Well, at least someone likes it

“Neruda” has received a fair amount of critical acclaim, with a seven out of ten on IMDb, and a ninety four percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also won ten of its forty nominations, most of which were for either Best Foreign Film, Best Art Director, or Best Cinematography. All valid nominations as it was a rather beautiful movie and the directing was (objectively) good, however I do not know if I would say it was the best foreign film of 2016. When compared to the other films in UW-Parkside’s foreign film series this year, it falls somewhat flat for me, and I would rank it third out of the four films I have viewed from the series. The technical merit and beauty, simply could not outweigh the pretension and unnecessary nudity of the film as a whole. Oh, did I not mention the nudity? Do not get me started. Just do not.

Maybe I don’t get it

All things thoroughly considered, I suppose I cannot actually say that I hated the film, but I must be missing something. I acknowledge my seemingly visceral reaction, and perhaps that has to do with my understanding of the larger themes, and if I were to watch it later in life, I would enjoy it. Perhaps if I were a fan of Pablo Neruda’s writing, the plot would interest me. However, I am not, and it does not. Only time will tell.

If you missed Parkside’s run, and I have not scared you off, the film is available on Netflix. Tell me why I am wrong.