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.

 

 

 

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.

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

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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.*

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Ocean’s Eleven”

In 2001, director Steven Soderbergh gave us a fantastic remake of the classic 60’s era Rat Pack film. Ocean’s Eleven features a star-studded cast of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts. The plot centers around Danny Ocean (George Clooney), a recently paroled thief who plots the unthinkable caper: robbing not one but three Las Vegas casinos.

Now your average Las Vegas casino has more money than a federal bank and more armed security and cameras than most military bases, so this isn’t a marginal undertaking. Danny decides to enlist a dream team of fellow thieves, hackers, and con-artists to pull off this impossible heist.

Too cool for school is the name of the game here: every actor is on point. They do a fantastic job in portraying a motley crew that each uses their individual talent and charisma to stay one step ahead of the casino security and the law. While the task they set out to accomplish is quite serious as the odds aren’t stacked in their favor, this film truly shines on its lighthearted and sharp-witted comedy through near misses and close calls that could spell doom for the thieving band. At this film’s heart is actually a quasi-love triangle between three characters as Danny Ocean desperately tries to win back the love of his ex-wife.

Ocean’s Eleven was a big hit at the box office, racking in $450 million dollars based off of an $85 million budget. It’s no wonder this film went on to become a three-part trilogy as well as inspire an ensemble all-female spinoff. This is a fantastic film filled with thrills and tasteful comedy that aims to please mainstream audiences. Ocean’s Eleven will leave you with the desire to see it again and again. You’ll want to catch all the subtle slights of hand in this picturesque heist

 Ocean’s Eleven is available at the Union University Library.

* This film is rated PG-13 for mild violence and some suggestive scenes.*

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Big Short”

Writer and director Adam McKay has enjoyed great success over the last two decades with various comedic films, but his talent truly shines when he takes on serious issues and biopics. He still manages to add his signature comedic take and adds a bit of levity to an otherwise depressing or frightening situation. McKay’s technique is successfully achieved with his 2015 film The Big Short.

The film’s plot centers around an extremely complex and disastrous event that the U.S. faced: the “2007 Housing Market Crash.” This event was nearly as monumental in scale as the The Great Wall Street Crash of 1929 that financially brought this country and its people to its knees. I won’t go into too much detail of how and why this economic calamity unfolded because the film does an amazing job of explaining it. At some points it even goes so far as to break the fourth wall in a truly comedic fashion, and A-list actors and celebrities speak in layman’s terms to describe the intricacies of the corporate finance and fraud.

The characters in this film are based off the real life men that caught on early that the U.S. housing market had formed a bubble due to criminal fraudulent policy and the greed of major U.S. banks, who believed that the housing market was too big to fail. The cast of men who discover these shocking truths are a collection of individuals each in it for their own goals; some wish to be whistleblowers and hold the banks account for their mismanagement, while others see an opportunity to beat the banks at their own game by betting that the housing bubble will burst and thus enrich themselves as it does.  Others still are financial experts and hedge fund managers who have become disillusioned with the system. The cast of this film does an amazing job at fleshing out each character’s motivations, mannerisms, and quirks to the point that they become both believable and relatable.

The cast of this film includes outstanding actors such as Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carrel. This film won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screen Play and went on to get nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), and Best Film Editing.  The Big Short still stands at a solid 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film has also been praised for its shocking levels of accuracy in explaining and portraying the events that transpired. The Big Short can be extremely unnerving for anyone who has an extended financial portfolio of stocks and investments.

The Big Short offers us a funny and frighting insight into how and why the 2007 housing market crash happened, and, perhaps even more terrifying, how it could happen again.

The Big Short is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note it is rated R for pervasive language throughout and some brief nudity.*

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Inception”

The topic of dreams and what our minds do or are capable of doing while we sleep utterly fascinates me. I dream regularly. In some dreams, I have super powers and can jump over buildings; in others, I am running from a reoccurring clown bent on eating me. Most dreams, however, I have little to no knowledge that I’m even dreaming: I’m at home doing a mundane task or packing for a vacation.  But it’s the moment when I realize that I’m in a dreaming a “lucid dream” that I either wake up or begin to be able to control it.

Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan brought this topic to the forefront with his film Inception. The film is set in the not too distant future in which mankind learns to access and master our minds to control our dreams and influence the minds of others who are also dreaming. Originally this was for pure scientific pursuits, but it soon becomes clear that certain individual’s minds hold valuable secrets that can be stolen by invading the dreams of high profile people. Economic trade plans or geopolitical undermining could be gained for a certain price.

Our main protagonist is a man that specializes in those very skills. Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief on the run who uses his skills of dream manipulation to steal secrets from his targets and sell them off to the highest bidder.  Reluctantly, Cobb agrees to take on a near impossible mission with the promise of clemency for his crimes and the ability to return to the U.S., where he was forced to flee and abandon his children. To help him on his mission, he recruits an ensemble group of fellow “Extractors” who include his friend Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy), a skilled conman with a knack for impersonation. Lastly they are joined by a brilliant young architect (Ellen Page) who will help them construct the dream spaces for their intended target.

The crew plan to do something very few have accomplished, a technique called inception. Inception is defined as planting an idea into someone’s mind to influence them into making or changing a decision. The target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) who recently inherited his dying father’s energy conglomerate. The group plans on traveling deep into Fischer’s mind to give him the idea that he should break up his father’s empire. Things go from bad to worse as Cobb and the others begin their heist and soon realize the dream sequence is quite unstable and openly hostile to their presence. While in the sequence, they are trapped, and there is no going back due to the complexity of the operation. They must succeed, as it’s the only way back home to reality.

This is a complex but deeply rewarding film. I had to view it at least three separate times to fully appreciate it. None of Christopher Nolan’s films can simply be described; in fact, most could have a whole film course dedicated to them.  The styles that Inception exhibits is a mix of a sci-fi, action, and suspense.

Inception was a financial success, earning $828 million of a $160 million budget. The popular website Rotten Tomatoes still rates this film 87% fresh, with an audience approval rate of 91%.  Inception would go on to win four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. This is a film made to be watched in IMAX. However, you can watch this masterpiece on a regular TV, however many times it takes to stick, and I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I do!

Inception is available at the Union University Library.

*Rated PG-13 for Violence and some language.*

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Blade Runner”

Director Ridley Scott has a long history of making epic and awe-inspiring films and Blade Runner has got to be at the top of that list. Its affect on the science fiction genre as a whole cannot be overstated. It has also heavily influenced both video games and anime for its style and futuristic prospects of what the world may evolve into in time.

The film is set in 2019 Los Angeles in a dark and dreary dystopia, where mankind has adapted to become a technocracy influenced by powerful corporations. Man has mastered interstellar flight and colonies are forming in space. The key to this success has been through the use of androids called “Replicants” who have become so life-like and self-aware that they are nearly indistinguishable from humans and as a result banned from Earth. If a Replicant manages to smuggle themselves to Earth, the police hire a “Blade Runner” to track down the android and kill it.

This brings us to our protagonist, Rick Deckard, a disillusioned former cop who was famous for his ability to eliminate Replicants. Deckard is played by Harrison Ford, who was just coming off the success of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Deckard is tasked to hunt down four Replicants who have committed several murders and illegally entered the city. They are led by Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. Batty is a combat synthetic soldier with advanced tactical training and genius levels of intelligence.

Deckard travels to meet Eldon Tyrell of the Tyrell corporation, who is responsible for creation of the Replicants. While there, he learns there is a psychological test designed to trigger an emotional response in Replicants in order to distinguish them from humans. He also meets Dr. Tyrell’s daughter, Rachael (Sean Young), and soon becomes infatuated with her.

The next phase of the plot involves Deckard hunting the Replicants down one by one while also pursuing a relationship with Rachael.  The Replicant leader Roy Batty soon learns that he and the other Replicants have a built in half-life of a little more than three years. Realizing this, he seeks to meet his maker and acquire more time to live. In the final phase of the film we see Deckard battling the Replicants in a life and death struggle.

The themes expressed in this film are as numerous as they are profound.  In the end we are left questioning the very nature of humanity as the Replicants struggle to survive. They have hopes, dreams, memories, and the fear that all self-aware beings share: the fear of death.

Actor Rutger Hauer unfortunately passed away on July 19th of this year.  During filming, Hauer rewrote his character’s final lines in the film, and they have been praised ever since as one of the most moving speeches of all time in the sci-fi genre. In memory of the late great Rutger Hauer I’ll shall share it here:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Blade Runner has left quite a mark on pop culture and cinema and I do believe we will continue to see its influence in novels and films for years to come.

Blade Runner is available at the Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for violence, brief nudity, and some language.*

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Revenant”

Writer and Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has had a steady stream of success over the years, and his much celebrated film The Revenant is proof of his amazing talent and coordination to put together such an audacious project.

Our story begins in the far north near the Canadian American border, where scout and fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of fur trappers through unsettled territory along with his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).  The party of trappers are ambushed by a large group of Native Americans. Many are killed, and the survivors are forced to flee, abandoning their fur pelts and with it their livelihood. No one is more upset by this turn of events than John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald’s character is that of a cruel and utterly selfish man who has a deep hatred of Native Americans due to being partially scalped when he was younger.

As the trappers seek to survive and evade their enemies, Glass is attacked and nearly killed by a grizzly bear. Fitzgerald urges the party to abandon Glass as the Indians are hot on their trail. Hawk refuses to leave his father, and, reluctantly, Fitzgerald and one other trapper Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) agree to stay behind for extra pay. Shortly after Fitzgerald grows impatient and attempts to “mercy kill” Glass. Hawk discovers his intentions and, in the ensuing struggle, Hawk is killed. Glass is then left for dead as Fitzgerald and Bridger return and report that Glass had died naturally.

Incredibly, Glass recovers from his wounds and starts the long trek back to the fort in search of revenge for the death of his son. He is relentlessly pursued by different Native American groups and struggles to survive the incredibly harsh frozen north. Glass finally makes it back to American territory and confronts Fitzgerald for his murderous treachery.

The Revenant is a difficult film to review because it relies heavily on its awe inspiring visuals and impressive camera angles. The fact that it was shot on location in northwest Canada in the middle of winter is a triumph alone. There are only a handful of dialogue scenes, but they only help to show the intensity of the rival characters. The physical exertion of the cast, particularly DiCaprio’s performance, is not fake: he literally is cold, wet, and in one particular scene he actually consumes the liver of a bison. It is due to this incredible commitment that DiCaprio finally one Best Actor in that year’s Academy awards.

Tom Hardy also steals the show with his amazing acting skills, as he comes off so believable in his villainous role that he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. This film also earned Iñárritu Best Director, and The Revenant would go on to earn 533 million in box office sales. The Revenant is a faithful look at what life was like in the grim and harsh expanse of early 1800’s era north America where U.S settlers and frontiersmen encounter native peoples in an often violent struggle for resources.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

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

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Mean Girls”

In the early 2000’s, teen comedies generally focused on the trials and tribulations of high school life, and Mean Girls set the standard for the genre.  This coming-of-age style film is brought together by an amazing cast of Hollywood’s leading young actresses of the time and witty writing by well-established producers and writers.  The film was produced by Lorne Michaels, the famous creator of Saturday Night Live and written by Tina Fey. This background of veteran comedic writing (with a long history of successful sketch comedy) helped to create an immensely funny and quotable film.

The film begins with our protagonist Cady Heron (Lindsey Lohan), who is returning to the United States after twelve years abroad with her parents. Cady is enrolled at North Shore High School and feels immediately like a fish out of water due to her years of homeschooling. She is quickly taken aside and befriended by Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan), a fellow outcast who describes in depth the various cliques that compete in the school for popularity.

Of all the cliques in the school, none is more sought after and notorious than “The Plastics.” This clique features the most popular girls in school; The Plastics flaunt their good looks and their posh sense of fashion while exhibiting profound narcissism. Internally, each of them is filled with insecurities, and they feed off each other in order to maintain their status. This trio of manipulators includes Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), and the leader, Regina George (Rachel McAdams). Gretchen is a pure follower who is always at Regina’s beck and call. Karen fulfills the  pretty blonde with no brain trope with her antics. Regina is the brains of the group, being the most popular girl in school and a puppet master extraordinaire. She is a crafty demagogue and can be so self-absorbed, she makes Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones look humble.

Regina and The Plastics soon take notice of Cady and quickly befriend her. Cady enjoys the new found allure of parties and popularity, and she quickly develops a crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett). Janis insists that Cady use her new position in the group to get close to Regina and steal her old diary dubbed “The Burn Book,” as it is filled with gossip and secrets about girls and teachers at the school.  Things start to heat up when Regina discovers Cady’s crush and a jealous feud begins. This causes a schism between The Plastics, and Cady becomes the new queen bee mirroring Regina’s own tyrannical behaviors. Desperate and enraged, Regina releases the contents of The Burn Book and total anarchy unfolds. Cady, seeing, what she has become and the damage done to everyone, regrets the choices she made and seeks to reconcile with those she wronged.

This is a fantastic and iconic film. The comedy is top notch and it’s also relatable to anyone who shared similar experiences in high school where you weren’t quite sure where you fit in and hadn’t really discovered your true self. Mean Girls is still such a popular movie that as of late 2017 and 2018, it was adapted by Tina Fey as a Broadway musical in New York City.

Mean Girls is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive situations. It is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Hook”

In 1991, director Steven Spielberg adapted a timeless classic into a fresh take in his film Hook. This film centers around the familiar and beloved character of Peter Pan. Hook differs from all the other variations as it takes place in a future where Peter Pan left Neverland, became an adult, and forgot his past. Peter, played by the late great Robin Williams, has raised a family and become a successful lawyer and workaholic whose behavior has begun to alienate his wife, Moira, and his two children, Jack and Maggie.

The other conflict comes when a vengeful Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) leaves Neverland and steals Peter’s children in an attempt to provoke him into returning so their feud can be settled once and for all. The problem with Peter’s character is that, having grown up in the modern world, he has completely forgotten his inner child, lacks faith in his abilities, and forgotten how to fly. Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) arrives to take Peter to Neverland and aid Peter in rescuing his children.  Upon arriving in Neverland, Peter is mocked and jeered by Hook and his crew for failing to live up to his legend. However, Tinker Bell sets up a bargain with Hook that in three days Peter will return and be his former self and the two of them can battle it out for who keeps Pan’s children.

Over the coming days Peter must regain the faith of the Lost Boys and learn to fly again. Hook seeks to humiliate Peter further by turning his son Jack against him by mentoring him and raising him to be a pirate. Peter completes his trials and learns the truth about his past and how he came to live in the modern world. In doing so he regains his innocence and inner child while at the same time maturing. Peter learns how to fly through rediscovering his happy thoughts, which turn out to be his love for his children. In the final showdown, Peter and the Lost Boys have a climactic battle with Hook and his pirates. With Hook defeated and his children safe, Peter returns home with a rejuvenated soul and new found love of life.

Hook has received some negative critical reviews in recent times, but for me, the film is immensely nostalgic. Hook has continued to amass quite a cult following mostly due to Williams’ and Hoffman’s memorable performances. The score is fantastic due to composer John Williams, and the profits for this film were around 300 million worldwide. This would make it one of the most successful pirate-themed films, second only to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

This is a great coming-of-age film where the love between a father and his child shines through in the end. Hook is rated PG and is full of fun for the whole family.

Hook is available at the Union University Library.