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.

 

 

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: “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: “Cinderella Man”

Of all the archetypal character traits used in films, the “underdog” is most frequently used in sports films and biopics. I feel there is some kind of special connection we each share with people of humble origin or background who, through sheer determination and grit, go on to achieve greatness.  The interesting thing about underdogs who rise to be champions in the world of professional boxing is that one punch delivered from an upstart, a has-been, or a nobody can instantly elevate their career soaring to the top.

I feel Cinderella Man is a film that embodies just that. It was released in 2005 and directed by Ron Howard. Cinderella Man tells the harrowing true story of James J. Braddock. The film begins with James (played by Russel Crowe) having to give up boxing due to a broken right hand and a fairly unimpressive record. Soon after this, the United States finds itself gripped in the Great Depression. James grows depressed that he can’t provide more for his wife and children due to his injuries. He takes up part time work as a longshoreman yet his work isn’t steady. James is ashamed when forced to ask for charity and government assisted welfare. His wife, Mae Braddock (played by Rene Zellweger), is worried what will happen if James takes up boxing again. She fears he could be killed and leave her a widow left to raise her children alone.

However, fate steps in when James’s longtime former couch and friend Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) shows up with an offer for James to participate in a last minute fight.  With no alternatives and the fear of being unable to feed his family, James agrees and, to everyone’s surprise, he knocks out the # 2 contender in the world. This shakes up the boxing world, and James Braddock is soon thought of as an inspiring hero to the working class. He is given the nickname “Cinderella Man” by a local sports writer.

As James continues to win and progress it becomes clear that he will have the opportunity to face off against the heavy weight champion of the world, Max Baer (played by Craig Bierko). Baer is feared throughout the boxing world for having killed his last two opponents. But James Braddock is undeterred, much to the horror of his wife Mae. As the fight approaches, he is a 10-1 underdog against the world champion. The film then reaches its fever pitch climax as the whole city of New York listens in on the radio as the two battle it out in Madison Square Garden.

This is a great film and I always find myself watching it whenever I find it on television. Luckily, Cinderella Man is available at the Union University Library for rent. It is rated PG-13 for violence related to boxing and some mild language.