Matthew’s Monday Movie: “War Horse”

Director Steven Spielberg has brought audiences many fantastic and awe-inspiring films set as historical period pieces. However, his 2011 hit War Horse showed us an often-overlooked period that is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest: WWI. This film is as much a war film as it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit and the bond people naturally share with animals.

The plot revolves around a horse who is auctioned off and sold to an English farmer. The farmer’s son, Albert, soon comes to love the horse and names him Joey. The two quickly become inseparable. Unfortunately, fate steps in, and war is declared on Germany in 1914. The farmer, short on funds, must sell Joey to the British Army for the war effort.

During the course of the war, Joey is captured and forced to serve the Germans. Joey has brief moments of freedom and kinship with those soldiers and civilians who are kind to him. As the war drags on, Albert eventually comes of age and is drafted into the British army. Albert still remembers his beloved horse and hopes against hope that he may be lucky enough to one day be reunited with his long lost friend.

War Horse is a fantastic film; it features Spielberg at his very best. War Horse features the gritty and heartbreaking periods of war and strife while at the same time focusing on the love and inner humanity that animals help bring out in us all. This film was based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo by the same name, and Steven Spielberg has done an amazing job in bringing this book to life. The cast is quite large and star-studded with top celebrities such as Jeremy Irving, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The set design and period clothing take you right back in time. The film’s moving and emotional score is composed by the great John Williams, who is always a staple in any Steven Spielberg film.

War Horse was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and still holds a 75% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

War Horse is available at the Union University Library. It’s rated PG-13 for war-related violence and some language. We are also happy to offer both the novel and audiobook in these links below:

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Bedazzled”

The late great director Harold Ramis has many fantastic films in his long and storied career. He always had a natural bent towards comedy, and most of his characters in his films tend to be very relatable to the audience. His remake of the 1967 film Bedazzled is one of my personal favorites as a comedic take on the popular tale of Faust.

Bedazzled’s  story centers on our protagonist Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser). Elliot sees himself as a hopeless, down-on-his-luck loser. He is socially awkward, and his co-workers constantly dodge his attempts at friendship. On top of it all, he is deeply infatuated with a woman he works with, Alison Gardner (Francis O’Conner). Elliot feels that if he could win her heart, he would finally be happy and his life would have purpose and meaning; unfortunately, he is too nervous to actually ask her out and feels he has little to offer her anyhow.

It is at this moment, while bemoaning his situation, that Elliot says he would give anything to be with her.  Suddenly, a mesmerizing and seductive woman strikes up a conversation with him. She asks if he is happy with his life and offers to make the world love, respect, and even fear him. Elliot wonders how this strange woman can know so much about him and his deepest desires. She informs Elliot that she is actually the Devil and has come to grant him seven wishes in exchange for his soul. The Devil is portrayed by Elizabeth Hurley, and she is instantly captivating, sharp-witted, and devious.  Elliot agrees to the offer and begins to make wish after wish, but it appears that the devil corrupts each wish and nullifies Elliot’s goal of having Alison fall in love with him. After a while Elliot starts to doubt himself further as he tries to come up with a full proof wish and beat the Devil at her own game. Will he come up with a perfect wish or will he find some other way of getting out of the contract?

This really is a fun and light-hearted take on a famously dark story. It’s a rather zany comedy, but it does have a positive message in the end which proves memorable.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

* It is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material.

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Signs”

M. Night Shyamalan has brought us some thrilling movies over the years, and his 2002 hit Signs is definitely one of them. It was written, directed, and produced by Shyamalan, and with that much creative control he really was able to implement his artistic vision and take credit for the finished project.

The setting is a rural farm home owned by Graham Hess (Mel Gibson). Hess is a recent widower and has apparently lost his faith. He lives with his young son and daughter. His son Morgan (Rory Culkin) uses his inquisitive mind and quirky nature to mask his pain over his mother’s recent death. The younger daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) is socially withdrawn and has developed an odd compulsive behavior since her mother’s passing. Recently, Graham’s younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) is also in a current low point in his life and has moved in to help the family.

One morning, the family is awakened to find large acres of the corn crops have been meticulously bent and arranged into strange shapes- from the air, they look like crop circles. Graham, a prudent and pragmatic man, believes these to be the actions of vandals and pranksters seeking media attention. Soon these strange formations begin to happen across the globe. As the days go on, more and more strange sightings and panic begin to spread throughout the nation and in the Hess home itself. With all things considered, Graham slowly starts to believe the threat is real and seeks to protect his family. Only by a renewed since of faith can he pull his family together through their shared love for one another. Will they survive this frightening ordeal simply by chance, fate, or perhaps even a miracle?

Signs is a fantastic slow burn thriller that uses escalating tension to rise to a fever pitch towards the end. Shyamalan has been compared previously to a modern day Alfred Hitchcock. The dialogue of his characters are often dry and mundane and help the audience relate to the tedious periods in our day to day lives. He also taps into the fear and dread of the unknown, and how people must overcome their own shortcomings and flaws.

Signs made a respectable $400 million of a budget of around $70 million, and while some critics had negative opinions on sections of the script, most found it fresh and original.  Most audiences give it about 75% favorable to 25% unfavorable rating. Most will enjoy this suspense/thriller, but I can agree it’s not for everyone.

Signs is available at the Union University Library.

*It is rated PG-13 for some language and mild violence.

 

 

 

 

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.*