Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Darkest Hour”

2017 was a big year for historical, period piece movies as the much anticipated film Darkest Hour was released. It follows the turbulent time at the beginning stages of World War II during Nazi Germany’s swift advance and conquest of much of Europe. Britain was left relatively isolated and with the decision to either make peace or continue to resist alone.

The film focuses on the newly elected prime minister, Winston Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman), as he attempts to convince the British Parliament to not sue for peace in spite of their current position in the war. We are shown the personal struggles Churchill goes through with his relationship with his wife and the heavy weight the war takes on his conscience as there was a very real threat of invasion and subjugation. As the film progresses, we are introduced to Elizabeth Layton (Lily Jordan) as Churchill’s new personal secretary who has the task of shadowing the prime minister and typing up the various letters to his allies in Parliament and his replies to various world leaders.

As the war rages on, Churchill continues to attempt to inspire the British public to courageously resist. His opponents in Parliament seek to oust him from power and elect a different Prime Minister to begin peace talks with Hitler. It soon becomes clear that, unless a miracle happens, the entire British expeditionary force in France will be destroyed as they are trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. To the surprise of all the troops trapped at Dunkirk, they are rescued by the British Navy and thousands of volunteer flotillas. As this happens Churchill gives his famous speech “We shall fight on the beaches,” which goes on to rally Parliament in his favor and unite the British public.

Darkest Hour is a perfect companion to Christopher Nolan landmark film Dunkirk. Gary Oldman has always been one of my all-time favorite actors, and in this role he truly shines and transitions flawlessly into the elder British statesmen. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill carries the film the entire way through.

Gary Oldman won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for this role. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and won an additional award for Best Hair and Makeup for the transition of Gary Oldman into the role of Winston Churchill.

Darkest Hour is available at the Union University Library; it is rated PG-13 for some mild language.

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: “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: “They Shall Not Grow Old”

Peter Jackson is well known for his great work in bringing to life J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but this past year he introduced audiences to one of the most impressive documentary films of the ages. As November 11th 2018 marked the centennial anniversary of the end of World War I, Peter Jackson released his ambitious documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old. The film’s title is from a line in the famous 1914 poem “For The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

This film’s structure is on the outset strikingly different for a war documentary: the names of those interviewed are never given since there were over 200 veterans interviewed, culminating into over 600 hours of audio. The technical work in this film is truly mind-boggling. With hundreds of hours of black and white footage that was sped up for film, the crew colorized and digitized the film to produce a flawless product. What were once shaky and grainy images now explode with color to show how it really looked in the hellish landscapes of WW1 era France. The film does an amazing job at recreating the audio sounds of deafening artillery and even goes so far as to hire lip readers and voice actors, thereby giving voice to the men of once silent footage.

The narrative of the film begins as the war kicks off and young recruits seek to enlist (many being as young as fifteen even though the required age was nineteen). The veterans explain that their initial thoughts of war included grand adventures filled with patriotic notions of duty and service to the empire. They are quickly trained and set off for France. Their opinions about what war will be like quickly change when faced with the realities and destructive nature of modern war technology.

The vast spider web network of trenches that dominated Western Europe at the time are shown in all their visceral conditions. Living, eating, and sleeping in flooded trenches with such abundant squalor and the filth of latrines, the soldiers must deal with rats and dead men only meters away. The film’s footage truly shows what a nightmare WW1 was. There was a relentless shelling by artillery, sniper fire, and even poison gas in the trenches. In spite of these appalling conditions, the men soldiered on while many yearned for some sense of normalcy in their down time with a cup of tea or a cigarette. When they were relieved off the front for R&R many indulged in alcohol, gambling and even brothels. It was also in these downtimes that you see the true camaraderie the men have with each other.

As the film reaches its climax, the soldiers retell the horrors of  going over the top into no man’s land to attack on the German lines. Many are killed, more are wounded, and the survivors lead a bloody attack to take the German trenches and killing or capturing them. They then reflect that the enemy soldiers are not much different than themselves; some of them even become quite friendly. The soldiers, regardless of background or which side the fight, all agree that the war is useless and it should never have happened.

In closing I can’t stress how moving and awe-inspiring They Shall Not Grow Old is. It truly feels as if one is going back in time. I challenge anyone who watches it to not feel the utter heartbreak and sadness when one witnesses what these poor young men went through. I find it nearly impossible to maintain a dry eye while viewing this film. This heartbreaking documentary shows the very best and worst that humans are capable of doing to one another.

They Shall Not Grow Old is available at Union University’s Library.

*Please note: this film shows actual war footage and can be extremely unsettling. It is not recommended for young audiences.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”

December is here, folks, and that means Christmas movies. I’m sure everyone has a personal favorite or even a family tradition of what makes the best Christmas movie. From It’s a Wonderful Life to Home Alone, to even Die Hard (yes, it’s a Christmas movie): we all like to come together this time of year and watch films that entertain us and fill us with the Christmas spirit. Family is at the heart of this beloved holiday, but as we all know, family doesn’t always equal tranquility, peace on earth, and good will towards all. That being said I think one movie in particular embodies the stresses of the holiday season while highlighting what’s most important, and that film is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

This film holds a special place for me because it’s been a Christmas tradition with my own family. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third in its series, and it debuted in 1989 and was written by the late great John Hughes. Chevy Chase reprises his role as the lovable yet habitually clumsy family man Clark Griswold.  Beverley D’Angelo also joins the cast once again to portray Clark’s loyal wife Ellen. Clark’s son Rusty is played by a young John Galecki (you may have known him from his reoccurring role in the Big Bang Theory as the character Leonard Hofstadter). Clark’s daughter, Audrey, is played by Juliette Lewis. Lastly we have the character that is both simultaneously lovable and detestable: Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid. Cousin Eddie is an iconic comedic character, one that many of us can relate to. A wacky, distant relative that always seems to be down on his luck, Cousin Eddie always seems to have his hand out due to chronic bad choices and misfortune.

The central plot revolves and round the Griswold family trying to get through the perfect Christmas with both sides of the family’s in-laws coming to their home to visit for the holidays.  This is exacerbated by Cousin Eddie and his family showing up uninvited, which leads to a number of hilarious shenanigans. Clark is also under intense pressure hoping to get his yearly bonus check to cover his holiday expenses. The film ends with the moral that it’s better to give than to receive and that family and relationships are worth more than any material gifts.

*Please note that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive situations.  It is at the Union University Library so check it out this holiday season.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

1988 isn’t only the year of your humble author’s birth- it also happens to be the year the hit film Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released. This mix of live action and animation  was produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by the great Robert Zemekis. In order to pack this movie with so many iconic animated characters, it required Disney, Warner Bros, and Universal Pictures to officially allow the lending of their famous creations. At the time, this film was the most expensive animated movie ever made at an eventual budget of $50 Million.

The film’s setting is that of 1940’s Hollywood, where cartoons and people co-exist in the entertainment industry. It stars Bob Hoskins as Private Detective Eddie Valiant, a down- on-his-luck private eye whose past history gives him a prejudice towards Toons. Charles Fleischer provides many voices of the animated characters in this film, but he is best known for that of Roger Rabbit, the costar of the film. Roger is a celebrity and the most popular Toon in Toontown. Kathleen Turner provides the voice for Roger’s wife Jessica Rabbit, a beautiful seductress and singer at a local supper club. Lou Hirsch plays Baby Herman, Roger’s co-star and best friend in their hit cartoon series. Joanna Cassidy stars as Eddie Valiant’s ex-girlfriend Dolores, a local bar owner. The antagonist in this film is played by none other than Christopher Lloyd as the ominous and ruthless Judge Doom, a superior court judge who has recently created a toxic sludge called “dip” that’s capable of killing cartoons.

Other supporting cast include Stubby Kaye, who portrays Marvin Acme, the owner of Acme Corp and Toontown. Alan Tilvern plays R.K Maroon, the owner of Maroon Cartoon Studios who hires Eddie to investigate Roger Rabbit due to recent performance issues with his lead actor.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a box office success, earning over $300 Million; it would go on to win three Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing. It went on to help to rekindle interest for the classic cartoon characters of Warner Bros and Disney.

This movie may appear to be a light-hearted animated story, but the performances by its cast make this a hybrid cross between an animated comedy and Noirish murder mystery. It still retains a 97% rating on the popular review site Rotten Tomatoes. It remains enjoyable for children but also for nostalgic adults who can appreciate the technical achievements of flawlessly bringing animated cartoons to life. This was one of my favorite movies of my childhood, and I can’t tell you the number of times I rented it growing up. No matter how many times I watched the film, I always felt amazed by its seamless transitions, jaw-dropping effects, and attention to detail. I encourage all who haven’t seen it to come on down to Union’s library and check it out for yourself.

*Check Who Framed Roger Rabbit out at the library.

**Please note: while this movie is PG, it contains a few suggestive situations, alcohol use, and some minor language.**

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Bernie”

The 2011 Richard Linklater comedic crime biopic Bernie is an unusual film in more ways than one. The film revolves around a true event that occurred in 1996 in the East Texas town of Carthage. The event in question is that of the murder of a wealthy 81-year-old widow, Marjorie “Marge” Nugent by her 38-year old companion Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede II. The subsequent trial and events afterwards are still to this day singled out as one of the most puzzling events in the American legal system’s history.

Bernie stars Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, Shirley MacClaine as Marjorie Nugent and Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson, the local District Attorney of Carthage.  Black’s performance in this film has been praised by many critics as his best performance yet.

Bernie Tiede is portrayed as a beloved pillar of the community of Carthage.  Nearly every citizen in the town has nothing but good things to say about him and are shocked into disbelief that a seemingly pious and beloved man could commit such a crime. Contrast that with McClain’s portrayal of Mrs. Nugent as the town grouch, who was not merely disliked but often appeared to be hated in the town and even by members of her own family. The last main character in the film is that of Danny Buck. Matthew McConaughey plays him as a shrewd, wise-cracking, old-timey southern lawyer who’s convinced Bernie Tiede is some kind of diabolic killer.

What also sets this biopic film apart from others is the constant pause to interview and include the real-life citizens of Carthage into the film to give their take on the matter. Throughout the film, they continue to praise Bernie as a saint on earth and admonish Mrs. Nugent as if she had it coming. The film’s critical moment begins at the trial where the prosecution must motion for a change of venue. This is rarely done. It’s usually only done when the defendant is thought unable to receive a fair trial due to perceived juror bias and anger at the defendant; however, never has this been done because the accused was so well liked in the community that the state feared juror nullification and acquittal.

Lastly, what makes this film stand out was the fact that it was so well received and caused such a stir that the case was reopened. The actual Bernie Tiede was released from prison in 2014 under the condition that he remain under house arrest and live with the director Richard Linklater until a retrial could be held in 2016. Whether you think Bernie was guilty, innocent, or somewhere in-between, I think we can all agree that sometimes in this life “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”—Mark Twain

*This film is Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief strong language.*

*It’s available for check out at Union’s Library.*

*By Matthew Beyer.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Fargo”

The Coen brothers have consistently produced groundbreaking and hallmark films, and their 1996 motion picture Fargo stands the test of time.  This film features a dark comedic take on a criminal plot that spirals out of control leading from one disaster to another.  This film stars Francis McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell and Kristin Rudrud.

The film’s plot revolves around Jerry Lundegaard (Macey), who is a sleazy car salesmen that has fallen into debt due to fraud and money laundering and orchestrated a plot to have his own wife Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrud) kidnapped and ransomed to her wealthy father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). The two small-time bumbling criminals Mr. Lundergarrd entrusts with this scandalous endeavor are Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi), who plays a tough talking albeit inept wannabe gangster, and his partner Gaear Grimsrud, played by the fantastic character actor Peter Stormare as a soft-spoken sociopath with a thousand yard stare.

The protagonist at the heart of this story is Chief of Police Marge Gunderson played by Francis McDormand. This role would go on to net McDormand an Academy Award for Best Actress. Marge Gunderson is a pregnant police chief struggling to piece together the trail of murder and mayhem left in the wake of the incompetent henchmen that Jerry Lundegaard hired.

What makes this film so memorable is the setting in which it takes place:  the backcountry of Minnesota and the snowy and glamorous metropolitan expanse of Fargo, North Dakota. The geographic location was a key choice for the Coen brothers due to the particular accent that is spoken there.  The dialect featured so heavily in the film is that of “Minnesota nice.” As part of its Wikipedia entry states:

The cultural characteristics of “Minnesota nice” include polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.

With this in mind, you’ll find yourself incapable of keeping yourself from quoting this film’s unique dialogue.

Finally, I feel that William H. Macey’s portrayal of Jerry Lundegaard is superb. Jerry Lundegaard is a hopeless loser and a sorry excuse for a criminal. He time and again fails to cover his tracks and his pathetic downfall is a great example of why crime doesn’t pay. Marge Gunderson sums it up perfectly in one of her last lines at the end as she laments the calamity of the whole situation. “And for what? For a little bit of money? There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?”

Fargo is a great dark comedy drama, but it’s not suitable for the whole family as it is rated R for violence and language. Whether you are watching it for its memorable quirky dialogue or its star-studded performances, Fargo is a great film don’tcha know.

****And it’s available for check out at Union’s Library***

*written by Matthew Beyer