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.
The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short novel by famed author Stephen King. It was adapted for film by writer and director Frank Darabont. The story is set in Maine in the late 1940’s, where a mild mannered banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), is convicted of the double murder of his wife and her lover. He is given a life sentence and is set to serve it at Shawshank State Prison.
Once Andy arrives at prison, we are introduced to Ellis Boyd Redding or “Red” played by Morgan Freeman. Red is a popular prisoner for his ability to smuggle in contraband for other prisoners. Andy and Red soon strike up a friendship after Andy uses Red’s smuggling services. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) soon singles out Andy for his intellectual abilities concerning finance and enlists him in some accountant work in the warden’s shady business dealings. As the years pass, Andy attempts to retain his humanity by refurbishing the prison library and clings to his stoic nature in spite of the harsh conditions and having to participate in Norton’s corrupt business dealings. Andy and Red are conflicted about the nature of their situation as Andy retains hope of living beyond the walls of the prison; whereas Red fears he would not make it on the outside as prison is all he knows. As events later take a turn for the worst, Andy begins to lose hope and is forced to make a fateful choice.
This film highlights the horrors of an unjust prison system. It does this by humanizing most of the prisoners as normal, rational people who have made mistakes in life and are now faced with living in oppressive conditions as a result. The film features many elements that hearken to religious interpretations of key moments in the film, from a falsely pious warden to Andy’s reoccurring attempts to bring the feeling of freedom to the prisoners if only for a moment.
While this movie did not earn much gross revenue at the box office, it was an outstanding success among critics and the public later on. It would be nominated for seven Academy Awards. It was eventually selected for the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for it being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Shawshank Redemption remains to this day on the popular website IMDB as rated #1 on its top 250 films of all time. This film has such a powerful impact on anyone who watches it.
The Shawshank Redemption is available at the Union University Library.
* Please note it is rated R for violence and harsh language.
Director Randall Wallace has written, produced, and adapted many moving stories into outstanding motion pictures, such as Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, and classics like Secretariat. In 2002, he brought to life the harrowing true story of how on November 14th, 1965, the brave men of the U.S. 7th Cavalry found themselves in the first major battle of the Vietnam War.
We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson as Lt. Colonel Hal Moor, who has recently been chosen to command the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Knowing that war is likely imminent in Vietnam, Moor must train his soldiers in the use of helicopters as a way of getting them into to battle. Moor quickly bonds with his enlisted men and earns the respect of his officers. Secretly he fears the ominous legacy that the 7th Cavalry has incurred ever since it was nearly wiped out in the past at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When tensions escalate, the 7th Calvary is called to Vietnam. Unsure of where the enemy is, Moor’s orders are simply to find the enemy and destroy them. The eventual battle would come at the Ia Drang valley.
The North Vietnamese Army had been wanting to lure U.S troops into a trap, and as fate would have it, this proved to be a perfect opportunity. After Moor and the first detachment arrive, they soon learn they are severely outnumbered and are being pinned down by large numbers of NVA troops. The men of the 7th Calvary are cut off and surrounded on all sides, and they risk being annihilated like at Little Bighorn. Over the next four days, Moor and his men fight for survival day and night against frightful odds.
The film also cuts to the home front where Moor’s wife Julia (Madeleine Stowe) decides to help look after the soldier’s wives back on the base once they start receiving news of some of their husband’s deaths. We lastly see the story through the eyes of a young combat reporter, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), who documents the sacrifices of the young soldiers. Joe Galloway would later go on to author the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” detailing the accounts of the battle Ia Drang Valley. Victory in the battle finally comes for the Americans but at a terrible cost, and it becomes clear that, as a result, the war in Vietnam will only escalate in its scale and ferocity.
So many movies on the Vietnam war attempt to shock and dehumanize both sides of the conflict; this film stands out because it shows the bravery and humanity of both the Vietnamese and Americans who died fighting.
We Were Soldiers is available at the Union University Library. Please note it is Rated R for intense scenes of warfare. We are also happy to provide you with the book that this film is based on and adapted from.
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.
In 2005, director Peter Jackson was riding high off of the success of The Lord of the Rings franchise. But he had always dreamed of remaking the classic 1933 film King Kong. Jackson was a young boy when he first saw the film and instantly fell in love with its timeless story. In fact, King Kong impressed him so much that it would eventually lead him to becoming a filmmaker himself. Jackson’s own King Kong is a re-imagining of the great classic that uses state-of-the-art visual effects that help bring the giant ape to life (as well as realistic motion capture) and show off impeccable set design, stunning visual sequences, and awe-inspiring sound.
The film’s plot revolves around an ambitious filmmaker out to make a name for himself who manages to con some down-on-their-luck actors, a captain, and his crew into venturing to the uncharted and mythical Skull Island. They hope to shoot the first on site film and use the mysterious island as its backdrop; however, the island turns out to be populated by hostile natives and, worse still, all manner of giant monstrous creatures. The fiercest of these creatures are what the natives have dubbed “Kong,” a giant gorilla that they worship as a god. The leading actress is captured by Kong, and the cast and crew must attempt to rescue her. They then decide to capture and bring Kong back alive and to show off the beast to stunned New York crowds. This inevitably leads to disaster as Kong escapes and terrorizes the city.
This film’s cast includes Naomi Watts as the aspiring lead actress Ann Darrow. Although Ann is captured by Kong, she soon realizes he is not a mindless brute but can be quite tender and protective. Adrian Brody stars as Jack Driscoll, a pragmatic screenwriter who attempts to rescue Ann and ultimately falls in love with her. Lastly, Jack Black stars as Carl Denham, the man who is desperate to achieve greatness and is willing to risk everyone’s lives to do it.
King Kong did extremely well with critics, who praised its visual effects and imaginative retelling of the classic 30’s film. The film pulled a whopping 550 million in box office revenue. It still holds an 84% fresh rating among audiences and users on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. King Kong went on to win Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.
King Kong is a fantastic retelling of a classic piece of early cinema that modern audience will appreciate and enjoy. It is available at the Union University Library and is rated PG-13 for some mild violence and language.
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:
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.
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.
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.*
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.*