Matthew’s Monday Movie: “King Kong” (2005)

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.

 

 

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: “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: “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: “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: “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: “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.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Sully”

On January 15th 2009 an incident occurred that would later be referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” This event was an emergency plane landing into the Hudson River due to crippling bird strikes that destroyed both jet engines, resulting in complete loss of power just after takeoff. The pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles accessed the situation, and Sully quickly determined they did not have enough time to make it to the nearest airport to land. As a result, he chose to bring the plane down into the Hudson River. Miraculously, no one was seriously harmed and all passengers and crew survived to be rescued from the river.

In 2016, Director Clint Eastwood released the film Sully to tell not only this harrowing story but also its rather controversial aftermath.  Tom Hanks was cast to play the part of Sully, and he does a nominal job as usual. Hanks has always been able to portray characters from both fiction and history in a remarkable humane and relatable tone. In the direct aftermath of the landing, Sully is pronounced a hero by the whole of the country. However, privately he struggles with the trauma and stress of the incident.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board begin to question if Sully’s actions were correct after running diagnostics on the recovered plane. Furthermore, the board begins to claim that test simulations show that Sully could have landed the plane at the neighboring Teterboro airport or even have simply recalculated his approach and returned to LaGuardia.  Sully realizes that the board may intend to hold him accountable for the crash landing, thereby tarnishing his record and ruining his career. When Sully meets with the board, he arranges for the simulations to be tested on live pilots in an open hearing. The results of the test prove Sully’s point by showing the pilots are incapable of making it back to the airports and would have ended up crashing into the middle of the city killing all on board and many hundred more on the ground. In light of these new findings, the committee agrees with Sully that he acted correctly given the severity of the situation.

This film portrays the inherent risk that we take for granted in commercial flying, however rare accidents may be. If disaster does strike, what’s needed is an immensely skilled and level-headed pilot, and Captain Sullenberger proved that.

Sully was widely praised upon its release and still holds an 86% on the popular website Rotten Tomatoes.  Director Clint Eastwood is fantastic at creating thought-provoking biopics where you quickly forget you’re watching a film and feel as if you’re right there in the moment as history unfolds.

Sully is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and is available at Union University Library.