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 The younger daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) is socially withdrawn and has developed an odd compulsive behavior since her mother’s passing.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: “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.*