Fences

The film Fences was director by Denzel Washington and released in late 2016. It is based on a play by the same name, written by August Wilson. Fences won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Viola Davis. The film displays themes of family, abuse, and forgiveness.

Set in 1950’s Pittsburgh, the film centers on a low-class African-American family as they deal with racism, financial issues, and crumbling relationships. The Maxson family consists of Troy, played by Denzel Washington, his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis, their son Cory, Troy’s brother Gabe, and Troy’s two illegitimate children, Lyons and Raynell. Troy is a garbage collector, who once had talent as a baseball player but could not join the major leagues due to being black. Rose is a stay at home mother who desperately tries to keep the family together. Cory attends high school and has a promising future as a football player, though his father disapproves. Gabe is a veteran who sustained a head injury during World War II and consequently is left mentally impaired. Lyons struggles with making money as a musician and often borrows money from Troy. Raynell is born later on in the film due to Troy’s affair with another woman.

Throughout the film, Troy Maxson exhibits controlling and sometimes abusive behavior towards his family. He highly disapproves of Cory’s dream of playing professional football and sabotages Cory’s chances of being recruited by not signing permission documents and forcing the coach to kick Cory off of the team. Troy rationalizes this by saying that Cory could never make it in a professional sport because of the color of his skin. This shows that Troy has internalized the notion that African-Americans cannot play sports from his own rejection by the major leagues. He may be trying to protect his son from the disappointment and pain of rejection, but whatever good intentions he may have had are overshadowed by the violence he exhibits towards Cory. The father and son regularly fight, most often when they try to build a fence together, hence the title of the film. It is after one of their most heated fights that Cory leaves home and joins the military. The two never see each other again and there is no reconciliation.

The theme of forgiveness comes almost entirely from Rose. She becomes estranged from Troy after a fight between them becomes violent when Troy tells Rose that he has cheated on her, resulting in his mistress becoming pregnant. After the mistress dies giving birth to a premature Raynell, Rose takes in the baby and raises her as her own. She finds it in her heart not to have resentment towards Raynell, thus forgiving the affair. After a time skip of several years, Cory returns home due to the death of Troy. He tells his mother that he does not want to attend the funeral but Rose and Raynell convince him to attend, and thus find forgiveness in Troy.

Fences is a deeply dramatic and emotional film that highlights the best and worst aspects of a struggling family.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

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The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings trilogy consists of the movies The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. The films were directed by Peter Jackson, were released in the early 2000’s, and based on the fantasy novels by J. R. R. Tolkien. Altogether, the trilogy won 17 Academy Awards.

The first film in the series tells how 20 rings of power were created, three for the elves, seven for the dwarves, nine for humans, and one for an evil entity known as Sauron. The three elven rings were kept safe by Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf. The dwarves rings were either lost or destroyed, the nine human rings turned their bearers into monsters. The One Ring was supposedly lost to time, but was found by a creature named Smeagol, who was corrupted into the creature known as Gollum. The One Ring was then stolen from Gollum by a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Years pass and Bilbo entrusts the ring to his nephew, Frodo Baggins. The main plot of The Lord of the Rings trilogy revolves around Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring, and thus destroy Sauron. It can only be destroyed by tossing it into the fires of Mordor, from which it was forged.

Together with a group of nine, Frodo embarks on this journey to bring peace to Middle Earth. He is only a small Hobbit with no talent in warfare and physically weak, yet his determination and bravery makes him one of the many heroes of the series. In the beginning, Frodo exhibits the wisdom to understand that the Ring is evil and its power should not be used, even for the sake of good. He sees firsthand how the Ring can destroy people’s lives. Throughout the second and third films, Frodo becomes increasingly more worried that he will be corrupted by the Ring and turn into a creature like Gollum. He grows more and more possessive of it as the films progress, and in the end tries to keep it for himself, nearly leading to his death. Frodo is saved, both figuratively and literally, by his best friend and companion, Samwise Gamgee. Throughout all three movies, Sam stays by Frodo’s side, with the exception of leaving only when he believes that Frodo has been killed. Even when he thinks that Frodo is dead, he continues the task to destroy the Ring, making him a hero in his own right. This level of friendship and commitment to one’s friends becomes a reoccurring theme in The Lord of the Rings.

Many would ask why Frodo is the one chosen to complete the near impossible task of destroying the Ring when he was initially rather unwilling. There are many other, more qualified characters who could have taken the Ring to Mordor, such as Aragorn or even Elrond. However, Frodo volunteers and is chosen above others who wished to become heroes by destroying the Ring. Perhaps this is why Frodo was given permission by Elrond to be the ring bearer. Frodo did not want to destroy the Ring for fame and glory. He wanted to destroy it simply because it was the right thing to do. Even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant person can change the world through bravery, determination, and friendship.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is an action/science-fiction film directed by George Miller and released in 2015. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won six, including Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Production Design. It is the fourth installment of the Mad Max franchise, in which it is the highest grossing film of the series, making over 300 million dollars at the box office.

Set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, the plot revolves around Max, played by Tom Hardy, and Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, as they aid a group of enslaved women in escaping from the warlord, Immortan Joe. The five enslaved women are kept by Immortan Joe as wives and forced to have his children. Furiosa secretly smuggles the women out of the Citadel controlled by Immortan Joe, who discovers them missing and sends a party of violent War Boys to capture them. Max is at first used as a “blood bag” to give blood transfusions to a sick War Boy, Nux. The two men come across the group of women and Max reluctantly helps them. Nux however wants to return them to Immortan Joe, so the women toss him out of the truck.

Furiosa reveals to Max that she is taking the women to where she was born, a habitation called the Green Place, in which plants can grow. Immortan Joe and his forces chase the group across miles of desert and swampland. This obsessive need to recapture the women results in the accidental death of Immortan Joe’s favorite wife, Angharad, who is heavily pregnant. The group continues on and is rejoined by Nux, who has had a change of heart, and wishes to help them. They eventually come across a group of older women, called the Vuvalini, who know Furiosa. These women tell the group that the swamp that they passed was the Green Place and that it had been poisoned. Feeling that their plan has failed, they decide to drive for as long as they can across the salt flats. Max convinces them to return to the Citadel and kill Immortan Joe and his supporters. A bloody chase ensues and they are able to kill him and most of his forces. Their victory comes at a heavy price as most of the Vuvalini are killed, Nux sacrifices himself, and Furiosa is stabbed. Max performs a blood transfusion to save her life. They return to the Citadel and presumably free the other slaves.

Themes of Mad Max: Fury Road includes survival, control, autonomy, and home. All of the characters are trying to survive in desert wasteland where resources are difficult to obtain and death is a constant threat. Immortan Joe’s need to control the resources and people of the Citadel causes the main conflict of the film. Many of the characters, especially the enslaved women, seek autonomy and control over their lives, bodies, and children. Max symbolically regains control and his autonomy when he chooses to perform a blood transfusion on Furiosa even though he was forced to give blood to War Boys at the beginning of the film. Many of the characters were sold or kidnapped and thus had no home or place to belong. The main plot revolves around Furiosa and the wives finding a new home away from slavery and exploitation.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

Little Miss Sunshine

The film Little Miss Sunshine is a drama comedy directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and was released in 2006. It won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The film is notable for its comedic take on serious topics such as drug use, attempted suicide, and death. The plot revolves around the Hoover family as they embark on a road trip to California for the daughter to compete in a beauty pageant.

The Hoovers are a dysfunctional family consisting of Richard and Sheryl, their children Dwayne and Olive, the grandfather Edwin, and Uncle Frank. Each member of the family has his or her own problems that create conflict in the film. Richard is a motivational speaker obsessed with success and won’t stand for his family being failures, and thus pushes them to be the best that they can be. Dwayne has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his goal of being a test pilot. Edwin is addicted to heroin. Frank is a gay man who has recently attempted suicide. Olive wants to be a beauty queen. Sheryl is overworked trying to keep the family together.

On the road trip, the family encounters many struggles such as problems with their van, Olive’s body image issues, Dwayne discovering that he is color blind and thus unable to be a pilot, Richard not getting a job opportunity, Frank running into an ex-lover, and the drug overdose and subsequent death of Edwin. Their van breaks down numerous times and has to be pushed to get it to move; this causes the family a great deal of stress. Olive begins to be self-conscious of her body when her father criticizes how much ice cream she eats, the rest of the family try to cheer her up by eating ice cream too. At a gas station, Frank sees his ex-boyfriend with a new man and is reminded of why he attempted suicide. Richard is told by a business partner that his motivational program didn’t get picked up by a company, which causes him to feel like a failure. Edwin dies in his sleep due to a drug overdose with Olive being the one to find him. Dwayne breaks his vow of silence when his dream of being a pilot is crushed; he speaks for the first time in the film by screaming and yelling about how much he hates the family. This scene marks a turning point in Little Miss Sunshine because after Dwayne settles down, they talk about their problems with each other and become closer.

Though the issues of death, drug use, depression, and suicide are serious and not to be taken lightly, Little Miss Sunshine adds a level of comedy and humor that is very juxtapose to the events taking place. This adds to the uniqueness and entertaining aspects of the film.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

Dead Man Walking

The film Dead Man Walking is a crime drama directed by Tim Robbins in 1995. Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the main character, Sister Helen Prejean. The film is an adaptation of a memoir of the same name written by a Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean, which recounts her experience visiting a man named Matthew Poncelet, played by Sean Penn, on death row.

The main theme and question raised by the film is if capital punishment is justifiable or not. Matthew Poncelet is convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two teenagers. The majority of the characters believe that this man deserves to die for his crime and they justify their beliefs based on morality, law, and religion. Sister Helen is one of the people who believe that Matthew is worth saving. During his trial, those opposing the death penalty sentence try to aid Matthew in making him appear more human by having his mother testify. It is at this trial that one of main themes is shown by the quote, “It’s easy to kill a monster, it’s hard to kill a person.” This shows that by attempting to make Matthew Poncelet appear more like a human and less like a monster, the court may overturn its ruling.

While Sister Helen does agree that he deserves to be imprisoned for his heinous crime, she does not believe that his death will bring justice to the situation. This belief sets up the main conflict of the film and puts her at odds with many other characters, such as the parents of the victims and other religious figures. One of the arguments that is used to justify sentencing Matthew Poncelet to death is that the Bible has several instances in which people are put to death for their crimes. Sister Helen Prejean likewise, uses quotes from the Bible to show that what she is fighting for is just. She references how Jesus taught his followers that it is righteous to visit people in prison and the importance of forgiveness. Few other characters in the film are able to forgive Matthew Poncelet in the way that Sister Helen is. However, her efforts are ultimately in vain, and Poncelet dies of lethal injection in the end.

Dead Man Walking brings up many questions concerning morality and judgement and to what extent a person should be punished for their crimes. It is a thought-provoking film that sheds light on a harsh reality of the world.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is a modern war film directed by Kathryn Bigelow in 2009. The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, among many others.

Set during the Iraq War, the plot follows an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team that rebels target with booby traps, remote control detonations, and surprise attacks. The opening depicts the death of one of the team members and the rest of the film centers around this man’s replacement, Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner. Besides the constant threat of death, one the main conflict stems from the differences between Sergeant James and Sergeant J. T. Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie. Sergeant James is depicted as being relatively laid back and often does not follow orders. Likewise, Sergeant Sanborn is depicted as being very by-the-books and always tries to follow the rules. Their opposite personalities often put them at odd with one another both during missions and during down time. This is shown through their constant arguing during a mission in which Sergeant James has to defuse a number of bombs hidden in a burned out car. During this scene he removes his headset, breaking any communication between him and the rest of the squad, putting them all in even greater danger than they were before. Sergeant Sanborn punches him afterwards because of this.

One of the main themes of the film comes from a quote shown before the beginning that reads, “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Throughout The Hurt Locker, this quote becomes validated several times, mainly by the character of Sergeant James. He becomes increasingly obsessed with finding and defusing bombs, initially because it is his job and people will die if he does not, but overtime he becomes fanatical about it. The scene that makes this clear is in the middle of the movie Sergeant James shows Sergeant Sanborn his box of mementos, which happen to be parts of bombs that he has defused in the past. He says that he keeps them because he likes knowing that each item in the box could have killed him but didn’t. He is entranced and addicted to the war and how it makes him feel about his life.

This theme is shown even more effectively when Sergeant James returns home to his wife and child only to be increasingly bored and disenchanted with civilian life. The film ends with him returning to the war zone in Iraq to continue defusing bombs.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

The Silence of the Lambs

The film The Silence of the Lambs is a crime horror about a FBI trainee who enlists the help of a serial killer in order to catch another. The film, directed by Jonathan Demme in 1991, is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris. It won Academy Awards in all top five categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film deal with the two serial killers, Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill/Jame Gumb, and their similarities and differences. They are both psychopathic murders with no remorse and see their victims as objects rather than people. Buffalo Bill kidnaps women, murders them, and then uses their skin as clothing. Dr. Lecter eats the organs of people who are rude and disgraceful in his eyes. Buffalo Bill views his victims as clothing; Dr. Lecter views his as food.

The fact that these two killers both view their targets as objects and not people is where their similarities end. Their main differences are their motivations and intelligence levels. Buffalo Bill is motivated by his desire to be something that he is not. His desire to become a woman stems from his obsession with his mother; however, this is an aspect of the story that is more pronounced in the novel rather than the film. He commits these heinous acts against women in the hope of becoming a woman himself. There is a metaphor in the fact that he raises moths. A moth starts out as a caterpillar but then transforms into something else entirely. Buffalo Bill wishes to change who he is out of self-hatred, and is willing to hurt innocent people to achieve his goals.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter has no such qualms or desires to change himself. He is self-aware and intelligent. Throughout the film, he is always one step ahead of everyone else and revels in the power he holds over people because of this. He understands who and what he is and embraces it. Dr. Lecter never tries to change who he is and that is what sets him apart from Buffalo Bill.

Overall, The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling and suspenseful film. The drama, horror, and mystery come together to create an interesting story about the behavior of murderers and how they can be used against one another.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is a 2007 film directed by the Coen brothers, and is an adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won four, including Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

A modern take on the classic American Western, No Country for Old Men, is a crime drama that follows three main characters, two of which fit the mold of typical character from a Western, while one does not. The first is Llewelyn Moss, who fits the archetype of the cowboy, a man who plays by his own rules and may make some questionable choices, but is ultimately a good man. Next is the aging Sheriff Bell, who represents law and order. Lastly is Anton Chigurh, an assassin who seems somewhat out-of-place. Chigurh’s appearance and actions are very different from the other two main characters, and what one would expect from a Western. Physically, he stands out by having longer hair and wears dark clothing, though it is his actions that truly set him apart from the rest. Even the weapons that he uses set him apart from everyone else. Most of the other characters use pistols and rifles; Chigurh uses a captive bolt pistol that is meant for cattle, showing that he thinks of his victims as nothing more than animals. He kills without hesitation, without remorse, and operates outside of typical motivation. The motivation of Llewelyn Moss is simple and stems from accidentally finding $2 million and being on the run from dangerous people who want that money. Sheriff Bell’s motivation comes from his sense of duty to uphold the law. Chigurh, however, has a motivation completely fixed on his own principles that he alone can understand. This is shown primarily by the few instances that he leaves people alive, such as when he stops at a gas station and flips a coin to determine if he will kill the owner or not. Chigurh’s character is summed up by Sheriff Bell when he tells Moss, “Even if you gave him the money, he’d still kill you for inconveniencing him.” This shows how Chigurh glaringly stands out from typical Western characters who mostly have gray moralities. Chigurh has no morality at all, at least none that anyone other than himself could understand.

No Country for Old Men is an intense and enthralling film that sets characters with vastly different motivations and principles against each other. It sheds a fresh, new light on the Western genre.

For more information, refer to the IMDb article.

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