The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date: December 19, 2014
Comfort films rarely have a pedigree. But then cinematic greatness is not what you’re in search of. These are back-room movies, behind closed doors along with other necessary vices — that box of Kraft mac and cheese, the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey — while the best movies of all time, those loved and judged for their soaring artistic, cinematic and intellectual feats, live in an entirely different space in your psyche.
But need a laugh right now? A cry? To escape? Or just to feel better? Comfort films are there to fit, and fill, whatever the emotional need of the moment, able to lift the shade on even the darkest of moods (or deepest of recessions). You don’t even have to consume the whole film to enjoy the benefits; they’re like munchable movie snacks for the mind, and catching a scene or two as you’re channel surfing can usually satisfy the cravings.
She has some great choices like “Best in Show” and “Finding Nemo,” both movies I have watched countless times, and one from my list, “Galaxy Quest.” Look for one of her other choices on my upcoming list of some of my favorite movie inspirational quotes.
Fiction is usually very linear, just because of the limits of time. The longest epic and the thickest novel don’t have enough scope to encompass extraneous detail. In real life people can’t find parking spots and fumble for correct change, but in movies everything usually moves with aerodynamic directness except for the elements of the particular muddle the characters are facing and we are attuned to expect that when a character says he has never done something that by the end of the film he will and that when a character gets a nosebleed by the end of the film he will probably be gone. Movie stories happen in the center of the frame, but real life happens around the edges. Move stories lay things out for the audience but real life is messy. Jonathan Demme’s brilliant new film is messy the way life is messy. Its power sneaks up on you. But by the time it is over, you will find that its characters and story have become real to you in a way that a crisper style of story-telling could not convey.
Kym (Anne Hathaway) is a substance abuser who has been in and out of rehab many times. As the movie opens, she is waiting to be picked up by her father, Paul (Bill Irwin), so she can go to the wedding of her sister Rachel (“Mad Men’s” Rosemarie DeWitt).
Filmed in an intimate, documentary style with a hand-held digital camera, the weekend unfolds like a home movie. The only music we hear is the music of the wedding, as musicians rehearse and perform throughout the weekend. When Paul jokingly tells one of the groom’s cousins, a young serviceman, to stop filming everything all the time it is possible to imagine that what we are watching is the footage he has been taking. Demme takes some audacious risks, letting scenes run on much longer than we are used to. It seems out of control, even self-indulgent until it becomes clear that Demme is utterly in charge and there is not a wasted frame.
Kym is defensive, hypersensitive, contrite, and very needy. She is a master of attention judo. Even in the midst of her sister’s wedding, she manages to turn the subject to herself. At the rehearsal dinner, after loving toast after toast, filled with affectionate jokes, Kym stands up and goes into a long, embarrassing speech about her need to make amends. She has impulsive sex with the best man. She displaces the maid of honor. And nothing is ever enough.
This is not another in the long series of awards-bait movies about substance abusers, going back to “The Lost Weekend” and “Come Fill the Cup,” through “28 Days” and “Clean and Sober.” Although at times it seems she is trying to grab our attention, too, Kym is not the focus of the story though at times she seems to be the manifestation of all of the rest of the family’s repressed feelings, while Paul keeps offering everyone food and pleading with them not to fight and the girls’ mother Abby (Debra Winger in a performance of controlled ferocity), superficially benign but always just out of reach. We see the scars before we hear the stories of the wounds as we meet the second spouses of Paul and Deborah and see how the family talks around certain areas.
But there is enormous generosity of spirit in this family. It is wonderfully diverse, with both Rachel and Paul married to African-Americans and a wide assortment of friends and family. The music that surrounds them is nourishing and inspiring. But there is also enormous pain as we only come to understand so gradually that we feel it before we think it. This masterful film is a quiet treasure, profoundly enriching.
“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you!”
This disarming introduction became the trademark of the man who would become the first out gay man to hold major elective office in the United States. With this greeting, Milk let his audience know that he understood their fears of homosexuality and could not only make a little gentle fun of them but could make fun of himself, too. He did want to recruit his audiences, not to being gay but to fighting for justice.
As the movie begins, Milk (Oscar-winner Sean Penn) is about to turn 40 and feels that he has never done anything important. So he and his boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco) move to San Francisco, open a camera store, and begin to get involved in the community and to become active in opposing a system that perpetuated bigotry and abuse of the gay community. After running unsuccessfully, he makes an important change in his approach — instead of running against something, he starts to run for something, to talk about hope. He becomes a respected leader. He forges some unexpected alliances — with the Teamsters and with people who want pooper-scooper laws. He is elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. But he has enemies. There are threats. And finally, he is killed, along with the city’s mayor, by one of his former colleagues, Dan White (Josh Brolin).
This film has some of the elements of the traditional biopic, but Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black spares us the shorthand formative childhood experiences and minimizes the internal struggles. From the first moment we see Milk, picking up a stranger coming out of the subway on the eve of his 40th birthday we see a man who is already completely comfortable with who he is, a man of great sweetness and humor (both as in good humor and as in wit).
Every performance is impeccable, especially Penn, Franco, and Brolin. But what makes the movie so vibrant is the exquisitely evoked setting, not just the meticulously re-created Castro neighborhood of the 1970’s but the era, the moment, when so much seemed against what they were trying to achieve (the archival footage shows a casual homophobia that is a powerful reminder of how far we have come, even in an era of state initiatives to ban gay marriage. The sweetness and thrill of a heady new sense of possibilities in the pre-AIDS era is almost unbearably poignant. It is a tragic story but it is also a story of hope. It was hope, after all, that Milk learned to bring to his community. That community grew to include the entire city, and now, thanks to this film, to all of us.
Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is in the transport business. If he accepts the job he guarantees delivery with three rules: once the deal is made, no details may be changed, no names provided by either side for deniability, and a promise that he will not open the package.
Rules are made to be broken, of course. And it is one of the unbroken rules of Transporter movies is that seeing how Frank keeps and does not keep those three rules is part of the fun. The other unbroken rules: there will be a DoD (damsel in distress) who will be both lovely and smitten. Frank will have to take on many bad guys at once but they will not gang up on him at the same too much time or try to shoot him so he can show off his acrobatic hand-to-hand, kick-to-face combat skills, and Frank will do some truly amazing things with his car. These rules are inviolate but some other guys’ rules will be broken: those principles from people like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Who cares about the laws of physics when there’s a chance for some really cool and stylish acrobatics? That’s what athlete-turned actors and special effects are for!
Americans and polluters seem to be the villains du jour (see also “Quantum of Solace”). Nothing much there, but there are some lovely fight scenes courtesy of martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen, who also worked on the first two films. But by the time Frank has to find a way to rescue not just himself but his car after they drive off the side of a bridge into the water (being shot at by lots of bad guys) and somehow gets the trunk of the car to open underwater while taking a couple of hits of oxygen off of the tire and at the same time creating a sort of parachute apparatus to get them both back up to the surface not to mention being able to drive it as soon as they get on land — the series seems to be in need of a few hits of oxygen, too.
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