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
The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date: September 19, 2014
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Just in time for the political conventions, NPR lists the best political movies. Bob Mondello divides them into three categories: manipulating the media, manipulating the candidate, and manipulating the process. Well, if someone isn’t manipulating something, there’s no need for a hero. I was glad to see one of my favorites like The Best Man, based on a play by Gore Vidal and starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Today’s viewers might be confused by the idea that the candidate was not actually selected until the convention but the strategies and moral conflicts will seem very contemporary.
Another one of my favorites is All the President’s Men, based on the true story of the young reporters who investigated the Watergate break-in and found layers of deception and cover-up that led to the only Presidential resignation in US history. And I was glad to see the only Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie directed by Frank Capra on the list, State of the Union. He plays an industrialist encouraged to run for office by a manipulative political operator and she is his estranged wife, brought into the campaign because — in those days — a candidate had to have an intact family. I’d also recommend another of their lesser-known collaborations, “Keeper of the Flame.” He is a reporter writing about her late husband, a revered statesman with what turns out to be a very ugly secret. A Congressman once told me the movie that seemed most authentic to his experience in politics was The Seduction of Joe Tynan, with a sensational early performance by Meryl Streep. And I would also add Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the musical about the political meeting that started it all for the United States, 1776.
A timely story, some welcome complexity, and a compelling performance elevate this story of terrorism above the usual bang-bang.
Don Cheadle plays Samir, a person of interest being tracked by the authorities for his possible involvement in terrorist activities. He witnessed his father’s death from terrorism in Sudan when he was a child. Later he became a US Special Forces soldier trained in munitions. He is a devout Muslim. Whose side is he on now? We follow Samir as he is imprisoned for terrorism in the Mid-East. At first, Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) the Muslim leader of the toughest gang in the prison, sees him as a challenger because he does not immediately ask for protection. But he grows to respect and then feel friendship for Samir and helps him to escape. Together, with the help of a wealthy supporter, they plan an audacious attack on the United States.
Meanwhile, American agents led by Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) are trying to find Samir. The characters constantly criss-cross the globe and seem to move just as easily across geographic borders as they do across legal, cultural, and moral lines. As the FBI tries to figure out whether Samir is a good guy or a bad guy, we must make the same calculation about them.
The story for this film was created by comedian/actor Steve Martin along with director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who wrote the screenplay. It has a welcome murkiness that shows more insight and respect for the complexities of global affairs than the usual cliches and stereotypes. If that seems at first less satisfying it is because it is more demanding. The audience can’t hold on to superficial signifiers and has to be willing to shift its own allegiances throughout the story. If that makes the ending less immediately satisfying, it makes it more thoughtful, more resonant. And through it all, Cheadle’s courageous and focused portrayal of a devout man who is trying to find a way to reconcile his beliefs with his experiences shows his sincere loyalty to his story, his character, his audience, and his own search for truth.
The disability advocates who are picketing “Tropic Thunder” should take a look at “The House Bunny.” It is a much more worthwhile target for their complaints. In that movie, the title character becomes the house mother for a sorority of dorks and losers. She transforms them all with a little mascara, some skimpy clothes, and some tips on how to talk to boys. A few free drinks and an “Aztec virgin sacrifice” party blow-out later, and they’re the most popular girls on campus. One of characters is a young woman wearing a brace for scoliosis, played by Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (far right in the photo). The movie also includes a character whose only characteristic is being very short, another defining condition played only for laughs. You can see only a portion of her arm in this publicity photo, which tells you everything you need to know about the role she plays in the movie.
As usual with a disabled character like the girl in the brace, the disability is her only characteristic and we never learn anything else about her. SPOILER ALERT: Incredibly, the plot resolution for this character is that the brace simply falls off of her as she runs (like “Forrest Gump”), with a little help from the former bunny. It turns out she has not needed the brace for four years but kept it on because she was shy. Instead of taking the opportunity to show us a disabled character who is comfortable with her disability and is able to have a full life of studies and friends, the movie implies that no one can be popular and confident with a back brace.
It was a great pleasure to speak again with Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” Jodi returns to the role for a new DVD called “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning,” in stores this week. Tell me a little bit about the new DVD and what it was like to return to the character you created for the original film.
This story is about the essence of who she is when she is a little girl from age five to the original movie. it has the backstory of her mother, father, sisters, her issue with her mom, all of her relationships. It’s great to do this again because it’s in my blood. It’s been 20 plus years. Throughout the time in between the movies I have worked on a lot of a products, the princess DVDs, singalongs and story books, so she gets to live on between the years. Its nice that there’s not a huge lapse for me, but you really get to delve into it when it’s a movie. The people at Disney really gave their hearts to this project so that made it extra special for me. How were you cast in the original film?
I was doing a Broadway show called “Smile” in 1984. It closed very quickly, which was quite sad for everybody. But [writer-lyricist] Howard Ashman had established this relationship with Disney — Mickey Mouse came to the opening night party — and they invited all the girls in the cast to audition for “The Little Mermaid.” It was kind of like a consolation prize, About a year to a year and half later I got a call that my tape had been selected. I had never done voiceover work before, but Howard told them, “She won’t be difficult.” It was challenging because I had to learn to use the microphone correctly. I was nervous the first couple of days. He really directed me through the project like it was a stage show. I know your spiritual life and religious devotion are very important to you and your family.
I am a follower of Jesus. My husband really brought me to the Lord when I was 18 and I am so lucky to have a platform through the studio. They have been so kind and loving and supportive. I homeschool so the start of the day is reading Bible scripture, memorization and prayer. It is the number one thing in our lives for our family. It sends us every way. That makes it less pressure for me because I don’t have that stress, knowing I am just led by the Lord. We have tried to make our lives a blessing and tried to be an open vessel to pour out whenever the Lord gives us the opportunity. When I share a song or walk the red carpet, I always say, “let us do the loving thing.” My husband has a gift for reaching out to people in need. I always look over and see him connecting to someone who needs to talk or needs some support. The important thing is telationships, making connections, loving on them. We live in a broken world and we are here to help it heal. Is there a passage of scripture that is especially significant for you?
John 15:5 — “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It is so true. I can’t sing, perform, do anything apart from Christ. I have no power or strength of my own. The scripture for this week is Psalm 46:10 — “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” That is such a good thought for where I am right now.
New Additions to the National Film Registry: 2014 The Library of Congress has announced this year's additions to the National Film Registry. 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant titles are added each year, under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes
Black Reel Awards Nominations 2014 One of the great pleasures of this time of year is voting for so many of my favorite filmmakers as a part of the Black Reel Awards. Thanks, as ever, to Tim Gordon for allowing me to participate. I think it is fair to say we had more and better choices this year than we ever have before. Here are
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