New Releases for the Week of December 14, 2018


SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Zoë Kravitz, Liev Schreiber. Directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

Brooklyn teen Miles Morales is the Spider-Man of his dimension. He’s new to the job but shows a lot of promise. However, a threat to all of reality brings different Spideys from a variety of dimensions to face down the threat in this first feature-length animated film from Marvel to hit theaters.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language)

Mortal Engines

(Universal) Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae. Based on a series of young adult books, this introductory film to what Universal hopes will be a major franchise for them picks up after a cataclysmic event has decimated the Earth. Cities have become mobile, scavenging for dwindling resources and London is the most predatory of all of them. A mysterious girl whose memory of her mother may unlock the key to her survival, joins forces with a dangerous outlaw, a defector from London and a brave young man to stop the ambitions of the mad Thaddeus Valentine.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of futuristic violence and action)

The Mule

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest. An old man, broke and alone and facing nearly insurmountable financial problems, takes a job driving a load of cargo. What he doesn’t know is that he’s inadvertently become a mule for a vicious Mexican cartel. He does so well that he gets more and bigger cargoes until he finds himself on the radar of the DEA.. He must also face the mistakes of his past before his present deeds catch up to him.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity)

Once Upon a Deadpool

(20th Century Fox) Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Fred Savage. Essentially, this is Deadpool 2 re-cut to a PG-13 version with all the naughty bits edited out and some new footage edited in.

See the trailer and stuff (mostly for Deadpool 2) here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Superhero Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (Kinda)

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, crude sexual content, language, thematic elements and brief drug material)

Vox Lux

(NEON) Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe (voice), Jennifer Ehle. America at the beginning of the 21st century is seen through the eyes of a jaded pop star. This festival favorite is just now making its way into local theaters – with a whole lot of buzz over Portman’s performance.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language, some strong violence, and drug content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Antidote
Backtrace
DriverX
ROMA

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anna and the Apocalypse
Backtrace
Becoming Astrid
Natacha
Odiyan
ROMA
Shoplifters

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hushaaru
Odiyan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Burning
Hushaaru
Odiyan
ROMA
Science Fair

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

DriverX
Mortal Engine
The Mule
ROMA
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
Vox Lux

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Hacksaw Ridge


War is a dirty business.

War is a dirty business.

(2016) True War Drama (Summit) Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh, Jacob Warner, Firass Dirani, Luke Pegler, Nico Cortez, Goran D. Kleut, Dennis Kreusler, Nathaniel Buzolic, Ben Mingay, Michael Sheasby, Luke Bracey, Harry Greenwood, Damien Thomlinson, Ben O’Toole. Directed by Mel Gibson

 

It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but at the same time there really isn’t a whole lot of room for religion in war either. When one is called upon to kill for king and country (or queen and country as the case may be) one must set aside some of the basic commandments of most religions, as well as the moral compass of society. We generally frown upon killing but wartime gives those who take human life a bit of a pass, although not without consequence. It can take a great deal of courage to set aside one’s morals for the sake of one’s country but it can take a great deal more not to.

Desmond Doss (Garfield) is just an ordinary country boy from the hill country of Virginia back in 1944. He has a deep faith and participates at his Seventh-Day Adventist Church. His father Thomas (Weaving) came back from the Great War traumatized and sometimes violent with his family, particularly with his mother Bertha (Griffiths) whom he loves with a fierce devotion. He rough houses with his brother Hal (Buzolic) – sometimes a little too rough – and pines after the sweet nurse Dorothy Schutte (Palmer) whom he knew from the moment he saw her that he was going to marry her. Well, maybe one day soon.

But there’s a war going on and Desmond doesn’t feel right staying at home while others fight and die for his freedom. He knows he needs to go out there and defend his country, but there’s one problem – his religious beliefs prevent him from killing anyone. In fact, Desmond refuses to even touch a gun. He takes this quite seriously; in fact, he has become a vegetarian (a rarity in that era) because of his beliefs. He therefore decides to enlist in the U.S. Army as a Medic.

The trouble is that somewhere along the line the lines got crossed between Desmond and the military. He is sent for combat training, and combined with his slight frame and his refusal to even defend himself with violence puzzles Sgt. Howell (Vaughn) who is training him, as well as Captain Glover (Worthington), his commanding officer. It also infuriates his fellow soldiers who see it as cowardice and beat him up something fierce.

At last he is given a direct order to shoot a gun, a command he refuses. He is summarily put in the stockade, on his wedding day to make matters worse. He will go up for court martial, which carries with it prison time at Leavenworth. All the boy wants to do is serve his country, and eventually with the help from an unexpected source, he is allowed to do that and for his efforts is shipped off to Okinawa where he will finally get a chance to do exactly what he intended to; to save lives. In the process he will win the highest award our country bestows upon its citizens; the Medal of Honor.

Gibson is not a director who shirks at showing the uglier side of humanity. We see limbs blown off of soldiers, rats gnawing on fresh meat on the battlefield, innards sliding out of horrendous wounds, blood soaking everywhere, bodies blown to bits and the most brutal and savage hand-to-hand combat you’re likely to see. This isn’t for the faint of heart.

Yet at the center of the film is a heart filled with grace. Say what you want about Desmond Doss; he is a man of his word and watching what he did in real life (from most of the sources I’ve read Gibson has stuck pretty close to what Doss really did – even leaving out some feats because he felt that nobody would believe it really happened) is truly inspiring. Heroes wear uniforms, it’s true, but they don’t always beat up the bad guys.

Garfield, who took a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Peter Parker in the Amazing Spider-Man films, has been receiving some end-of-the-year awards attention. His portrayal of Doss is simple and to-the-point. There isn’t a lot of subtlety here and Gibson sometimes goes a little bit over-the-top as when he shows Doss being lowered off the cliff face of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa as almost an ascension to heaven. Garfield didn’t need that kind of cinematic excess to make the point for Gibson.

Although Vaughn is the only American in the cast (nearly everyone here is Australian with Garfield and a couple of others who are Brits) the film captures the tones and rhythms of American speech from the era nicely. Gibson also makes the pastoral setting of Lynchburg extremely appealing, as anyone who has visited the town can tell you (yes, we’ve made our pilgrimage to the Jack Daniels distillery – deal with it).

In fact, that setting and pace of life actually slows the film down a bit at the beginning. It really isn’t until the movie gets to Okinawa that things really start to shine here and Gibson shows why he is a very talented man behind the camera. The war scenes are quite simply the best I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan. It certainly will stay in your memory for quite a while.

Mel Gibson has had a checkered career to say the least. Once one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, he showed every indication that he was going to be one of Hollywood’s biggest directors. Legal issues and some fairly unsavory comments on his part derailed both his acting and directing plans; in fact, this is his first stab at directing in a decade. That Summit has kept quiet his participation, not mentioning by name Gibson’s involvement is a testament to how much of a pariah he became in the industry. One wonders if there isn’t a bit of cinematic self-flagellation going on here. Armchair psychology aside, this is Gibson’s return to form and hopefully he’ll get some opportunities to continue to direct some films that showcase his talents. He certainly has plenty of it to showcase.

REASONS TO GO: A criminally little-known and inspiring story. It might be the best war film since Saving Private Ryan. This is a return to form for Gibson.
REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a little bit slow in the first third. Some of the images here might be too much for the overly-sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: Prolonged sequences of graphic war brutality including grisly images and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Doss was the second registered conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor – the first was Sgt. Alvin York in World War I. However, while York carried a weapon into war, Doss did not.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flags of Our Fathers
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Best and Most Beautiful Things

New Releases for the Week of November 4, 2016


Doctor StrangeDOCTOR STRANGE

(Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Scott Derrickson

Renowned neurosurgeon Stephen Strange has everything going for him; a thriving practice in Manhattan, a beautiful girlfriend, wealth and privilege. All of that vanishes in an instant when a tragic car accident severely injures his hands and ends his career as a surgeon. Bitter and directionless, he discovers a larger world, one of mystic powers and strange artifacts. That world is under siege by a remorseless villain; Strange, a novice at the mystic arts, must put aside his ego and take up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme if he is to save the world.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence)

Hacksaw Ridge

(Summit) Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving. This is the incredible but true story of Private Desmond Doss, an army medic during World War II who believed that while the war was a just one, killing was nonetheless wrong. He refused to abandon his principles and while he enlisted to do his bit while his beliefs got him labeled a coward by his fellow soldiers. Nonetheless he went into battle without a weapon and pulled the wounded from behind enemy lines despite extreme danger to himself. He remains the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images)

The Handmaiden

(Magnolia/Amazon) Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo. This twisted romance from acclaimed South Korean director Chan-wook Park is set in the 1930s and is about a handmaiden who is employed by a beautiful Japanese lady. What the lady doesn’t know is that her handmaiden is secretly involved in a plot to defraud her.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story

(Cinedigm) Trace Adkins, Michelle Harrison, Kim Coates, Judd Nelson. A former stagecoach robber, reformed and trying to live a quiet, peaceful life, is pursued by a vengeful U.S. Marshall who was maimed during a gunfight with the ex-criminal.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Trolls

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand. In the colorful world of trolls, happiness and optimism reign until the troll village is invaded by hungry Bergens who carry off all the villagers save two – Poppy and Branch, the former the most upbeat troll who ever lived, the latter a curmudgeon who prefers to be left alone. The two mismatched trolls must learn to work together in order to save Poppy’s friends.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a music video and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

 

The Dressmaker (2015)


Here is a primer on sexual stereotypes.

Here is a primer on sexual stereotypes.

(2016) Drama (Broad Green/Amazon) Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Hayley Magnus, James Mackay, Julia Blake, Shane Jacobson, Gyton Grantley, Alison Whyte, Barry Otto, Sacha Horler, Shane Bourne, Mark Leonard Winter, Olivia Sprague, Darcey Wilson, Rory Potter. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

 

There is an old Chinese proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold. Personally, I like my revenge hot in a spicy oyster sauce, but that’s just me. In any case, the point is that vengeance is something best left to ferment awhile.

The tiny rural Australian town of Dungatar is the kind of place where not much ever goes on. It was doubly so in 1951. That is, until Tilly Dunnage (Winslet) stepped off the bus in the dusty streets of the town. She walked over to where the town’s team was playing in a rugby match. Wearing a stylish red dress, her lips slathered in cherry red lipstick, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses and a cigarette dangling from a holder at a rakish angle, she made for a sight that the town had only glimpsed in fashion magazines.

The more so because there were whispers that she had murdered a young boy named Stewart Pettyman (Potter) and while nothing was ever proven, had led to her being exiled from the town in disgrace. Her mother Molly (Davis) went quietly mad and became something of the town codger. Most of the town has turned its back on the both of them, particularly town counselor Evan Pettyman (Bourne), Stewart’s father. However, there’s no doubt that Tilly is a talented dressmaker and when Trudy Pratt (Snook) underwent a radical transformation from Plain Jane to va-va-va-voom thanks to a makeover and a Tilly original creation, soon the ladies of the town were flocking to Tilly to get their own haute couture from the former pariah.

Also lining up to see Tilly is rugby star and neighbor Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth) who has his eyes on Tilly but must woo Molly first in order to get her blessing. However, Tilly believes she has a cursed cloud over her head and when a new tragedy befalls her, she threatens to fall apart but her mum, realizing there’s only one thing she can do for her daughter before her own time is up, comes up with a plan to get the most delicious revenge for her daughter – and perhaps redemption for herself.

Based on a book by Betty Ham, this Aussie flick was the second highest grosser of 2015 in its native land and the eleventh all-time as of this writing. It’s received little to no fanfare here in the States and in some ways that’s not so bad; it allows you to experience the twists and the turns of the plot without expectation. Unfortunately, it’s bad in that a lot of people haven’t really heard much about this movie and it’s a shame because it’s pretty dang good.

Winslet is one of those actresses who elevates bad movies into good movies and good movies into great movies. She is a force of nature here, dominating the screen almost effortlessly. Davis, one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, holds her own and even Hemsworth, who has always been something of a pretty boy, uses his easygoing charm to his advantage. Weaving, who I’ve always enjoyed as a terrific character actor, shines here as a cross-dressing cop.

The movie lampoons our obsession with fashion as well as small town insularity, both of which have been done elsewhere but here at least are done stylishly. The problem here is that there are too many styles going on; there’s a kind of American western tone (Moorhouse herself calls the film “Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven with a sewing machine”) as well as a kind of noir mystery (particularly near the end of the film as we find out what really happened to Stewart Pettyman) as well as an Edward Scissorhands­-esque ode to non-conformity, romantic comedy in the developing relationship between Tilly and Teddy and even a little family drama as per the relationship between Tilly and Molly.

I found myself liking the vibe here. I’ve never been what you’d call exactly fashion-conscious so I found that aspect of the film amusing. I also liked the relationships between Tilly and Molly as well as between Tilly and Teddy. The denouement of the film when Tilly takes her revenge is absolutely classic and worth all the extraneous material. You may favor the noir as I did, or the rom-com, or the offbeat stuff or some other aspect but I’m reasonably sure you’ll find something about this film to like. I know I found quite a bit.

REASONS TO GO: The acting here is extremely good, particularly from Winslet and Davis. As dramas go, this one has some pretty funny moments.
REASONS TO STAY: There are way too many undercurrents here.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some brief violence and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first film Moorhouse has directed in eight years; she has two children with autism and spends most of her time off devoted to them.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Micmacs
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Audrie & Daisy

New Releases for the Week of September 30, 2016


Deepwater HorizonDEEPWATER HORIZON

(Summit) Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Joe Chrest, J.D. Evermore. Directed by Peter Berg

When an offshore oil drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, it results in the worst oil spill in history, a spill whose effects continue to be felt all up and down the Gulf coast. What many people don’t know however is the story of the men and women who were on that platform when all hell broke loose. This is their story, one of heroism and sacrifice and of lives saved and lives lost.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language)

The Dressmaker

(Broad Green/Amazon) Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis. A haute couture dress designer returns to her small Australian hometown to discover the truth behind how her reputation was made to be notorious. The longer she stays, the more she discovers that not everything in the town is what it appears to be and that the people of the town have skeletons of their own hiding in hidden closets.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a scene of violence)

Harry and Snowman

(FilmRise) Harry DeLeyer, Harriet DeLeyer, Andre DeLeyer, Marty DeLeyer. After the end of World War II, Dutch immigrant Harry DeLeyer wandered into a horse auction and on the spur of the moment bought a plow horse for $80 that was bound for the glue factory. Instead, within two years, he’d won the triple crown of Show Jumping, beating horses from blue blood estates with distinctive bloodlines. He tells the story of how that plow horse, whom Harry named Snowman, redeemed him.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG-13 (for brief language and some thematic material)

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

(Fox Star) Sushant Singh Rajput, Kiara Advani, Disha Patani, Ram Charan. One of the greatest stars in the international sport of cricket is M.S. Dhoni. From the humble background of being a ticket taker at a stadium to being one of the greatest stars in it, his rise to captain of the Indian national team is the stuff of legend.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Masterminds

(Relativity) Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A bored armored car driver, falling for the flirtations of a work crush, becomes embroiled in a scheme put together by a group of half-baked criminals whose plan is flawed to say the least. Nonetheless against all odds he gets away with $17 million only to discover that he has been set up as the fall guy in this ludicrous scheme. Evading the cops and an incompetent hit man, he must find away to turn the tables on these guys before he falls in even further than he already is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

(20th Century Fox) Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi DenchA young boy discovers a mystery involving alternate realities, the nature of time and the existence of children with amazing powers who have been put into a place where they are protected – but that safety is an illusion. The boy will have to find his own special and peculiar ability and protect the kids or lose them to a dark, sinister being. Tim Burton is the director.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril)

Morris from America

(A24) Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juri, Patrick Goldenberg. A young boy is torn away from everything he knows when his father accepts a job in Germany, putting the boy’s burgeoning hip-hop stardom plans on hold. However, he finds that life in Germany is much different than he expected – and his dreams of being a rap star are much closer than he realizes. A hit at both the Sundance and Florida Film Festivals earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity and language throughout)

Queen of Katwe

(Disney) David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza. Phiona Mutesi, a ten-year-old living in the slum of Katwe in the Ugandan city of Kampala, has really no expectations for a life different than the one she’s always known. However, when she shows a natural aptitude for chess, it may prove to be the ticket out of poverty for her and her family – if she can master the discipline of being a grand master, that is.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material)

Train to Busan

(Well-Go) Yoo Gong, Soo-an Sim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma. A businessman takes a train with his young daughter to see her mother, but a virus breaks out on the train, turning peaceful passengers into ravening zombies. The father teams up with some of the other survivors to protect his daughter and survive the trip to Busan.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Martin Freeman mulls "His Precious".

Martin Freeman mulls “His Precious”.

(2014) Fantasy (New Line/MGM) Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Jed Brophy, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Richard Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage. Directed by Peter Jackson

Since I read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein as a boy, I was hooked not only on Middle Earth but on fantasy films in general. From Tolkein, I went on to read the works of Robert Howard, Fritz Leiber, Terry Brooks, Melanie Rawn, Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Raymond Feist and many others. I became an avid Dungeons and Dragons player in college. In short, I became a fantasy nerd.

When Peter Jackson did the Lord of the Rings trilogy I was in fantasy nerd heaven. All three of the movies were standout films, epic in scope and yet humanized by Frodo and Sam who ironically weren’t human but Hobbits. I looked forward to the new Hobbit trilogy eagerly.

The first two movies I enjoyed but less than the LOTR films; the third one I enjoyed less than the first two. Essentially what happens here is that the Dwarves led by their new King Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) have taken Erebor back and the dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch) has gone on a rampage, taking out Laketown with fire and destruction. At last Bard (Evans) the Archer with most of the city fleeing for their lives takes out Smaug.

However, the damage has been done. His town is no longer habitable and his people are refugees. They’ll need assistance in rebuilding their lives, and so Bard approaches Thorin to get a share of the mountain’s treasure which Thorin had promised, but Thorin – now mad with greed – refuses and turns his back on them. He also refuses to return to Elven King Thranduil (Pace) artifacts which belonged to him. With little choice, a battle looms between the three armies.

This is where Gandalf (McKellan), who has been a prisoner of the Necromancer (Cumberbatch again) until rescued by Galadriel (Blanchett), Elrond (Weaving) and Saruman (Lee), arrives to warn all the parties that a massive orc army is approaching. When it arrives, the dwarves are in for the fight of their lives, even aided by Dain (Connolly) a cousin of Thorin’s. When a fifth army arrives from an Orc stronghold, it appears that the Elven, Dwarven and Human armies may be annihilated. However, the courage of a special Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) may be the turning point for the entire affair.

Lots of fans have groused at the adding of new material that wasn’t in the original source material in the first place, particularly of Tauriel (Lilly) an Elf created by the filmmakers to have a romance with Kili (Turner). I can only say that while much of the material served to pad out the book which would have never supported three films on its own that for the most part enhances the original material somewhat. I blow hot and cold myself on the matter but it is at least interesting to see Jackson’s take on the background of the book although I still wish that he’d found some way to shoehorn Beorn into the movies. C’est la cinema.

The biggest gripe I have with the movie and the reason why I have given it the lowest rating I have given any of the Middle Earth films is that it is mainly one long battle scene. Everything in the movie is either battle or leading up to it, beginning with the fight with Smaug at the beginning, Thorin’s battle with his own morality and of course the major battle scene that concludes the film which lasts not quite an hour. Sure, there was an extensive battle sequence at the conclusion of the first trilogy, but that film also had the quest of Frodo and Sam interweaving in to relieve the nonstop clanking of swords.

That said, the CGI effects continue to impress, particularly at the increased frame rate and in IMAX 3D which as I’ve said before, is a rare upcharge that’s actually worth it. Also worth it are the performances of Armitage, who is plagued by demons of greed and at last realizes that he is not that guy, and Freeman who is the heart of the Hobbit and at last demonstrates it. At times throughout the series we have seen that there is more to Bilbo than what we see on the surface and never more than in this film. Freeman is a superb actor – those who saw his performance in the Fargo mini-series earlier this year will agree. He is finally coming into his own after years of being stuck in character actor purgatory. I look forward to seeing him continue to get expanded roles in important projects.

While the movie goes full circle in linking to the original trilogy with some off-hand remarks and essentially reuniting Gandalf and Bilbo as the preparations for the party that began The Fellowship of the Ring are underway, in many ways the links to that trilogy are more assumed than anything else. I would have wished for a little tighter of a bond between the two trilogies.

This will be Jackson’s last foray into Middle Earth and in that sense, we do get some closure, saying goodbye to a film series that will always remain close to my heart as a fan and as a critic. It is not the best movie to go out on and really shows quite graphically how the decision to make three movies out of The Hobbit was not a good artistic decision although it must be said it was a sound financial one as the second trilogy will have generated close to three billion dollars U.S. in box office by the time all is said and done.

Still in all, the movie is sufficiently entertaining to be worth seeing if just for the special effects, although those who didn’t care for the first two films in the trilogy or for fantasy in general will continue to dislike this trilogy. For the rest of us, it is a bittersweet occasion as I will miss our trips to Middle Earth and the company of hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards.

REASONS TO GO: A pretty solid farewell to Middle Earth. Freeman and Armitage do solid work. Terrific effects.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much battle which gets numbing after awhile. Lacks relief from the constant battle scenes.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence mainly of the fantasy warfare sort, some scary monsters and other frightening images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lee Pace, who plays the father of Orlando Bloom in the film, is actually two years younger than Bloom.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Into the Woods

Oranges and Sunshine


Emily Watson finds the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

Emily Watson finds the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

(2010) True Life Drama (Cohen Media Group) Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, Aisling Loftus, David Wenham, Stuart Wolfenden, Lorraine Ashbourne, Federay Holmes, Richard Dillane, Molly Windsor, Harvey Scrimshaw, Alastair Cummings, Tammy Wakefield, Kate Rutter, Marg Downey, Geoff Revell, Greg Stone, Neil Melville, Tara Morice, Mandahla Rose. Directed by Jim Loach

Offshoring

Sometimes things are done with the best of intentions but upon further reflection are nothing short of evil. This propensity for doing horrible things for the best of reasons is true of governments as well as individual people.

Social worker Margaret Humphreys (Watson) ran a support group for orphans in Nottingham, England – home of the Sheriff.  While in the course of her duties, she discovers something monstrous, so much so that at first she is in disbelief.

Children of poor mothers – single moms, drug addicts, prostitutes – were routinely taken from their mothers, told their parents were dead and shipped out of England to points elsewhere in the Empire but mainly Australia. They were told that they would have oranges for the picking from trees and non-stop sunshine. The reality was that these children would be used as forced labor, many of them at Catholic-run facilities.

Humphreys would dig further and find out that there were literally tens of thousands of children who were affected since World War 2 (and in fact the practice had been going on since the mid-19th century). Approached by Charlotte (Holmes) begging her to help her find her mother, she ends up discovering that Charlotte has a brother, the suicidal and messed-up Jack (Weaving). She also helps the angry Len (Wenham) whom she eventually becomes friends with although at first he’s quite rotten to her.

She would start a foundation to help these kids which at times was funded but at others not. Because so many of the abuses took place in Catholic facilities, Roman Catholics particularly in Australia were downright hostile to her. The long hours and trips across the planet from Nottingham to Australia took a toll on her family life, with a husband (Dillane) who should have been nominated for sainthood holding down the fort at home. But in the face of governments who would be more than happy to forget about this practice (which continued until 1967) and the hostility of those who felt she was persecuting Catholics as well as her own yearning to be with her own family, could she possibly help all those who are in need of it?

This is a very powerful subject that should well provoke a deep emotional response in the viewer, but director Loach (son of veteran filmmaker Ken Loach) opts not to be too manipulative here. He could easily have demonized the government officials who mandated these decisions and the Catholic societies who behaved badly towards the children but he chooses not to make any villains here other than the policy itself.

Without a villain, there really isn’t the kind of conflict that would bring out that emotional response so instead the pressure goes on the shoulders of Watson as Humphreys to give a human face to the struggle and Watson delivers. One of the world’s most underrated actresses, she gives Humphreys a presentation as a flawed but compassionate woman, dogged in her determination to see justice done and these kids – now adults – be restored somewhat through reunions with their parents, or a vehicle for reparations for the wrongs done them. Weaving and Wenham both deliver memorable performances as well, as two men victimized in the same way but coping with it in very different ways.

The pacing is deliberately slow, maybe too much so. For the most part, Humphreys’ conflict is with apathy and that never makes for cinematic gold. Watson manages to overcome the film’s lack of inertia with a role that not only does justice to the real life Humphreys (who continues to work for these kids to this day) but also makes an unforgettable cinematic portrait of a real life unsung hero whose name is little known outside of England but really should be.

WHY RENT THIS: A tour de force for Watson. Weaving and Wenham are strong as well.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Moves at a ponderous pace.

FAMILY VALUES: Some strong language and adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scandal was portrayed in the documentary film The Lost Children of the Empire in which the real Humphreys appears.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are interviews with the cast and production team.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.3M on a $4.5M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rabbit-Proof Fence

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Offshoring 2014 continues!