FLICKS: Heroism and Redemption Dominate Holiday Offerings

Updated 1 year ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher
Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher
(c) Paramount
When reality turns into a bummer, the #1 experience for temporarily shaking off tribulations demands a retreat to imaginative worlds and happy endings. 

The ending of 2012 besides common ground struggles in a nation filled with diverse people and mutually exclusive goals heralds a wealth of Holiday movies bidding to cultivate amusement, whimsy, inspiration and awesome adventures.

Drifting into the crisp, pure and echo-friendly Middle Earth (actually New Zealand) dragons, wizards, dwarves, goblins and trolls provide more fun at a movie in some time.  Instead of a wonderland, following a “hobbit in a hole in the ground” leads to a mystic underground alternative earth partially from a fairy tale and partially from  medieval visions.

Peter (“Lord of the Rings”) Jackson has woven what originally was a Tolkien children’s story into an 3D journey with strong adult appeal, as Bilbo Baggins  (Martin Freeman) leads a band of height challenged hobbits to reclaim their kingdom’s wealth and simultaneously their own confidence and identities.

Simply, it’s a mythic adventure about an average individual developing heroic leadership qualities while on collision course with evil.  Jackson beget awesome special effects in a now darkly themed production that burps and sputters before finding some of the “Rings” magic.

Your own take on “The Hobbit” may come down to (what else) personal familiarity with the characters in the past movies and your immersion into the Tolkien universe. Acknowledging   journey preparations, a  three hours of eating and walking comment  has no personal critical credibility. Instead, resolve that you might find this Middle Earth trip lacking the all-encompassing measured crucibles of the previous trilogy. Give the otherwise incomparable Jackson a break, this is only part one of a three part production. How many goblin battles and spinning camera tricks do you want?

REDEMPTION

Continuing a trend of “thou shalt overcome” roots, tragedy, and horrid deals from the deck of life, the musical  “Les Miserables” (poor wretches or scoundrels ) offers a timeless French tale by analogy suited to the state of the average 21st Century American.

Having watched  three film versions of the tale, injustice falls upon  a man  sentenced to decades of slavery for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family.  Surviving the harshness of  rowing galleys , the bitter Jean Valjean ( Hugh Jackson) walks free of prison with a scarlet “ex convict” stamped on his forehead, which guarantees no job or assistance in rejoining society.  Having ignored reporting to a probation officer, the protagonist discovers mercy in the home of a priest, which shifts him from a misanthropic and potentially violent man into one gushing compassion and love.

Whether you call the “deed”  looking out for others,  “paying it forward”, unconditional acceptance, or expressing a spiritual connection,  extending, the healing powers of love come in elementary interactions.  Valjean experiences the giving and kindness of strangers on his lonely life walk. The encouragement  motivates and revives natural inclinations toward good and hope, which had been smothered by rejection and selfishness.

The Victor Hugo story connects well with present day burdens. Look, if everyone’s so intervention interested , why don’t they reach out,   converse,   open a door, or extend a supportive hug accompanied by deeds?

Anna Hathaway , already nominated for best actress in a musical comedy, plays the woman whose affection regenerates and assists in  a soul’s redemption .  This  adaptation has the performers singing their roles as they act in order to achieve greater intensity .   

Innovative Acrobatics

Cirque du Soleil World’s Away :  3D has the James (“Titanic,” “Avatar “) Cameron pedigree and the eyes of Andrew (“Chronicles of Narnia,” “Shrek”) Adamson  at the helm.  Will the immersive white water raft  medium rouse interest viewers to spin, soar, leap and dance as  daredevil push it to the edge  acrobats  chase challenge  in a surreal world of symbolic  elaborately revolving maze like platforms ?

Random Gun Violence

Less than six months after a young gunman unleashed automatic weapons fire during a midnight premiere of “Dark Knight Rising” in Colorado, an apparently mentally ill 20 year old murdered 27 at an elementary school in Connecticut. The automatic weapon massacre again opens debate on both violent imagery in pop culture and the licensing of guns.

Paramount postponed the Pittsburgh premiere of Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher,” the inaugural movie depicting a cold blooded film noir detective with  the pairing of Dirty Harry and Rambo’s detached emotionality.  Forsaking impossible missions (temporarily) for the domain of a big city (Pittsburgh), the hard boiled  once military cop now a drifting, independent homicide investigator revives street chases akin to “French Connection” and “Bullett” in tracking a  sniper wasting random victims.  Ironically, Warner Bros. plans a January 11 nationwide opening of “Gangster Squad,” which is set in 1940s Los Angeles. “Squad” which encompasses the racketeer era where organized crime spreads to the West Coast  had its preview snipped from “Dark Knight Rises” in discretion to the summer shooting. A  bullet riddled theatre scene has been re-shot for the January 2013 release.   Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi topline.

“Django Unchained” has achieved  five Golden Globe nominations and is expected to gain similar attention at Oscar time. Dinged for containing the most mentions of the “n” word, in 1976, the Watergate unveiling political scandal  “All the President’s Men” nearly garnered a Restricted rating for one use of the still unprintable “f” word.

A spaghetti western by genre,  Christopher  (“Inglorious Bastards,” “Carnage”)  Waltz,  a German  bounty hunter with many enemies, frees Jamie Foxx from slavery in exchange for  melding  out cruelty. Waltz in turn commits to freeing Foxx’s wife  from the horrors of slavery. Directed by Quentin Tarantino , who always turns rivers  red,  actor Leonardo DiCaprio required stitches after a brutal  head banging take. DiCaprio plays a ruthless plantation owner who turns male slaves into sport fighters and females into prostitutes. Described as the truest depiction of human slavery,  Jamie Foxx told the L.A. Times his character “just wants to love his woman.” The politics comes along as a necessary villain.  Wonder if it figures more into the “director’s cut” which Tarantino plans to release after trumping this version made for the Weinstein Company?

Award nominations

Award season looms. At press time, Golden Globe nominations had been announced, but January bring nominations from the Writers Guild, Producers Guild, National Society of Film Critics, Directors Guild, Academy Awards and even the Razzie’s for worst of the year.  Historically, Globe winners usually do not accurately predict what Oscar voters will determine, but they serve as a significant hint of which films will receive multiple nominations in the heavy hitter categories.

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” a historic recounting a divided nation that symbolizes the polarization of today’s culture,  took seven nominations including best drama, director, dramatic actor (Daniel Day Lewis), supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones) , supporting actress (Sally Field) and screenplay (Tony Kushner)

Quentin Tarantino’s  ultra savage slavery  odyssey, “Django Unchained”  and  the complex CIA classified ruse, “Argo” took five slots.

Zero Dark  Thirty:   Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)  injected  the gift of formerly classified data for authenticity into the decade long catch him if you can terrorist   Osama bin Laden.  Tracking down the man claiming responsibility for the events of 9/11 has been crafted into one of those edge of the seat thrillers unfolding through the eyes of a CIA operative.  Of course, you know the climax, you have not pieced together endless FOIA documents so it’s an water boarding, pulse stopping throw away the blackberry  on the way to the ending. (Is it a coincidence that “Argo” repeatedly comes up competing with it for best film?)

Hitchcock:  Anthony Hopkins becomes  the legendary painfully articulate and vastly rotund director struggling with his wife (Helen Mirren) while pushing  societal , moral, ethical and professional  limits in the making of his horror classic, “Psycho.”

Hyde Park on the Hudson:  Bill Murray (as a cantankerous and adultery practicing  FDR) prepares to welcome the King and Queen of England for the first time to American soil.  

Promised Land: No Globe’s nominations here but Matt Damon teams with “Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Saint to spin again the mutually coexisting conflicts between industry, the environment and the people living there.  Natural gas fracking is the new, unproven methodology that has small town landowners unsure whether this apparent 21st Century bubbling crude represents fortune or ruin.

 

Silver Linings Playbook:   A former high school teacher Pat Peoples (played by Bradley Cooper) returns to his parents’  custody following  years  in a mental   institution. Still suffering from a delusion his life is a movie produced by God and thus a happy climax is assured, he forms  a bond with  neighbor ( Jennifer Lawrence) who also suffers mental instabilities.   An NPR reporter succinctly  stated “the book made me smile.” The film scored five wins at the International Critics (Satellite Awards) ceremony in mid-December, including best film, best actor ,  best actress and best direction.

The Impossible:  Watch Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor holding on tight to their family following  a devastating  2004 tsunami, which contains a harrowing, jolting and evocative ten minute disaster  sequence.

 

WHERE’s the Comedy?

Aside from deliberately and delicately injecting raunchiness, the post near depression society has ignored in particular stories that pair men and women into happily ever after lives. Having endured a variety of to some degree trauma induced upbringings, a standard mom , dad and the kids Christmas time story does not make everyone laugh and smile anymore.

Judd Apatow, who built his career on “F word” high school and college students hanging out in provocative circumstances, returns to the “Knocked Up” couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) , the couple face family life, turning 40 and Megan Fox looking good in an extended bra and panties scene.

 Meanwhile, Billy Crystal attempts to bridge generational family norms and conflicts in “Parental Guidance” and Barbara Streisand accompanies her slacker son on a cross-country “Guilt Trip.”

***

JAN 4

Texas Chainsaw 3D: Audiences seeking chainsaw gore will re-visit  Newt, Texas, home of the infamous Leatherface.  This time a woman travels to Texas to collect her inheritance which , obviously, will be paid running from razor edges.

 

JAN 18

Last Stand: Having left the chief executive’s office in California swirling in debt and marital affairs, Arnold  Schwarzenegger returns to law enforcement action hero as he and his rag-tag Mexican border sheriff’s office becomes a drug cartel “High Noon.”

JAN 25

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters , Give Credit to  “Buffy” for  the genre.  Jeremy Renner teams with Gemma Aterton to exterminate supernatural beings.

 

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