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Heroism, redemption dominate holiday flicks

By Staff | Dec 26, 2012

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 had 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 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.

Each individual 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?


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.

I have actually watched three film versions of the tale, where 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 Jackman) 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 interested in intervention, why don’t they reach out, converse, open a door, or extend a supportive hug accompanied by deeds?

Anne Hathaway, already nominated for best supporting 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. The immersive whitewater raft medium will rouse the interest of viewers as performers spin, soar, leap and dance and push it to the edge in a surreal world of 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 “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado, an apparently mentally ill 20-year-old man murdered 26 at an elementary school in Connecticut after killing his mother in their home and before killing himself. 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 who’s a cross between Dirty Harry and Rambo for 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 “Bullitt” 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. The film, which encompasses the racketeer era where organized crime spreads to the West Coast, had its preview cut from showings of “The Dark Knight Rises” out of discretion over the summer shooting. A bullet-riddled theatre scene has been refilmed for the January 2013 release. Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Giovanni Ribisi topline.

“Django Unchained” has achieved five Golden Globe nominations and is expected to gain similar attention at Oscar time. While “Django” has been dinged for containing the most mentions of the “N” word, similarly, in 1976, “All the President’s Men,” about the Watergate cover-up, nearly garnered an “R” 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).

“Django Unchained” and the complex CIA classified ruse, “Argo” took five slots.

Others to watch:

“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 a 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 adulterous FDR) prepares to welcome the King and Queen of England for the first time on American soil.

“Promised Land”: No Globe nominations here but Matt Damon teams with “Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Sant 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 Christmastime story does not make everyone laugh and smile anymore.

Judd Apatow, who built his career on “F” word spewing 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.”

January releases


“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 now-cliched premise. Jeremy Renner teams with Gemma Aterton to exterminate supernatural beings.