Mike at the Movies

Tolkien (PG-13) –
Photo | Submitted Nicholas Hoult stars in Tolkien

I have not seen a single episode of “Game of Thrones.” I have seen an example of Tolkien by accident in one of the Middle Earth films. Obviously, I am not a general fan of fantasy. Yet I do enjoy films about the creative process and how it works, what generates it and what experiences lead to its fruition in works of art.

I am also fascinated with seeing young actors mature and become artists instead of “child actors” who are often not artists yet at all. Nicholas Hoult was outstanding in “About a Boy” years ago, holding his own with Hugh Grant. He has since appeared in many more films, growing with each one. Finally, he has a chance to carry a serious film, and I found him more than adequate for the job.

He has the assistance of a splendid supporting cast, most notably the radiant Lily Collins as fellow orphan Edith Bratt. Patrick Gibson as Robert Gilson, Tom Glynn-Carney as Christopher Wiseman and Anthony Boyle as Tolkien’s close friend Geoffrey Smith are all members of a club formed at Oxford with remarkable aspirations. That only Tolkien survived the First World War to become a great writer was an accident of the war and the Battle of the Somme. This film has remarkable images of that battle, filled with dreams of Tolkien who spent much of it half-dead in a pit full of bodies with blood at the bottom. His dreams as his batman looks, fruitlessly, for Geoffrey Smith, are particularly apt for his later works.

Edith and Tolkien become an item and share their first kiss in the basement of a theater above which is being performed Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. Though not extraordinarily talented, Edith is a passionate artist (piano) and a lover of all things romantic, which Tolkien certainly embodies. Told by famous Gothic expert Joseph Wright that “Language can never be nonsense,” that it all means something and thus realizing his true passion is for “ology”—the study of something, in his case language—Tolkien is allowed into Wright’s advanced class in languages. This leads to his flourishing into a writer about fantastic worlds with their own languages.

I found the film moving, absorbing and gorgeous to look at, even if brutal. Tolkien’s near-death occurred in the midst of battle fever, lying in that deep pit filled with bodies and blood at the bottom—all a result of the incredible Battle of the Somme during WWI. One wonders if the later fantasies would have been as rich without this experience and this viewer tends to have no doubt as to the effect on the young man’s mind. This is a grim, deeply intelligent British film, explaining the roots of genius in a young British scholar. Highly enjoyable.

Photo | Submitted Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron star in “Long Shot.”

Photo | Submitted
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron star in “Long Shot.”

Long Shot (R) –

Charlize Theron may have produced this film but even she, I would submit, had no idea how good she would look in it. She plays the part of ambitious Secretary of State Charlotte Field, who needs some humor punched into her speeches if she wishes to reach election as president. Theron glows throughout this picture, getting grubby only when she gets some Molly (a street form of Ecstasy) from her boyfriend and campaign scriptwriter Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). But before then she has to fall for Fred, an out-of-work but popular journalist on the left side of the political spectrum that she hires over the objections of her manager. Fred also was a charge of hers when she babysat in high school—she is three years Fred’s senior—so they have a connection.

Fred re-enters Charlotte’s life by taking an epic dive down the hotel stairs at a party she is attending, and the rest is Rom-Com heaven. Charlotte has a lot to improve before she can challenge for the presidency. Her wave is too heavy in the elbow, and her speeches lack humor. Fred helps Charlotte lighten up by re-establishing her connections with her youth back home and her idealism. She has an initiative somewhat like the Green plan you may have heard about in recent American politics.

Charlotte embarks on a world tour shortly after hiring Fred. The film takes us all over as Fred gets to know more about her and they get closer, finally hooking up in Manila after a terrorist attack. The plot winds to its expected finish (this is a Rom-Com, remember) and ends cleverly. The humor is sporadic since a love affair is blossoming, but frequently hysterical and often totally down and dirty—lots of sex jokes and drug jokes but all with a geniality that should appeal to adult audiences. Theron is now 44 and the veteran of romantic as well as action films. Let us say that she has aged remarkably well and shows it in this vehicle, designed for her. It fits like a glove.

Poms (PG-13) –

A chick flick, this is also an elder tale involving ladies of “a certain age” in a retirement community. The women of the place have their own reasons for being there: husbands, attempts to find new husbands, or, as one of them says, “I came here to die.” Another says, “My only talents are poker and poking.”

That’s the irreverent voice of Sheryl (Jackie Weaver) who steals this film from Diane Keaton faster than you can say “widow.” Seriously, Weaver is so ebullient, full speed ahead  aggressive about aging and so charming in the process that you find yourself smiling every time she comes into frame.

The ladies of the retirement community find that all of them have, one way or another, a fascination with cheerleading. Usually, it’s because they missed out in high school, or it may have been because of physical problems. As Sheryl points out to no one’s amazement, “I had chlamydia.” Confronted with disapproval from the boss of the wash, Vicki B. (Celia Weston), the cheerleading club almost goes under.

Enter the beautiful Alisha Boe as Chloe, a retired high school cheerleader, to coach them and they become, predictably, a sensation. They are told that “nobody wants to see a bunch of 80-year-olds in short skirts.” Not so, grandson.

The key word here is “predictably.” We have become, much to our misfortune, inured to the charms of the championship format. It has been played and portrayed to death and this film follows the format almost to a “T.” A cute touch is getting the somewhat inept grandson of Sheryl (Charlie Tahan) and Chloe together, but that is predictable as well.

Yes, it’s a happy predictability, but if you are allergic to excess corn and sweetness or the format, something else may attract your movie dollar. As for me, Jacki Weaver is enough to attract my attention and keep it―and keep an eye on Alisha Boe. Good, clean stuff and some elemental lessons in what it’s like to age in America.

The Hustle (PG-13) –

For those of you who expected a two-girl cheat’em plot, you will be disappointed in this entry. It is more girl versus girl as the classy Josephine (Anne Hathaway) is teamed up against tacky Penny (Rebel Wilson). They meet up as one tries to con the other out of a million or so dollars and when that gets foiled, they concentrate on a young high-tech billionaire (Alex Sharp) who is presented to them as “Dr. Schafthausen,” an expert in treating hysterical blindness.

It is assumed that Penny has suffered that affliction, though it is part of the scam the two put together to get to the good doctor’s millions. Josephine already has a lesbian partner, Inspector Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver), but that doesn’t matter—the more the merrier.

The film rattles on in the usual way of heist and con man films with some enjoyable side trips to Penny’s blindness—portrayed several ways by Wilson who proves, finally, that she is more than a pratfall comic from Australia. As a matter of fact, she manages a serviceable Kiwi accent plying a con woman from New Zealand near the end. Hathaway, however, has no problem playing rich con girls, but she over-does the coolness here and comes off as simply spoiled and greedy. Wilson, however, is given a heart as well as a brain and perhaps more natural comedic talent than the more generally gifted Hathaway. Her playing of the poor girl trying to learn knife-throwing and tumbling are near-classics.

The problem with the whole film is that, fairly early on, Sharp’s character indicates that he is, like the girls, a con man and we simply wait for him to spring his trap. I hope that isn’t a spoiler alert to you, but those who see this movie and don’t see the twists and turns telegraphed in several ways shouldn’t see the movie. Unfortunately, both characters waxed a bit hysterical in the final reel and ruined the twist that ends the picture and signals a possible sequel. Wilson’s slapstick has always been and probably always will be her trademark. In this case, it serves well.

The Intruder (PG-13) –

This one starts off like a decent thriller, and it fulfills its promise most of the way. Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid) is the reluctant seller of a gorgeous mansion in the Napa Valley, and Scott and Annie Russell (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good) are the earnest buyers.

Quaid is marvelous as the crotchety seller and the Russells’ naivete is a good foil for his stubborn refusal to leave the property to them. He mows their lawn, gets upset when major changes to the house or estate are mentioned and he even chastises one of their guests, Mike (Joseph Sikora) who smoked and dropped his cigarette into the lawn rather than stubbing it out. Charlie responds by putting out a burning cigarette on the upholstery of Mike’s new convertible. That’s the first clue that Charlie is not as jovial as he seems.

Scott unearths Charlie’s real history, finding a number of disturbing elements in it, and tries to convince Annie that Charlie is not to be trusted. This being largely a horror show in the second half, Charlie cannot be trusted, and the violence escalates. The escalation in violence brought increasing weakness in the film as Quaid’s Charlie begins to lose it and our sympathy for him as a character completely disappears. The house starts to creak, the musical score gets raspier, the shadows deepen, and a clear confrontation is even more inevitable.

As the film deteriorated into your standard ‘House under threat” horror movie, it lost momentum and became routine. Quaid was scarier when he was calmer; when he loses it, so does this film.

Ugly Dolls (PG) –

Advertised as a musical, it is that, but this is also a “message film” of a graceful kind: It preaches acceptance of differences. The “ugly dolls,” you see, have been shunted off as “Rejects” from the Institute of Perfection that makes all dolls—all of which look alike in plaid skirts with white blouses and ties for girls and preppy suits for the boys.

They are ruled by “Mr. Perfection” himself, Lou (Nick Jonas). As suspected, Lou is perfect only unto himself. He turns out to be the chief officer of the Institute and a very particular one. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), who has a missing tooth and a peculiar growth out of the back of her head, leads a drive to get to the Big World where she will inevitably find the right child for her. Lou fights back and threatens to send all the ugly dolls to “Recycling” where their parts can be reassembled into something more presentable (more like everybody else). Moxy delivers the message that their flaws are what makes them unique. She is joined by a Perfect Doll, Mandy (Janelle Monáe), whose flaw is that she is useless without her glasses.

All of the above hammer the message of acceptance of flaws in one musical way or another for a long time, leading to some numbing. Among other tropes are the following: “There’s a child for every doll and a doll for every child,” “Let our Freak Flag fly!” and “Today’s the Day” when dolls will eventually be accepted. There are a couple of funny moments, and the tunes are serviceable without being memorable. Most adults watching the opening will know the whole plot and message immediately, making the film a tough go. The kids may or may not love it; they’ve seen the characters or dolls like them for a long, long time on TV.