Reel Reviews

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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War and the battle within

With “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (Warner Bros.), director Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films based on Catholic writer J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again reaches a rousing finale.

Mixed opinions have been generated by Jackson’s transformation of a single, relatively slim volume into a trio of longish movies. But few will deny that this concluding screen chapter progresses at a steady clip and successfully engages viewers’ interest – even if newcomers to the story are not offered much in the way of explanation or exposition.

On a deeper level, the climactic struggle of Jackson’s wrap-up chronicles between the forces of good and evil, both within and surrounding its characters, offers valuable lessons for those moviegoers mature enough to endure the narrative’s many armed confrontations.

An early example of these frequent clashes pits heroic human warrior Bard (Luke Evans) against the fearsome dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), the bane of many in Tolkien’s imaginary world of Middle-earth. As those well-versed in their Hobbit lore will know, it was Smaug who long ago exiled the hearty but stubborn Dwarves from their ancestral mountain bastion of Erebor.

After Bard takes advantage of a hidden vulnerability to slay Smaug, accordingly, the Dwarves’ quest to reclaim their fabled citadel – a mission on which they’ve been skillfully aided by the formerly fainthearted Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) – reaches a successful culmination.

But no sooner have the Dwarves recovered their stronghold than the untold wealth stored up there begins to obsess their king, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). It’s a particularly inopportune moment for Thorin to be plagued by the hopeless greed and paranoia that are symptomatic of “dragon sickness,” since a vast army of evil Orcs, led by their odious chief, Azog (Manu Bennett), is on the march against Erebor.

With their natural opponents on the verge of war with each other over Thorin’s refusal to recognize anyone else’s claim – however just -- to a portion of Erebor’s treasures, the Orcs’ malignant plan to reestablish the dominance they once exercised over the whole of Middle-earth looks likely to succeed. All the more so once the dire warnings of Bilbo’s wizard mentor, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), appear to fall on grievance-deafened ears.

The script for this combat-heavy parable poises the warping effects of avarice against the redeeming consequences of heroic selflessness. Teens and grown-ups alike will profit from seeing these contrary traits weighed in the balance, even as they enjoy the picturesque adventure that provides the backdrop for such affirmative moral reckoning.

The film contains pervasive, sometimes harsh battle violence with minimal gore and a couple of crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service 

‘Annie’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Updated and PG-rated

The you-know-what will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, in “Annie” (Columbia). It’s an exuberant adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical – which became a 1982 film – about the little orphan with big dreams.

All of the hummable songs, and a few new ones, are showcased in lavish production numbers, including the aforementioned “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” Purists may quibble at radical departures from the original story, based on the comic strip by Harold Gray, but no matter. “Annie” remains a fun movie with positive messages about love, family and forgiveness. Yet some unnecessary crass language and mature references land it in the PG pile, cutting its appeal.

Director Will Gluck presents a thoroughly modern Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis). Gone is the 1930s Depression-era setting, the cameo by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even the star’s signature curly red hair. Instead, we’re plunged into the hurly-burly of present-day Manhattan. Annie, no longer an orphan but a foster child, lives with four other girls in the home of Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

As a temporary guardian, Miss Hannigan remains a wicked, drunken mess. But this time, she is at least offered a shot at redemption. Annie is spunky and street-smart. Every week she sits outside the Domani (get it?) Restaurant, hoping for a glimpse of her real parents, who had their first date there.

“We all have families somewhere,” Annie reassures her friends, never losing hope in a miracle.

Her guardian angel arrives in an unlikely form: Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who in this version has morphed into Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). The gruff billionaire owner of a cellphone company, Stacks has lofty ambitions of running for mayor. But first, his assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), and wily campaign adviser, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), think Stacks needs to soften his image. What better way than to become a foster parent?

With her dog, Sandy (this time, named after the hurricane), in tow, wide-eyed Annie moves into Stacks’ to-die-for high-rise apartment. The fun begins as she casts a spell on her new benefactor, and vice versa.

Filmed on location, “Annie” is a picturesque valentine to the Big Apple, which has never looked better. As their kids sing along, keen-eyed parents will spot a number of nods to the original source material, such as the name of the band in one key scene: The Leaping Lizards.

The film contains a couple of crass terms and fleeting mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service 

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (December 2014)

CNS classifications: A-I -- general patronage; A-II -- adults and adolescents; A-III -- adults; L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O -- morally offensive.

MPAA ratings: G -- general audiences. All ages admitted; PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 -- no one 17 and under admitted.

A
Addicted, O (R)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, A-II (PG)
Annabelle, A-III (R)
As Above, So Below, L (R)
The Awakening, A-III (R)

B
Before I Go to Sleep, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
The Best of Me, A-III (PG-13)
Beyond the Lights, A-III (PG-13)
Big Hero 6, A-II (PG)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance), A-III (R)
The Book of Life, A-II (PG)
The Boxtrolls, A-II (PG)
Boyhood, L (R)

C
Calvary, L (R)

D
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A-III (PG-13)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, A-III (R)
Dolphin Tale 2, A-I (PG)
Dracula Untold, A-III, PG-13
Dream House, L (PG-13)
Dumb and Dumber To, O (PG-13)

E
Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)
The Equalizer, O (R)

F
Fury, L (R)

G
Get On Up, A-III (PG-13)
Gone Girl, O (R)
Guardians of the Galaxy, A-III (PG-13)

H
Horrible Bosses 2, O (R)
The Hundred-Foot Journey, A-III (PG)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, A-II (PG-13)

I
The Identical, A-I (PG)
Interstellar, A-III (PG-13)

J
John Wick, O (R)
The Judge, L (R)

L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last of Robin Hood, L (R)
Left Behind, A-III (PG-13)
The Legend of Hercules, A-III (PG-13)
Lucy, L (R)

M
Magic in the Moonlight, A-III (PG-13)
The Maze Runner, A-III (PG-13)
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)

N
Nightcrawler, L (R)
No Good Deed, A-III (PG-13)

O
Ouija, A-III, (PG-13)

P
Penguins of Madagascar, A-I (PG)

S
St. Vincent, L (PG-13)

T
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, A-II (PG-13)
This Is Where I Leave You, O (R)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
Tusk, O (R)

W
A Walk Among the Tombstones, L (R)
When the Game Stands Tall, A-II (PG)

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops