Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
The following correspondence between various writers at RogerEbert.com was inspired by an e-mail from film critic Susan Wloszczyna, asking her colleagues to contribute their favorite uplifting movies to counteract the oppressive negativity our world has recently faced. We wanted to share the movies that act as an antidote when you feel that gloom and doom will cause you to fall into the abyss. I love this idea of finding the perfect film to give us all a much-needed cinematic pick-me-up. I admit that I laughed at some of our choices because they are not all light and comedic. But it takes different things to uplift different people. We hope you find the movies that do it for you. And if they are not on this list, we hope you share your choices with us. To go directly to the full list, click here.—Chaz Ebert
The country might not be suffering from an economic depression, but the summer of 2016 has been taking quite a toll on our mental states, judging from interactions with family, friends and people posting on social media. Maybe the news isn’t as doomy and gloomy as some political candidates might believe. But it does feel like every week brings another horrifying mass shooting, act of terrorism or both in the United States and abroad. And Facebook and Twitter feeds are not only filled with downer headlines but also seem to be increasingly used as outlets for hatred, negativity, racism, sexism and fear-inciting misinformation.
If that weren’t enough, there is a sweltering heat wave consuming most of the country and a raging sand fire in Northern Los Angeles County that has forced thousands to evacuate their homes. Just the mere thought that this seemingly endless presidential race has another four months to go is exhausting enough. While it is important to keep on top of the state of the world, we also shouldn’t let current events wear us down. There is no crime in taking a couple hours off and allowing yourself to chill out and enjoy a more uplifting experience.
That is where movies come in. The contributors of RogerEbert.com have come together to share their favorite big-screen mood elevators, films that offer an instant vacation from the harsher side of reality. Here are their suggestions for cinematic summer breaks (mine is "The Full Monty"—see below).OMER MOZAFFAR
Thanks for this.
I don't have a movie for this so I'm looking forward to what everyone else says. But, I do listen to kid songs, like "I like to eat apples and bananas" and "Six Little Ducks." Meaning, I have Raffi on Spotify. As you can gather, my teenagers do not enjoy riding in the car with me.
I must have listened to "Down by the Bay" 20 times this past week and never made the connection to what's happening in the world until just now.
1. Wings of Desire
4. Coming To America
5. Dumb and Dumber
6. Forrest Gump
I actually lived for a year as an exchange student in the city where the movie "The Full Monty" was set. Unfortunately, nothing so funny or sexy happened there but I did learn a lot about English weather (gloomy), the English language (I apparently don't speak it) and how much I missed spicy food (Mexican, Korean, Chinese and Thai). I came to understand why the Bronte sisters wrote novels that were to brooding (I blame the weather and the food) and to lift my mood I traveled to Scotland or France.
The 1967 animated feature, "The Jungle Book," has such bouncy, fun songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman that despite the poignant ending, where Mowgli leaves his friends Baloo and Bagheera to live among humans, I still feel in a good mood at the end. It also helps that I saw Tom Hiddleston sing "Bare Necessities" at a D23 Expo.
After seeing the 2005 movie: "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," I bought the audiobooks of the whole Narnia series. I find such hope in the movie in terms of spiritual growth and forgiveness.
"The Incredibles," "Stardust," "The Princess Bride" and "Lady and the Tramp" are all humorous love stories. In "The Incredibles," we have a family pulling together under extreme adversity and wise lessons like "No capes!" (although I must admit I have four capes).
My love of dogs makes "Lady and the Tramp" an easy choice and who can forget that spaghetti scene (although my high school Spanish teacher warned to never order spaghetti on a date).
That teacher most likely would say the same about ramen because there is a traditional way of eating ramen that often confuses or infuriates many non-Japanese. After watching "Tampopo," you might be convinced that happiness lies in finding the perfect bowl of ramen and since I live in Los Angeles, good ramen isn't hard to find.
"Stardust" and "The Princess Bride" are both whimsical movies about true love. Yvaine and Tristan had a love so beautiful, they became stars in the sky. He might have saved her, but she gave him eternal life. We don't know if Buttercup and Westley lived happily ever after, but one wants to imagine so because "Death cannot stop true love; all it can do is delay it for a while."
I write this as I prepare to storm the castle known as SDCC for its last day of mayhem, caped men and women and dragons and other beasts.NELL MINOW
I have a bunch. I call them “flu movies,” and they are the only ones I will buy, to have on hand any time they are needed. Many are musicals, like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Music Man,” and “Bells are Ringing.” In a moment of very dire professional circumstances, I admit it, I watched “High School Musical.” Three times in a row.
Some are funny, like “Galaxy Quest” and “Happy Texas.” Some are romantic like “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” and some are empowering like “Stick It.” Some I know by heart, like “The Philadelphia Story” and “His Girl Friday” and “I Love You Again.”
My view is that movies fall along two axes. The horizontal is bad to good. But the vertical is what I call “watchability.” Some movies aren’t especially good, but they effortlessly evoke a kind of pleasant dramatic justice that makes them cinematic mood-elevators. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.SCOUT TAFOYA
Whenever I'm down, I watch movies that can transport me from the most dire imaginable circumstances. Little worlds I can drift through. These aren't what you'd call feel good movies—"Apocalypse Now Redux," "Heaven's Gate," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "The Village," "L'Avventura," "The New World," "California Split," "The Red Shoes," "Johnny Guitar," "The Fog"—but great art is never depressing, and these films writing the language of film in such comforting, calligraphic style that I could let them envelope me for weeks at a time. But if people really need to feel good in a hurry, to feel your blood speeding through your body towards your rapidly beating heart, watch "John Carter." It literally takes place in a different world, and there's no surer escape than that. It's gee whiz filmmaking at its finest and it's impossible not to smile at its heroics. Romantic, exciting and gorgeous, they still make 'em like they used to.
There is no movie currently in theaters that I consider more uplifting than Roger Ross Williams' documentary, "Life, Animated." It instantly transported me back to the days of my childhood, when I watched all the Disney classics on VHS tapes housed in big, plastic cases. By exploring the impact these animated gems had on the mind of an autistic boy, Williams illustrates how cinema deepens our understanding of the world and ourselves. I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat for the entirety of the film's running time. In a year when Disney has dominated the box office like never before, this is—by far—the BEST Disney movie of 2016 (and certainly the most moving since "Inside Out"). Of course, Disney has no involvement in the film, apart from approving the filmmaker's use of their footage, but I believe the studio should play a role in marketing the picture, since there is perhaps no greater cinematic tribute to their legacy than this one.
I saw this movie also and loved it. It is easy, especially in SoCal, to put down Disney, but Disney does do something right!
Movies that never fail to lift my spirits and that at the same time I refuse to parse down in purely critical terms, partly as saying 'thank you' to something joyous for being exactly that: "The Music Man", "Singin' In the Rain", "Meet Me in St. Louis", "Working Girl", "The Philadephia Story", "The Awful Truth", "While You Were Sleeping", "Home Alone", "The Jungle Book" (1967).
Well, along with the GOP awfulness, my Los Angeles neighborhood is affected by the Sand Fire you may have heard about. No evacuations here, although a friend with 2 dogs, 1 cat and a friend's 2 cats, came very close yesterday. However, I spent some of the morning sweeping heavy ash from the patio, cleaning and refreshing the birdbaths, and pulling together necessary documents, retrieving my cat carrier and placing them all together, just in case. Having been through both the 1994 Northridge Quake and 2009 Station Fire, I actually "prefer" earthquakes.
So, to lighten my mood, I'd go for dark, as in "Ruthless People." An odd choice? Perhaps, but watching it so many times, it never fails to make me laugh 'til I cry and, yes, even fall down laughing. Most of all, I love it for Danny DeVito. Whatever it is about him, including in "L.A. Confidential," I'm always just pulled in.
Taking another direction, it would be "Babe." The sweetness of that film, its innocence, James Cromwell, and animals which don't have stupid voices? Being a total animal person anyway, I never tire of it; it lifts me.
Finally, "High Fidelity." Genius film. Love the acting: Jack Black is rad, and it's one of John Cusack's best. Then there's Nick Hornby's writing—both his novel and screenplay. Having been a radio deejay, the characters' music fanaticism—a part of my world, too—is rarely portrayed on film and is perfecto here. Also unusual: it's kind of the Guy's Side of the woman/man thing, with these funny, smart, awkward young guys trying to figure out women, which I find both touching and insightful. And it's even got a non-simple, non-saccharine love story!CRAIG D. LINDSEY
If you know me, you already know my choice.
MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
"Raising Arizona" really does the trick in almost any situation. The combination of great filmmaking, sophisticated and really dumb jokes, and sentimentality are just what you need when your spirits are low.
The way things have been of late, "Requiem for a Dream" is starting to qualify as a feel-good movie. But when this old world starts getting me down, thankfully there is "Local Hero"—sublime bittersweet ending and all—to transport me. Rather than move to Canada, as some threaten to do should one or the other presidential candidates is elected, I would gladly pull up stakes and put down roots in the Scottish town of Ferness, a close-knit community in the eccentric tradition of an old Ealing Studios comedy, where I would attend a ceilidh, gaze in wonder at the spectacular night sky, and prowl the beach with old Ben.
It was a humid garbage-stinking summer day in New York City, and - without any idea of what it was about besides surfing - I bought a ticket to "Blue Crush." I didn't care about the movie. It was the couple of hours of air-conditioned relief I was after. An hour and a half later, I emerged and bought a ticket for the next show. I came for the air-conditioning. I stayed because the movie made me happy in a simple and uncomplicated way.
The list of "go to" films for joy and escape is a short one, including "Dogfight," "Only Angels Have Wings," "Manhattan Murder Mystery," "The More the Merrier," "Something New," and most recently, "Magic Mike XXL". My love for these movies, and the pleasure I get from them is (so far) eternal. There is some element to all of this that cannot be explained, nor do I want to. I chalk it up to movie magic. Long live hard-to-define movie magic.
"Blue Crush" does everything that it needs to do and it does it right. The movie features exciting surfing footage, a heroine with an ongoing problem, a romance that is peripheral but important, respect for its characters, and a specific sense of place. Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is not a generic beach bunny, but a financially-strapped young woman, raising her teenage sister, and working a menial job. In her free time, she surfs. Her best friend Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) also surfs. They've known each other since they were kids. The three girls are a makeshift family. They look out for each other. They are all jocks. Their main topic of conversation is surfing. "Blue Crush" passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Anne Marie's "block" about surfing, dating to a terrible accident in the past, provides the main tension of the film, and Eden's pep-talks are more Tough Love than anything else. "Blue Crush" is an accurate portrait of the rhythms of a beach town. (I grew up in a beach town.) The ocean is the focal point of life. People work whatever job they have to so that their free time can be spent chasing waves. The movie is so immersed in the world you can practically feel sand between your toes.
More than the specifics, though, it is the feel of the movie, its essence, that makes it one of the most-watched films in my collection. It's the sunlight on the beach, the rolling waves, the soundtrack, it's the image of Rodriguez and Bosworth perched on top of their boards, squinting out to sea looking for the next wave, it's the landscape of beat-up cars, gleaming ocean, bobbing surfboards, people racing across the sand to leap into the water. "Blue Crush" is a simple and primal pleasure, and perhaps simple pleasures are the most difficult to describe.
I don't believe in guilty pleasures. "Guilty pleasure" assumes that some pleasures are more "valid" than others, that you should be embarrassed to admit you find pleasure in certain things. I don't subscribe to that view. As long as your pleasure doesn't hurt another human being or animals, then guilt shouldn't come into the picture at all. Life is tough enough as it is. Pleasure is hard to come by. Revel in it if you find it, who cares where. I bought a ticket to see "Blue Crush" to escape the heat wave. I stayed to see the next show because I wasn't done mainlining its joy, its colors, its music, its characters and atmosphere. I'm still not done.
Whenever my mind begins to echo with some of the gloomier lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s catalog—“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me”—and wish to seek relief, I tend to seek out movies that casually integrate music into their storylines but aren’t necessarily full-on musicals in the Broadway sense.
I will more often than not drop everything if “Fame,” “The Commitments,” “School of Rock,” “Sparkle” (the original, please) and the first “Pitch Perfect “ (full disclosure: I fast-forward through the barfing scenes and suggest you do, too) pop up when I check my TV listings. I also would add any of John Carney’s films to the must-watch-now lineup, especially his latest, “Sing Street.”
But the one movie that has been my surefire picker-upper for nearly 20 years is “The Full Monty.” What do I love about “The Full Monty”? Everything. The premise for starters: Out-of-work factory workers decide to perform as strippers at a local pub for quick cash and instead end up healing their damaged self-esteem? Pure genius. The fact that these down-and-outers are British and say British-y things like, ”If we can’t get us kit off in front of ourselves, what chance have we got in front of the lasses?” The cast, especially Robert Carlyle as the gang leader Gaz, Mark Addy as chubby Dave and Tom Wilkinson as the laid-off plant manager Gerald, who hides his job loss from his spendthrift wife. Garden gnomes. References to “Flashdance” (“She’s nifty on her pins,” as one troupe member notes). Dave’s supportive wife, played by Lesley Sharp, who lovingly reacts to her husband’s lack of confidence as a performer—“Who wants to see this dance?”—with the response, “Me, Dave. I do.”
And, of course, the songs including Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing,” Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” Tom Jones’ “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and, most importantly, Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” which accompanies one of their early routines and makes a comedic reprise in this scene as the would-be Chippendales wait in line for their unemployment checks. Enjoy and feel the restorative power of “The Full Monty” wash over you.
ALPHABETICAL LIST OF MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Awful Truth
Bells are Ringing
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Coming to America
Dumb and Dumber
The Full Monty
High School Musical
His Girl Friday
I Love You Again
The Jungle Book
Lady and the Tramp
Magic Mike XXL
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Meet Me in St. Louis
The More the Merrier
The Music Man
The New World
Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist
Only Angels Have Wings
The Philadelphia Story
The Princess Bride
The Red Shoes
School of Rock
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Singin' In the Rain
While You Were Sleeping
Wings of Desire
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.