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Reel Time

Reel Time

The Lady in the Van

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), the British playwright, is a man who struggles when writing: he talks to himself in his Camden home in London. He is often distracted by noisy activity on the street below.

A homeless woman (Maggie Smith), who lives in a van and goes by the name Mary Shepherd, upsets the residents and gets mad when the police tag her car for removal. When Alan decides to investigate, Mary takes advantage of him by barging into the house to use his bathroom.

There is no end to Mary’s ability to manipulate Alan. One day, she asks if she can park her van in his parking space for three weeks until she gets a permit. She ends up staying 15 years. It seems that no matter how outrageous she is, Alan’s capacity for kindness is unlimited.

Mary, whose real name is Margaret, had trained to be a classical pianist and twice tried to become a nun. But something happened that changed her life forever.

A strange man, Underwood (Jim Broadbent), blackmails her. But what for? She goes often to confession, always repeating the same sin. The priest tries to have patience while hiding a can of air freshener nearby.

Maggie Smith is perfect as the homeless but resourceful Mary; the Oscar winner’s hallmark curmudgeonly persona blends touchingly with regret, fear, and guilt.

The Lady in the Van is based on the life of Mary Shepherd/Margaret Fairchild, and is adapted from Bennett’s award-winning play and radio drama in which Smith also performed.

Unfortunately, the one nun in the film does not appear in a good light.

Not yet rated, PG-13 ■ Crude behavior, unsettling images.

The Finest Hours

US Coast Guard First Mate Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is stationed in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. He is about to propose to Miriam (Holliday Grainger) when a gigantic nor’easter hits the coast of New England in February 1952.

Two tankers, the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton, split in half in the rough seas, but the Coast Guard receives distress signals only from the Mercer. With all of the Coast Guard’s resources going to help the Mercer, Webber’s commanding officer, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), decides to send Bernie and a crew of four on a 36-foot boat to rescue the Pendleton crew when the ship sends out a weak signal.

Meanwhile, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) quietly takes command of what’s left of the Pendleton and, with some of his comrades, figures out how to save the men until they can be rescued in an unrelenting storm.

The Finest Hours is based on the 2009 book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. It is a true story of real-life superheroes—men of true character—who are both courageous and humble. They are not afraid to take unimaginable risks to save others or to pray for divine help.

Despite the presence of danger throughout, which might turn off some viewers, I really liked this film.

A-3, PG-13 ■ Intense sequences of peril.

The Choice

The latest movie based on a Nicholas Sparks romance novel moves away from the author’s usual North Carolina, over to coastal Georgia, and front-loads the romance to the beginning of the film.

Gabby (Teresa Palmer), a medical student who works at the local hospital, rents a summer home so she can study. But it is next to the house of Travis (Benjamin Walker), who likes to party and play his music loudly. When Gabby marches over to his house to complain late one night, the flirtation begins even though Gabby has a boyfriend, Dr. Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling).

When Dr. McCarthy goes out of town for several weeks, Gabby and Travis become involved. Despite ups and downs, they marry and have two kids, but something happens in the marriage that calls for difficult choices.

There is a lovely part in the film when Gabby and Travis speak of God and their beliefs—one of Sparks’ necessary story ingredients. The author’s characters used to be chaste before marriage, but as he explained in 2012 for the film adaptation of his book The Lucky One, when his characters have sex before marriage, it means they will be together forever.

Not yet rated, PG-13 ■ Sexual content, mature themes.