THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

To go on this ride with Peter Jackson is to be given the gift of another, similar-but-different journey told by the man who does it better than anyone. For sheer craft, for the meticulous, artful attention to every aspect of production (what David Thomson calls, in slightly different context, “the whole equation”), this is a kept promise — the promise that if Jackson was going to return to this material, it would be only if he could do IT right, too — that is, to not screw up the legacy of LOTR. Living up to its billing as an adventure, there are of course many battle scenes, each choreographed in its own way (limb-severing swordplay, wolf pack marauders, mountains literally come to life). But I connected best with the more “human” moments: Bilbo’s doubts, Gandalf’s counsel, the mournful dirge sung before the group departs. Martin Freeman — sweet, gentle, sensitive and ultimately brave — is the still, small but beating heart of the story and Ian McKellen is its Godfather. Along the way, terrific monsters, including Barry Humphries (Dame Edna!) as Great Goblin and Manu Bennett as the fearsome Azog. Not to mention the great Andy Serkis, back as Gollum, although I was unable to make out most of his dialog. As for the visuals, savor the beauty of frames with the golden glow of Dutch Masters, exquisitely lit (I’m thinking of the initial gathering of the dwarfs in Bilbo’s cottage), lovingly “grotesque” faces that call to mind the vegetable portraits of the Italian painter Arcimboldo, far-as-the-eye-can see compositions enhanced by 3D (how about that parting shot of Lonely Mountain?) — by now, DP Andrew Lesnie has so many classics to his credit, he’s a Cinema Saint. Howard Shore’s score never intrudes in a Buy-This-Soundtrack! way, but does what film music is supposed to do — enhances and punctuates the action. THE HOBBIT is almost three hours long, but it seldom lags. I am very much looking forward to Part Two. — Jeff Schultz

I have heard a lot about frame rates and prequels and such when hearing about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. What I haven’t heard a lot about is how long it is. How it seems to have a ton of filler and how it leaves the audience hanging in a most uncomfortable and unforgivable fashion. The movie clocks in at about 2:45. And there a long talky parts that almost put me to sleep. The frame rate debate is about how it was shot in 48 frames per second rather than the industry standard 24. It’s supposedly very distracting, but I didn’t notice anything overly offensive. The movie did look flatter and less “beautiful” than I remember the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But not as flat as the first half of the movie. At some points its simply dull. Confession: I never read any of Tolkein’s works. So maybe this is a true representation of the novels. But that doesn’t mean its a good movie. Movies need to be trimmed. You can’t let your imagination run wild like you can in a novel. It all has to be up on the screen. And believe me, it seems like Peter Jackson didn’t leave much out. Now allow me to get into some stuff people may think petty. There are 13 dwarfs that make up the traveling party. The dwarfs enlist the help of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf to retake their kingdom. Some of the dwarfs look like you would imagine dwarfs should look. Long beards, round faces, bulbous noses. Some though, look like short guys. I dunno, I guess I’m picking nits, but why don’t they all look like dwarfs? That’s a minor annoyance. The ending left me feeling cheated. I don’t recall precisely how the first two Rings movies ended, but this one didn’t so much end as stop. It just stopped. I guess it was a logical place to pause until the next installment. But damn, I was powerfully disappointed. All in all, I suppose THE HOBBIT was above average. I hope the next two are improvements. Because if we get more of this, I’ll stick to GAME OF THRONES thank you very much! — Alan Yudman


THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is a really good two hour movie…that runs almost three hours. Watching Peter Jackson go back to Middle Earth is at times exhilarating and others frustrating. Within the first 40 minutes, I was completely sucked into this world before The Ring…different tone, different movie than the previous three movies. But then Jackson begins to obviously pad the movie with action sequences that even in 3D run too long and are too boring. None carry the emotional weight of any battle from the other films. Bottom line this final cut feels like a directors cut you would watch AFTER seeing the original. You would say “I can see why this was cut”…or “this may have worked”…That being said, parts of it are also incredible. Martin Freeman IS Bilbo, Peter Jackson is the man when it comes to filming these movies, the 3D is really good, and the Gollum-Bilbo faceoff is classic. I just wish someone had decided to do one or even two movies and left the filler for the DVD gift sets. A journey worth taking, but a journey that takes unnecessary stops along the way.
STORMY CURRY

PITCH PERFECT

Everyone knows how popular a cappella singing groups are these days. Or at least TV shows about them are.. see GLEE. So, why not make a movie about them. But this is nowhere near GLEE in tone or execution. GLEE is sappy, sugary candy. PITCH PERFECT is edgier comedy. It features Anna Kendrick as a college freshman who doesn’t really want to be there and can’t seem to fit in. She is caught singing in the shower by a member of one of the school’s a cappella groups and she agrees to audition. She gets in, but is a fish out of water. Her think is mix tapes. She wants to go to L.A. to follow her dream. The characters are pretty standard for a high school or college movie. The nerds, the controlling b*&#h, the quiet ones, the fat/funny ones. They’re all here playing their appropriate roles. What makes this different is the skill of the actors. The shinning stars are Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Skylar Astin are all great. Elizabeth Banks (who also co-produced) and John Michael Higgins are the best team of color commentators since Fred Willard in BEST IN SHOW. And that’s the charm of the movie. It’s kind of a mashup of coming of age comedies and a Christopher Guest/Michael McKean/Eugene Levy farce. The singing is great.. all are quite talented. I’m not a fan of vomit scenes (Hollywood seems obsessed with showing us people puking lately), but this has two of the funniest ones I’ve seen on film. The film is funny, sweet and entertaining. in short it’s a movie that is PITCH PERFECT. — Alan Yudman

JACK REACHER

A friend at work bemoaned the release of this movie. He said Tom Cruise doesn’t stretch himself, he just does these action hero movies for a paycheck. HIs argument was that Cruise was a better actor than these movies allowed him to be. I saw his point, but didn’t necessarily agree. The idea that it takes not much talent to make these movies is snobbery. The actor still must make us believe he is the bad-ass he is trying to be. Cruise’s history of these type of movies help, but this is something I’ve never seen do before. JACK REACHER is more than another “action hero” vehicle. It’s a cop thriller, a whodunnit. Sure, Reacher kicks major ass in the movie, but he also kicks investigative ass. The movie is based on the hugely successful Lee Child novels. I have never read them, but reliable sources (my parents) say Reacher is a former military cop who is all about justice. He’s also physically imposing, about 6’5″ and 250lbs. Ok, we all know Cruise will never pull that off. But his will and “drifter with a cause” attitude totally worked for me. Reacher is trying to prove a former Army sniper didn’t kill five people in a random act of violence. Reacher knows the suspect is a bad guy because he ran across him in the Army. But it becomes more and more clear that the guy didn’t do it and was set up. Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay and direction are top notch for the genre. There is one awesome car chase that reminded me a little of the classic chase in Bullitt (no music, just the sound of racing engines). JACK REACHER kept me entertained for all of its 2 plus hours and never left me wondering when it would all come to an end. I look forward to many sequels to come. — Alan Yudman

Aside from the last Mission Impossible movie, Tom Cruise hasn’t made a good film in years. That being said, I was floored by how good Jack Reacher was. This action suspense thriller delivered on a good story, very original action scenes, and genuine intrigue. Cruise underplays the tough guy role and its the best thing he could have done. Reacher is a dude who outthinks his enemies before he throws a punch…and that’s why this film works. I have not read the books so I can’t relate to the whole “Cruise is miscast” thing…but I think he fits the bill here. Reacher has an R rated feel in a PG-13 movie and it was nice to watch a grown up flick for a change. This one is worth checking out! —┬áStormy Curry

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE

New York City today is a thriving metropolis of culture, art, politics and commerce. Flashback to 1989 and you will see a totally different city. Plagued by crime, poverty, drugs and fear, New York of that era was a truly frightening place. Race riots, crime sprees, crack cocaine all contributed to its image. It was the Gotham City that the League of Shadows wants to eliminate in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Quite possibly, the signature crime of that era was the Central Park Jogger case. A young woman, an investment banker was running through Central Park on a spring evening in April of 1989. She was brutally beaten and raped. Doctors said she might survive, but would never be normal again. THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE tells the story of the five black teenagers arrested, charged and convicted of the crime. One problem. They were all innocent. The documentary paints a picture of a police force and District Attorney’s office blind in their pursuit of resolving the crime quickly. The media that was an all too willing participant and how the lives of five generally good kids were ruined. No surprise that this is an outstanding documentary, Ken Burns had a huge hand in making it. It’s shocking, disturbing and though provoking. A great window into a totally embarrassing episode in the history of criminal justice (or injustice) in this country. And a lesson too. Just because the media says someone has been arrested, doesn’t make them guilty. — Alan Yudman

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

One reviewer (I think it was Alonso Duralde) called this a screwball comedy with actual screwballs! I can’t do any better than that. David O. Russell’s follow up to THE FIGHTER is a feel bad/feel good movie. Bradley Cooper is Pat, a former substitute teacher who walked in on his wife while she was showering with another man. He snaps and beats the guy senseless. The audience is plopped into this story as Pat is being released from a mental hospital. He’s not 100%, but he’s apparently well enough to be released into the custody of his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro). Pat is undiagnosed bi-polar. And if you want to know where his psychosis comes from, just look to his father. DeNiro is an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fan. He’s banned from their stadium because of fighting. He has to have the remotes in the right place and rub his lucky hankie to make sure the mojo is right for an Eagles victory. He’s also making book on the Eagles. Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) at a friends house. She’s a widow, a former nymphomaniac and the scene where she an Pat bond while reciting a list of psychiatric drugs is hilarious. Pat wants to get back with his wife, but a restraining order makes that nearly impossible. So Tiffany offers to help get her a letter if Pat enters a ballroom dance competition with her. Ok, at this point you’re thinking, “what the heck?!?. How is this mess of a story ever going to work”. The answer is brilliantly. All the pieces fit together thanks to Russell’s talent and his wonderful screenplay. It’s funny, touching and romantic. The acting is absolutely great. Cooper shows that he can more than just a good-looking punchline-thrower. Lawrence never makes a bad choice and again proves that she is possibly the best 20-something actress in the world. And DeNiro reminds us why he is the best living actor. The Silver Lining here is that this is one of the best movies of the year. — Alan Yudman

OTHER DESERT CITIES

Melodrama that wants to be more. This production at the Mark Taper Forum is about a dysfunctional family with a dark secret — seriously, another one of those. The drawn-out battle at the heart of Jon Robin Baitz’s play pits an aggressively liberal daughter’s perceived right to write “honestly” in the pages of her about-to-be-published memoir vs her seriously conservative parents’ horror at having their family’s greatest crisis exposed to the public. The two sides are supposed to carry equal heft. And here is where this production falters: the actress who plays the daughter is unbearable and the actress who plays the mother is not a hell of a lot better. Part of the problem for Robin Weigart (the daughter) is that she has a straining rasp in her voice exacerbated by how much she whines from start to finish. But mainly, she isn’t very good. JoBeth (POLTERGEIST) Williams (the mother) has a showier part as the shrewish Hell Mom and is given what are meant to be the best zingers, but she’s declamatory and all on the surface. The same is true for Jeannie Berlin, far from SHEILA LEVINE and now in senior territory playing “the alcoholic aunt”. Only Robert Foxworth (a stage veteran in addition to his decades in television) takes us inside the character. The big reveal at the end is an acknowledgment that the play is essentially a domestic drama, making the the passing references to Presidents Reagan and Bush and Desert Storm and 9/11 and Vietnam-era political violence mere window dressing. Nice set, though. — Jeff Schultz

THE UNDERSTUDY

So, I’m home watching this dark comedy On Demand (it was made in 2008 and played briefly in a few theaters four years later) — and the plot seems a bit familiar: An attractive young actress — with an Indian roommate — sets her sights on a Broadway career — despite the skepticism of her family — and lands a part as the understudy in a show with promise — where she is initially treated with disdain by the cast — until problems with the leading lady catapult the understudy into the lead — and she suddenly starts getting respect from the others — until the producers decide they need a “name” and bring in a movie star to replace the understudy — who kindve sortve poisons the nut-allergic movie star with a cake that knocks her out of the show — regaining for the understudy the lead. The reason I lay out the plot in such detail is that it’s pretty much the EXACT SAME PLOT as the NBC series “Smash”. So it’s “Smash” without the musical numbers. I don’t recall having read of THE UNDERSTUDY as source material for the series, but it’s certainly worth noting. Marin Ireland is craftier and more calculating in the film than Katharine McPhee is in the tv show, and neither one is particularly standout. But the supporting players are solid, especially Richard Kind as the director and Tom Wopat as a skeptical detective. — Jeff Schultz

THE WATCH

On paper, The Watch sounds horrible. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill form a neighborhood watch to stop an alien invasion. The movie isn’t as bad as that…it’s actually worse. Aside from some funny lines from Vaughn, the lack of laughs in this dud is a jaw dropper. Did these guys actually read the “script”? Instead of having fun with the plot it actually takes it seriously: mistake number one. The second biggest mistake was releasing an R rated comedy with a PG premise. Stiller is a stiff, Vaugh acts like he’s in a different yet funnier movie, and Hill looks like he’s thinking about how he’s going to cast 21 Jump Street 2. A flop that deserved to flop, you’ll be checking your watch during The Watch and counting down the minutes before “End of Watch”.

Stormy Curry

THE RAVEN

The Raven is more like a turkey. John Cusack overacts big time as Edgar Allan Poe in a fairly boring movie about someone killing people using the writer’s works as inspiration. Not much tension, the murders come off as poor “Saw” ripoffs, the mystery muddled, and the big reveal of the killer isn’t that big of a reveal at all. You get the feeling everyone behind this film thought they were a lot more clever than they actually were. Will I rewatch The Raven in the future? Nevermore.

Stormy Curry

SILENT NIGHT

Awesome. 28 years after the original (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT), this remake takes the slasher film to new heights of gory delight. Fans of the genre will be coughing up blood with rapturous amusement, whether its a small child (made nasty enough to want dead) frothing out her guts, a topless model fruitlessly pleading to be spared from a wood chipper (a scene that makes FARGO look like “Goodnight Moon”), or an axe to the face that collapses the victim’s skull into a red, liquid stew. And as if these giddily portrayed kills weren’t enough, we get a screenplay that’s WAY smarter than it needed to be, providing plummy, rewindable acting moments for at least three side players: a lecherous priest (Curtis Moore), a sour St. Nick (Mike O’Brien), and, best of all, a Bah Humbug-themed jailhouse rant from another suspect Santa that works itself up into an hysterical lather. This is a movie to warm the lumps of coal that substitute for the hearts of Scrooges everywhere. Malcolm McDowell (in the “Donald Pleasance” role) and Jaime King anchor the cast, and although McDowell’s part veers a bit too far into comedy toward the end, the film remains shocking enough to qualify as exploitation — and three cheers for that! — Jeff Schultz

Finally! A remake of a mediocre movie that actually improves on the original! In the first ten minutes, three people have been deemed “naughty”, including a punky little girl, and been disposed of by Santa. What makes this movie so much fun is the way this version builds on the Santa mythology then plays it out in twisted ways. Malcolm McDowell is awesome as the tough talking sheriff who has the best worst lines ever: “big mistake: you brought a flame thrower to a gunfight, you’re just like an avocado on a hamburger.” The original tells us what drove Santa nuts as a kid at the beginning of the movie…this one fills in the backstory at the end. By doing it that way, that makes Santa a WHOLE lot scarier. THIS is why you do a remake: to do what the original didn’t.

Stormy Curry