It’s another fantastic week for movie fans, with some pretty major titles hitting Blu-ray today, and a few more (like “Les Miserables” and “This Is 40”) being released on Friday. Though I didn’t really like Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation of the popular stage musical or Judd Apatow’s quasi-sequel to “Knocked Up,” there are still plenty of new releases worth checking out, including one of 2012’s best films and the most anticipated prequel since “The Phantom Menace.”
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a part in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Granted, “An Unexpected Journey” only covers about a third of Tolkien’s novel, and as a result, there are times when the movie seems to be holding back in fear that it’s covering too much too soon. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as the young Bilbo, and Ian McKellan effortlessly slides back into the role of Gandalf, but the dwarves are another matter, with Richard Armitage’s leader the only one to really distinguish himself from the pack. However, the film’s real MVP is Andy Serkis, who delivers his best work as Gollum in perhaps the most memorable scene of all four movies. “An Unexpected Journey” still falls a bit short of “The Lord of the Rings” in the end, but it’s a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth whose biggest flaw is not knowing when enough is enough.
Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a bit disappointing that the only bonus material Warner Bros. saw fit to include on the Blu-ray are the two hours’ worth of video blogs that were already made available online in the lead-up to the film’s release. With that said, it’s an impressively in-depth look at the making of the first movie (back when it was only two parts), from location filming in New Zealand, to shooting in 3D and 48 fps, to the dwarves’ intricate makeup and costumes, and much more. Some newer extras would have been nice, but with the inevitable Extended Edition in the pipeline, it’s not much of a surprise either.
The summer movie season may be finally over, but awards season is just around the corner, and Hollywood typically uses September as a time to catch its breath between all the madness. But while there aren’t many high-profile releases on tap for the month, there are still plenty of promising titles worth checking out, including the latest from visionary directors P.T. Anderson and Rian Johnson and the return of Clint Eastwood.
“THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY”
Who: Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Echegui What: After his family is kidnapped, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase. When: September 7th Why: Despite a starring role in last year’s underwhelming Greek epic “Immortals,” British actor Henry Cavill has failed to demonstrate why he was chosen to don the iconic red and blue suit for Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Man of Steel.” And though his latest vehicle was delayed earlier this year due to reportedly bad test screenings, “The Cold Light of Day” will give him another shot to convince audiences that he’s the right choice to play Superman. With that said, however, not even the involvement of Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver makes this action thriller look any less like a Jason Bourne rip-off. After all, there’s usually a pretty good reason when a film’s release date gets pushed back, and it’s hard to imagine that any amount of re-editing will fix that.
Who: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons What: A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work. When: September 7th Why: CBS Films doesn’t exactly have a very good track record, but compared to their past projects, “The Words” seems to be a step in the right direction. Though it received mixed reactions when the movie premiered earlier this year at Sundance, the concept is intriguing enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble cast certainly doesn’t hurt its chances, although it’s not the first time that the studio has used big stars to disguise a turd. And while Bradley Cooper is an actor that I admire, and it’s always a pleasure to see Jeremy Irons no matter how small the role, it’s a little worrying that “The Words” might follow suit, especially in the hands of first-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the writing duo behind the disappointing “TRON: Legacy.”
Who: Kristen Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson and James Marsden What: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school. When: September 7th Why: It may seem awfully convenient that another R-rated comedy about bridesmaids behaving badly is being released only a year after Paul Feig’s Oscar-nominated film became the surprise hit of last summer, but that’s about where the similarities end. In fact, those who claim the movie is just a rip-off might be surprised to discover that Leslye Headland’s directorial debut (which screened at Sundance this past January) is based on her 2010 off-Broadway play of the same name. Though it hasn’t gotten quite the same acclaim as “Bridesmaids,” I’m actually looking more forward to this darker, meaner wedding comedy, namely due to its awesome cast. Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher can be great with the right material, while Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson are two very funny women with very different brands of humor that deserve more recognition.