Blu Tuesday: Hobbits, Terrorists and More

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.

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2012 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.

Best Movies of 2012

1. “THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.

2. “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.

3. “ARGO

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

It’s no secret that Hollywood saves some of its biggest guns for the end of the year, and between all the awards season hopefuls and holiday blockbusters, there’s an entire arsenal of exciting movies coming to theaters this December. While Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino duke it for Oscar honors with their newest films, “Jack Reacher” and “The Hobbit” promise to deliver pure escapist entertainment. The only thing missing is a big red bow, because this is the ultimate present for film lovers.

“HYDE PARK ON HUDSON”

Who: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and Samuel West
What: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley during the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited upstate New York.
When: December 7th
Why: Bill Murray is notoriously picky about choosing scripts, but not even he could turn down the chance to play Franklin D. Roosevelt, which practically comes with an Oscar nomination attached to it. All kidding aside, Murray is actually a pretty inspired choice to play the wheelchair-bound 32nd President, especially because Roger Michell’s film appears to be much lighter for a story that takes place during such a harrowing period in history. While it’s unlikely that “Hyde Park on Hudson” will garner the same awards recognition as 2010’s “The King’s Speech” (although the two movies would make a perfect double feature), it’s hard to imagine that it will disappoint with such a solid cast.

“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving
What: Bilbo Baggins journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
When: December 14th
Why: After years stuck in development hell due to the MGM bankruptcy crisis, the most anticipated prequel to come out of Hollywood since “The Phantom Menace” is finally arriving in theaters, although not exactly in the way that most people were expecting. For starters, Peter Jackson is back in the director’s chair after Guillermo del Toro cut his losses to work on other projects (and really, it’s for the better), while two movies have now become three after the decision was made to turn “The Hobbit” into its own trilogy. Though I’m not exactly sure how Jackson plans to do that (especially when Part One, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” will reportedly run 160 minutes long), that doesn’t make me any less thrilled about getting the chance to revisit Middle Earth all over again.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY”

Who: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt and Jason Clarke
What: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of Navy SEAL Team Six.
When: December 19th
Why: The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal got together, they made the superb military thriller “The Hurt Locker,” which went on to win six Oscars, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The pair has reportedly been working on a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden for quite some time – so long, in fact, that they had to completely rewrite it after the al-Qaeda leader’s death in 2011 – but if there’s one film with the potential to outdo their last collaboration, “Zero Dark Thirty” is it. Though the movie is clearly much larger in scope than “The Hurt Locker,” with a lot of moving parts and an incredible ensemble cast too big to list here, if Bigelow and Boal get it right, this could be the movie event of the year.

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