Movie Reviews: Middle Earth opens to visitors

The Hobbit entertains, but some of the scenes carry to the point of tedium

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

 

Hairy-footed hobbits have been spotted at theatres across North America as the decade-long wait of Tolkien fans is over. The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey is here, and Middle-earth is once again open to visitors (all major credit cards welcome).

Based on the relatively short prequel to the Ring trilogy and set 60 years prior to its dire events, Journey is the down payment on a project that has ballooned into its own trilogy. The backstory involves the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was shattered by the vile dragon Smaug, who now squats malignantly on a vast fortune of stolen dwarf gold. After many years in exile, a band of 13 dwarves decide it’s time to reclaim the treasure. And so, accompanied by the wizard Gandalf the Grey and a reluctantly conscripted hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, the dwarvish contingent sets forth on a long and dangerous trek where they encounter fearsome beasties such as goblins, orcs, wargs, and a deadly sorcerer. After many heroic battles — including a 15-minute dust-up in a labyrinth of goblin caves whose interior decorator seemed to be Hieronymus Bosch — our brave crew get within sight of their destination, little realizing that there are still six hours of screen time left before we all can reach a happy ending.

Solidly entertaining though it is, Journey is a bit too meandering for its own good. Director Peter Jackson seems besotted with his own storytelling tricks, with some of the scenes carrying on to the point of tedium. But the New Zealand landscape puts in its usual great performance, and the sense of a medieval English arcadia is persuasive. Serious fans will undertake this Journey with great enthusiasm; others will enjoy it, but wonder what all the fuss is about.

 

The Hobbit: An unexpected journey ★ ★ ★

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman

PG 13 – 161 minutes • Continues at Capitol,

Uni 4, SilverCity, the Westshore

 

Hitchcock: A Love Story

Although unable to match the fan base of The Hobbit, there’s a biopic about legendary director Alfred Hitchcock that has created a notable buzz amongst cinephiles. The witty and psychologically intriguing Hitchcock is catnip for those who remain in thrall to the mordantly-voiced “master of suspense” whose iconic films include Vertigo and North By Northwest. Hitchcock was notorious for his obsessions with his icy leading ladies (just how unhealthy were the inclinations of the voyeuristic and controlling Hitchcock is still subject to debate), and this is a key theme in a movie focused on Hitchcock’s struggles to make the artful slasher flick Psycho.

Not only do we see Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) forced to mortgage his house to fund a movie that no studio would bankroll, but relations with his wife and long-time collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) become increasingly strained: she is hurt by his all-too-obvious infatuation with Hollywood blondes, while Hitchcock thinks Alma is having an affair with a second-rate screenwriter (Danny Huston). Alma and Hitch become like two spiders in a jar, viciously taunting each other over real and imagined slights. Things aren’t going well on the set either, and the film repeatedly shows an anguished Hitchcock being visited by the spirit of serial killer and body snatcher Ed Gein, the freak whose repulsive crimes inspired the novel that Psycho was based on.

Marvelously acted and frequently clever — the framing device for the film mimics the morbidly droll way that Hitchcock introduced his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV shows — this isn’t a Christmas movie per se, but it is a grand present for those with a fondness for movie history. And in its own odd way, it’s a fascinating love story.

Hitchcock ★ ★ ★ ★

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren

PG 13 – 98 minutes

Continues at The Odeon

 

 

 

Perfectly Potable

The corpulent Alfred Hitchcock was a shameless gourmet, and certainly liked fine red wine with his meals. The Rhone region in southeastern France consistently produces great wines – and since it’s Christmas, let’s splurge. Le Vieux Donjon from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is complex and spicy, with a core of dark fruit infused with touches of dusty herbs. This is a dramatic, hedonistic, mouth-filling wine that would turn any dinner into a special event. Sure, it’s $60 – but I say you’re worth it. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Victoria Movie Listings:

 

Opening

 

THE GUILT TRIP -(Odeon/Uni 4/Caprice) Seth Rogen plays a hapless inventor who is embarking on a lengthy road trip to flog his latest invention — and has the possibly terrible idea of inviting his mother (Barbra Streisand) along to keep him company. The laughs start Wed. (but Friday at the Caprice).

MONSTERS, INC. -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Ten years ago the Toy Story team cut loose with a cavalcade of cuddly ghoulies in a popular romp, which was funny and gorgeous to look at but a bit thin in the plot department. Here is the 3D re-release. Starts Wed.

JACK REACHER -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Tom Cruise stars in the much-anticipated — and much-debated — screen debut of author Lee Child’s manly and admirable knight errant, Jack Reacher, an ex-military sniper and MP who has become a drifter with a knack for finding trouble. In this tale, Reacher helps an old friend who has been framed for a mass murder. Starts Fri.

THIS IS 40 -(Odeon/SilverCity) This sequel to the raunchy Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up shows an older Pete and Debbie, complete with two kids, who now find themselves colliding with a mid-life crisis. Starts Fri.

 

Continuing

 

★★★ ANNA KARENINA -(Odeon) English director Joe Wright reunites with Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice) to present a glossy and intriguingly stylized version of Tolstoy’s classic tale of a doomed, adulterous love affair set amidst the aristocracy of 1870s Russia. With Jude Law and Emily Watson.

★★★½ ARGO -(Caprice) Despite some liberties taken with the facts, this account of a CIA agent who managed to smuggle six Americans to safety from Iran during the famed 1979-’80 hostage crisis is surprisingly even-handed, very suspenseful and truly entertaining. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

★★½ CLOUD ATLAS -(Odeon/Caprice) German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) combines forces with Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) to take us on an exotic, wildly ambitious trip as characters lead parallel and contrasting lives in six different storylines in the past, present, and future. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS -(Caprice) Greg is totally ready for summer when suddenly his plans all fall apart. What’s the poor guy gonna do now?

★★★½ FRANKENWEENIE -(Caprice) Tim Burton, master of the amusingly morbid, is in fine form in this darkly droll animated tale of a boy who uses lightning to bring his beloved pooch back from the dead. Not surprisingly, there are unexpected consequences.

★★★★ HITCHCOCK -(Odeon) Anthony Hopkins (aided by several pounds of latex) stars as the brilliant — and rather warped — director Alfred Hitchock, in a witty and entertaining film that depicts the creation of the sublimely creepy Psycho. With Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife and Scarlett Johansson as the girl who gets stabbed in the shower. See review.

★★★ THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This long-expected Lord of the Rings prequel has a young Bilbo Baggins head off with a posse of dwarves to reclaim some treasure stolen by a mean old dragon named Smaug. Hobbit fans will love it, people with less of a passion for those with hairy feet should merely be entertained. With Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis as the perfidious Gollum. See review.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg.

★★★½ LIFE OF PI -(Odeon/SilverCity) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) helms this visually gorgeous adaptation of Yann Martel’s magical and spiritual novel about a young man’s epic adventures while lost at sea — most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger.

★★★★ LINCOLN -(Odeon) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America’s black slaves. The superb cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.

★★★½ LOOPER -(Caprice) This trippy, noir-tinged sci-fi thriller is a stylish mash-up of hitmen and time travel. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush), Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

★★★ RISE OF THE GUARDIANS -(Capitol/SilverCity) Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other magical icons come together to save childhood innocence after a very evil spirit named Pitch starts making trouble. This animated lark is voiced by Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin.

★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life — and his marriage — back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).

★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) The latest James Bond spy thriller features cool gadgets, exotic locales … and a villain with a vendetta against poor old M. Easily one of the best Bonds ever, this has all the usual thrills but also an elegiacal tone and some unexpected drama that will leave the audience shaken and stirred. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes.

★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(Caprice) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire.

★★★ WRECK­–IT RALPH -(SilverCity) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.

 

Leaving Thurs.

★★ THE MASTER -(Caprice)

★★ PLAYING FOR KEEPS -(Capitol/SilverCity)

★★½ KILLING THEM SOFTLY -(Capitol)

★★½ TAKEN 2 -(Caprice)

★★★ FLIGHT -(Odeon)

 

 

SCREENINGS

 

MOVIE MONDAY’S MUSIC WEDNESDAY -is screening Lightning in a Bottle, the superb documentary by Martin Scorsese featuring two dozen great blues musicians at a concert celebrating this universal art form. 7pm in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC. moviemonday.ca

MOVIE MONDAY – Is wrapping presents and otherwise taking Christmas Eve off. Back next week! By donation. 6:30pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC. moviemonday.ca

 

Imax

 

NOTE: CLOSED DEC. 25

AIR RACERS -(1 pm & 5 pm: Fri.-Mon. & Wed.-Thurs.) Paul Walker narrates this pulse-pounding documentary about the world’s fastest race, as amazingly nimble planes negotiate a tricky course at 500 MPH.

HUBBLE -(French only on Fri., Dec. 21, 10 am only)

SKYFALL -(8 pm Fri.-Sun. & Wed. / 7 pm  Thurs.)

THE LAST REEF: BENEATH THE SEA -(11 am Fri. & Wed.-Thurs. 6pm Thurs.)

MYSTERIES OF EGYPT -(10am Wed.-Thurs; 3pm Fri.-Mon. and Wed.-Thurs.)

★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(10am Sat.-Mon., and 6pm Fri.-Mon. &

Wed.)

TO THE ARCTIC -(noon Fri.-Mon. & Wed.-Thurs.)

 

Cinecenta

 

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.  NOTE: Cinecenta is closed from Dec. 22 till Jan. 1

LOVE, ACTUALLY -(Wed., Dec. 19: 7:00 only) This much-touted romantic comedy has genuinely touching moments and lots of sharply-crafted comedy, but it’s also cloying and burdened with several subplots devoid of charm: it’s like the highlights reel from a half-dozen mediocre chick flicks. Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson head up a huge and impressive cast.

★★★★★ IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE -(Thurs.-Fri., Dec. 20-21: 7:00 only)  The real countdown to Christmas begins with Cinecenta’s annual screening of this revered Capra classic, where Jimmy Stewart’s Everyman embodies the true spirit of the season.

 

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