Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday Season Cinema Roundup 2012 Part 1

This hasn’t been the strongest holiday movie season I’ve experienced (how could it be without the Coen brothers or George Clooney?), but it’s a pretty strong one with a few entertaining epics, a couple of decent comedies, and one big overwrought musical competing for movie-goers attention.

So let’s take a look at what’s currently playing as the year is ending:

(Dir. David O. Russell)

Although it must be stressed that this is ultimately a best-case scenario rom com, this tale of a bio-polar Bradley Cooper getting together with Jennifer Lawrence as a neurotic widower has a punchy screenplay that’s energetically (and very loudly) delivered by the leads, including Robert De Niro, in one of his most invested performance in years, as Cooper’s Philadelphia Eagles superfan father. Chris Tucker, who keeps popping up after repeatedly escaping from Cooper’s former mental institution, adds to the film’s already plentiful laughs. Director and screenwriter Russell's last film, 2010's THE FIGHTER, was a winner as well, so here's hoping he's on a roll.

(Dir. Sacha Gervasi)   

Sacha Gervasi’s (2008's rock doc ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL) second film as director boasts a stellar cast - Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collett, and Danny Huston – but a not so stellar story. The conceit that every good idea that went into the making of the classic 1960 thriller PSYCHO came not from the Master of Suspense, but from his wife Alma falls flat in the midst of these fine actors being put through T.V. movie-ish motions. Read my full review here.


Peter Jackson takes us on another sweeping slog through Middle Earth in this prequel set 60 years before THE LORD OF THE RINGS series. Martin Freeman, best known as Tim on the mockumentary sitcom The Office [UK], stars as Bilbo Baggins who reluctantly finds himself on a quest with an unruly band of dwarves to overtake what looks like the Paramount mountain. I saw it in HFR (Higher Frame Rate) 3D, but, although it looked exquisitely sharp, it wasn’t as immersive an experience as I’d heard. Probably would’ve been just as well off with the 2D version.

There are some amazing heavily CGI-ed sequences, including battles and chases inside an elaborate underground city that comes off like THE TEMPLE OF DOOM times 100, but you can really feel its length (169 min.), and the idea that this is just part one of another trilogy seems to come more from greed than pure inspiration. 

But that's too cynical of me. This is really for the legions of Tolkien fans who can’t get enough of this stuff and will love spending more time with Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, and getting cameos from Frodo (Elijah Wood), and Ian Holms as the older incarnation of Bilbo who presents the story as a flashback. What I enjoyed most was Bilbo's cave encounter with the slimy creature Gollum (once again beautifully played by motion-capture specialist Andy Serkis), which is nicely faithful to the original Tolkien text.

(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Tarantino’s blaxploitation Western is also a long-ass film (165 min!) that could’ve been served by better editing (sadly his long-time editor Sally Menke died in 2010), but it’s still a hugely entertaining epic that tackles revenge, slavery, and possibly contains the most excessive use of the “N-word” in cinematic history. 

Jamie Fox stars as a slave who gets freed by a former dentist played by Christoph Waltz who offers Fox a new job as a bounty hunter. Together, they set off to rescue Fox’s wife (Kerry Washington) from the plantation of the brutal yet charming Leonardo DiCaprio. The film drags a bit in DiCaprio’s company, which includes Samuel L. Jackson as his cruel conniving house slave, but when its “on” it's a blast. Read my full review here.

Coming soon: Part 2 of Film Babble Blog's Holiday Season 2012 Roundup.

More later...

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