New Releases for the Week of December 14, 2012


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

(New Line) Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy. Directed by Peter Jackson

At long last it’s here; Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth to take on the original J.R.R. Tolkein masterpiece to which The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a sequel. In it, the wizard Gandalf approaches the respectable hobbit Bilbo Baggins to accompany him and thirteen dwarf warriors to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. However to get there they will have to travel the goblin tunnels where Bilbo will meet a creature named Gollum who has this ring…

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images)

The Bay

(Roadside Attractions) Kristen Connolly, Jane McNeill, Christopher Denham, Kether Donohue. When researchers discover the levels of toxic chemicals by a small Chesapeake Bay village have reached alarming levels, nobody listens. But when those chemicals spawn a parasitic life form that takes over first the minds and then the bodies of the villagers, “I told you so” just isn’t enough. From Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content, bloody images and language)

Chasing Ice

(National Geographic) James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Adam LeWinter, Louie Psihoyos. A photographer for the National Geographic hits upon the idea of documenting photographically the shrinking polar ice caps. Setting the cameras up in the harshest environment on Earth proves to be a life-risking challenge but the results are both beautiful and terrifying.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Miami Connection

(Drafthouse) Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Maurice Smith, Kathy Collier. A martial arts rock band in Orlando decides to take on the drug cartels and make Florida a safe place to rock and roll once again. Although this was filmed back in 1987 (and looks it), it is getting its first American release thanks to the good folks at Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse theater with dining chain.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full move at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: NR

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What Just Happened


What Just Happened

De Niro contemplates the images of his latest film in the anonymous darkness of a theater.

(Magnolia) Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, John Turturro, Michael Wincott, Kristen Stewart. Directed by Barry Levinson

It is said that in space no-one can hear you scream. In Hollywood, not only can everyone hear you scream, chances are the rights to it are in turnaround.

Ben (De Niro), a veteran Hollywood producer, is at a photo shoot for a Vanity Fair feature on the 50 Most Powerful People in Hollywood and he is miffed at where he is placed on the set. In a town where perception is everything, he finds himself off to the side, away from the true power brokers. For a producer, the perception of powerlessness can make his job damn near impossible.

Ben’s latest project, a Sean Penn (played by himself) vehicle called Fiercely, is at a test screening attended by the hard-as-nails studio boss Lou Tarnow (Keener). The test scores are a disaster. Not only is the hero killed at the end of the film, so is his dog, brutally shot by generic Eurotrash hitmen. The movie is scheduled to open the Cannes Film Festival in less than two weeks and Ben is ordered to change the ending or else the vindictive Tarnow will bury the film, preventing its release in any form.

When the news is presented to the film’s manic English director Jeremy Brunell (Wincott), he has a meltdown, not wanting to compromise his artistic vision. Still, those problems pale in comparison to Ben’s next project, which is set to begin filming in ten days. It’s star, Bruce Willis, shows up to the set bloated, grossly overweight and even more terrifyingly, with a beard that would do Stonewall Jackson proud. The film’s backers are threatening to halt production and sue everyone, including Willis’ neurotic and hypochondriac agent (Turturro). To make matters worse, the film’s writer (Tucci) is having an affair with Ben’s ex-wife (Penn), who Ben wants to get back together with despite their attempts at “breakup therapy” which smacks of L.A. flightiness.

While Ben navigates a personal life that is nothing short of a minefield, his professional career is threatening to implode. And buddy, nothing is harder to come back from for a producer than the perception that he is ineffective.

Director Levinson also directed the satire Wag the Dog which skewered politics and Hollywood on the same spear, but this doesn’t have the bite that the other film possesses. The movie’s worst quality is its blandness, and that prevents the movie from being rated highly. What the film has going for it is that the cast is exceptional, led by De Niro who can make ordering a ham sandwich compelling. Willis and Wincott take the over-the-top route, which works out nicely. However, it also serves to illustrate the movie’s other glaring flaw – the characters feel more like caricatures than real people. It’s hard to get behind a movie when the characters in that movie are unbelievable.

There is a fascination with peeking behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. We all have visions of massive egos jousting for higher perches in the pecking order, and to a certain extent that’s true. There’s a certain vicarious thrill with watching rich power players grovel and from time to time get put in their places and that’s the attraction for What Just Happened. It’s unfortunate that a cast this talented and a director with the abilities of Levinson couldn’t have made a better movie, but even their lesser efforts are worth a look.

WHY RENT THIS: An insider’s look at Hollywood from a consummate Hollywood insider. An outstanding cast, led by the always watchable De Niro. Willis and Wincott in particular, give over-the-top performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie falters when covering Ben’s personal life. While some of the scenes are based on real-life incidents, the characters don’t feel reel. The satire is bland, the kiss of death for satire.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is pretty salty and there are some scenes of violence, sexuality and drug use. Probably a bit rough for the younger sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the book the movie is based on is non-fiction, the book’s author, producer Art Linson, chose to film it as a fictional work with fictional characters.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Traitor