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New release movie reviews - 21 December
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ** (166 minutes) M
It's back to Middle-earth for another walking tour of the rugged New Zealand landscape as the young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is recruited by resident wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help a group of dwarves reclaim their distant homeland. Epic though it tries to be, unfortunately there is simply not enough story to justify the inordinate length of what is the first installment of yet another Tolkien-inspired trilogy. The rhythm is: walk; fight; walk; fight. Worse, though, is how the enormous production effort poured into the cinematography, visual effects and huge battle sequences is negated by Peter Jackson's disastrous decision to shoot his 3D franchise extender at 48 frames per second instead of the normal 24. This makes the entire enterprise look like the world's most expensive home video. Everything simply looks fake; it's a painful experience. The good news is that filmgoers have the option of seeing The Hobbit at 24 frames per second, which will be at most cinemas, and is a choice that is strongly recommended. At 48 frames a second, The Hobbit really does look awful.
WRECK-IT RALPH ***1/2(108 minutes) PG
This A-grade animated Disney charmer hits the nail on the head as alienated video game villain Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly) tries proving himself a good guy. His quest takes him across a fabulously realised landscape where all the game scenarios in a video arcade appear as regions of the same world. Controversial comedienne Sarah Silverman provides the sweet voice of Vanellope, a race car driver who is trapped inside her game. As with Rise of the Guardians, director Rich Moore (The Simpsons; Futurama) has enormous faith in the ability of young audiences to absorb multiple story strands at once, a belief aided no end by the exquisite quality of the animation.
LES MISERABLES *** (158 minutes) M
Straight from his Oscar triumph with The King's Speech, director Tom Hooper does a solid, if unremarkable, job bringing the stage musical phenomena to the screen. With 19th-century Paris recreated in realistic, grimy detail and all cast members singing live before the camera - a very risky and rare gamble that paid off - the film is consistently entertaining, though never enthralling. Hugh Jackman is terrific as the persecuted Jean Valjean; Anne Hathaway is a revelation as Fantine; Amanda Seyfried shines as her grown up daughter Cosette; and Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) makes a soulful romantic rebel. But the real diamond here is Russell Crowe. As the committed lawman Javert, he proves what a versatile and magnetic actor he is. The voice might not be grand, but Crowe inhabits the uniform with pride, arrogance and a hatred for Valjean you can almost taste. Yes, the film is long, but if you know that going in, you'll also know not to drink any black coffee beforehand.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE **1/2 (105 minutes) PG
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler team up as goofball grandparents in a cheesy, by-the-numbers slice of computer-written family comedy designed primarily as multiplex fodder for the holidays. Attempting to babysit the over-coddled kids of their only-child daughter (Marisa Tomei), the passable pie-in-the-face standard of humour delivers a decent quotient of chuckles, with the inevitable "let kids be kids" message being repeatedly shoehorned in between gags involving going to the toilet, bullying and bad advice. Crystal - who, at 64, now bears a remarkable resemblance to the elderly comic he played in Mr Saturday Night (1992) - produced the film and still shows some of his signature spark, especially when dealing the the mod-cons in his daughter's digitally enhanced house.
QUARTET *** (98 minutes) M
It's on for old and old in this warm blanket of a comedy as a group of lovably crusty, sharp-tongued musicians and singers living in a lush retirement home prepare a concert to save their home from closure. Billy Connolly is the resident wisecracker; Tom Courtenay (aka Billy Liar) is a music teacher eager to connect with young students; Maggie Smith (always great) is his fiery ex-lover whose arrival causes long dormant sparks to fly; and, in the film's stand-out performance, Pauline Collins (aka Shirley Valentine) plays a dotty dame whose memory is slipping beyond the point of amusement. With an obvious love for British gardens and heritage-protected interiors, first-time director Dustin Hoffman (who does not appear) delivers a congenial, easy-to-like comedy-drama about how aging is more than a matter of attitude. Adapted from the play by Roger Harwood, who did the adaptation.
SIGHTSEERS ***1/2 (88 minutes) MA
This terrific British black comedy has been dubbed "Natural Born Campers", and with good reason. Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are a couple of quaint British tourists who get to know each other by going on a caravan holiday across The Midlands. Tina quickly discovers how Chris likes dealing with small irritations by killing people, then carrying on as if nothing is wrong. And she doesn't seem to mind. Deftly directed by Ben Wheatley (whose fright-fest Kill List is a must on DVD) and written by Oram and Lowe, the film is careful not to make light of violence, using comedy to sharpen its sinister edge. (See our interview with Alice Lowe)
SAMSARA *** (98 minutes) PG
Ron Fricke, the director of Baraka (1992), returns for another mesmerising, impressionistic movie in which time-lapse photography of cities at night, long shots of chicken factories and time spent with spiritualists in remote, mountain-top structures is intended to ignite thoughts about the meaning of life, society, technology, God, ecology and robots. As with 1982's Koyaanisqatsi (on which Fricke was cinematographer), the film's level of profundity will depend largely on just how deeply you want to engage with the footage. You can think deeply about the meaning of soldiers marching in perfect unison if you like, or just let the images wash over you. Filmed over four years in 25 countries, Fricke proudly shot Samsara in old-school 70mm.
People complained in exactly the same way when HD came out. In 4-5 years when this is standard all of you complaining will realize how stupid you are.goose Tuesday 15 January, 2013 - 4:52 PM
It was exactly like watching a HiRes home video, but a home video of middle earth! It was different and different is what I hope for when I go to see a 'visual' movie.AMidMany Monday 31 December, 2012 - 4:00 PM
I thought it was a very entertaining and enthralling movie even though I have read the book, I did not want to leave during the film to go to the toilet. The singing was just as it should be when there is no talking at all. As for Russell Crowe his voice is a lot better than I thought it could be and you are right he was outstanding.Rhonda Saturday 29 December, 2012 - 5:41 PM
I went into the movie knowing it was shot at 48 frames per second. I was curious to see what it would look like. I forgot that it was, shot at that speed, within 30 minutes of watching. It looks exactly the same. I like that Peter Jackson was daring enough to try it and I would love to compare the action scenes of the two speeds. If you didn't know that it was shot at 48 frames per second you wouldn't have noticed or bothered to criticize it for this.Eric Friday 28 December, 2012 - 8:36 AM
Sorry, you must need glasses. 48fps is the best thing to happen in movies since the big screen. Instead of feeling like I'm watching a film, I feel like I'm looking through a window onto the live action!Dave Friday 28 December, 2012 - 7:09 AM
Brain dead conservative "critic".
Ignore Jim, the hobbit at 48 fps is a visual feast, with no annoying motion blur and crystal clear visuals.
Change happens (Jim, Deal with it!)and this is definitely a change for the better as far as cinema is concerned.Billmonday Thursday 27 December, 2012 - 2:03 PM