New on DVD: ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘August: Osage County’

One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.

August: Osage County

John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review

 

New in Theaters: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Finally, the Lonely Mountain

Finally, the Lonely Mountain

For anybody who had just about given up on Peter Jackson’s ever-longer-seeming series of J.R.R. Tolkien films, there comes the improbably named The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Who knows how next year’s final installment will come off, but the second Hobbit film mostly chucks aside everything that was wrong with An Unexpected Journey and relocates the joy of storytelling. Plus: Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens everywhere this Friday. My full review is at Film Journal International:

The elements click smartly together in The Desolation of Smaug like they haven’t since The Fellowship of the Ring. This is partly due to Jackson having better material to work with. With its characters fresh out of the Misty Mountains, the film hurls them from one danger to the next. In short order they’ve been taken in by a shape-shifting man-bear friend of Gandalf’s, sent into the inky-black vastness of the perfectly named Mirkwood, fought off giant hissing spiders, and imprisoned in the Escher-like underground palace of the wood-elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace). Looming in the distance is the treasure-filled Lonely Mountain, with its dragon guardian Smaug, and the unspoken worry that this tiny band of homeless dwarves and their unlikely burglar Bilbo (Martin Freeman) will be utterly outmatched once they arrive…

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) aims at Legolas' heart

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) aims at Legolas’ heart

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

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So, granted, the first installment of The Hobbit was something of a letdown even for those who weren’t a little exhausted with Peter Jackson by the time The Return of the King ground to an end. But, the trailer for Jackson’s second—and most likely just as bloated episode—has thrills and beauty aplenty.

In the plus column: Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Smaug, and a Mirkwood that looks as much of a thrilling mythological darkland as Tolkien described it.

In the minus: romance for Legolas, the fact that there is still one more film to come.

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Adaptations: Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Slaugherhouse Five’?

Guillermo Del Toro ponders one of his 'Pan's Labyrinth' beasts.

Guillermo Del Toro ponders one of his ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ beasts.

After many years of nothing much, horror/fantasy wunderkind Guillermo Del Toro is finally getting back into the game. His long-in-gestation R-rated take on H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness never quite came to fruition for the usual reasons (detailed in a 2011 New Yorker profile of Del Toro here) and he ultimately left The Hobbit to make room for Peter Jackson; an arguably poor choice either way.

Now, Del Toro’s got a massive monster mashup movie coming out, Pacific Rim, wherein alien monsters battle giant Robotech-like mechas for the survival of humanity. Could be like Godzilla (the lamentable remake) meets The Transformers or it could be honest-to-God bang-up summer fun. There’s also Crimson Peak, a The Shining-esque British haunted house story starring Benedict Cumberbatch, coming out later this year.

slaughterhouse5-coverIn even more intriguing Del Toro news comes this tantalizing note via an interview with The Daily Telegraph, that not only is Del Toro looking to film Slaughterhouse-Five  but he’s interested in having Charlie freaking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Kaufman write the thing.

Granted, Kaufman is more exciting to hear about here than Del Toro (Vonnegut’s concept of being “unstuck in time” would appeal perfectly to Kaufman’s sensibilities, while Del Toro’s maybe too creature-feature for this tonally complex a book), but this is still potentially great news.

Not knocking George Roy Hill’s 1972 version (trailer below), but this is one book that might be worth knocking the dust off and introducing to a new generation, and Del Toro would hopefully take some risks on it that other more award-ready filmmakers wouldn’t.

New in Theaters: ‘West of Memphis’

westofmemphis-posterOn Christmas Day, amidst all the other award-hopeful films, one documentary that’s small in budget but massive in scope opens in limited release; it’s well worth seeking out:

Without Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s trilogy of Paradise Lost documentaries, most of the world would never have heard of the West Memphis Three. But when all is said and done, Amy Berg’s impactful film might ultimately stand the test of time as the true document of the case and its hair-raising implications for justice in America…

My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

TheHobbit-posterJust in time for holiday gathering bickering over what movies to see, the first installment of the new Hobbit film trilogy opened everywhere late at night on Thursday, so strap on your Gandalf beard:

For Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit, his freedom to sprawl the narrative over three films also gives him the freedom to indulge in the same tricks and tics that gummed up the works so direly in Return of the King. Meaning: a whole server farm’s worth of animated orcs to keep goosing the action along whenever it threatens to flag, and a script too often shorn of the source material grandeur or playfulness. The unfortunate thing is that Tolkien’s book didn’t need any goosing along. He knocked out that brisk, rollicking read as a bedtime tale to read to his children; only later did it become the genesis of his entire Middle-earth mythos…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is playing everywhere right now in a multitude of formats. It’s advisable to skip theaters showing it at the 48 fps (frames per second) speed, as it makes too much of the action look sped-up and cartoonish.

My full review is at Short Ends & Leader.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Coming Attractions: A Third ‘Hobbit’ Film?

Deadline reported yesterday that Peter Jackson is considering making The Hobbit into a trilogy. Jackson is considering taking the Appendices that were published at the back of The Return of the King (which he calls essentially notes for a planned rewrite of The Hobbit which would have incorporated a lot of material that Tolkien came up when writing his later trilogy) and using that as a basis for the third film.

For Lord of the Rings film junkies, this might be good news; more the better. And the studio would certainly be delighted. For those of us who are fans of the mythos as a whole and didn’t necessarily think that Return of the King was enriched by its fourth ending, it could be a potential sign of trouble: empowered auteur on the loose! Jackson’s artistry as a whole has been terrific, but it does begin to wear on one after a while in a way that Tolkien’s dense style never quite does. The films are never quite able to hit those light, cheery notes as well as the books can, focusing over-much on the battles and melodrama.

Maybe instead of a third Hobbit film, they should be talking about doing something with The Silmarillion? Yes, it’s more mythology than fiction, but plenty of story to go around. And let’s be honest, it would be incredible to see what Jackson could come with for the sacking of Gondolin and the tragedy of Beren and Luthien.