Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 3 stars

I feel like I've been waiting for this movie almost as long as I waited for The Phantom Menace.  After Return of the King opened in 2003, there was talk that Peter Jackson would make The Hobbit next.  Then after a few years, it was happening.  But there was just the problem of getting the rights from MGM.  And then MGM went through bankruptcy.  Then Guillermo del Toro left.

After all that, we finally have The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opening today.  And while it's not the disappointment that The Phantom Menace was, it can't live up to the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings.

Set some 60 years before the events of Rings, the story concerns young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, taking over for Ian Holm), a simple hobbit who lives in the Shire.  One day the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) shows up and asks Bilbo to go on an adventure.  It seems there are these dwarves who were kicked out of their homeland by a dragon named Smaug.  Their quest is to defeat Smaug, and steal back his treasure, so the dwarves can go home again. 

And that's basically the story.  No quest to save the world this time.  That in and of itself isn't a problem.  It shouldn't matter whether a movie is about the fate of the world or just a simple adventure story.  But it's hard not to compare this to the LOTR movies.  And while those movies were epic enough to justify their 3 hour plus running times, this movie should have been at least a half hour shorter.

One problem I had was the beginning.  It's at least a half hour before the quest begins.  First Gandalf appears to Bilbo, and then one by one we meet the dwarves.  It seems like they stay in Bilbo's house forever eating, throwing dishes around, and singing.  This gets very boring.  And you would think that with that much time, they could have developed the characters of the dwarves better.  While some of them have a distinct look (the one with the funny hat, the really fat one, the one with the crazy beard), with the exception of Prince Thorin Oakenshield, none of them are memorable. 

In LOTR, you had Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.  Then after we got to know them, we got Strider, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir.  In The Hobbit, the only characters we really care about are Bilbo and Gandalf.  And just like the other movies, Gandalf has a habit of disappearing for stretches of the movie. 

There were several sequences that dragged on too long, and I got kind of bored.  But there are some fun moments too.  The best is when Bilbo meets Gollum.  I have to admit that it's nice being back in this world with these characters again.  And the movie does get me excited for the next chapter.  I just wish that Peter Jackson would restrain himself a bit.  Not every movie needs to be 3 hours long.

Hopefully the next movie is even better.  I am looking forward to seeing what they do with Smaug, since we hardly see him in this movie.

Hitchcock - 3 1/2 stars

This isn't a biopic of Alfred Hitchcock.  This movie just focuses on one year of his life.  The year is 1959 - 1960.  North By Northwest has just been released, and it was a huge success.  The studio wants him to make another movie just like it, but he wants to do a horror movie.  He finds the book Psycho and decides that will be his next movie. 

We get to see his battles with the studio, who refuse to finance the movie, leaving Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) to finance it himself by taking out a load against his house.  We also see him battle the censors about everything from violence and nudity to showing a toilet.  The funniest scene in the movie is when the head of the censor board argues about showing a toilet flush, which no American movie had ever done.

Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock's wife, Alma.  She may be having an affair with an author named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), and this subplot is where the movie lost me a little.  But Mirren delivers a great performance and her scenes with Hopkins are great fun.  Hopkins does a great impersonation of Hitchcock, and I would love to see him play the director again just to get more of this performance.

The movie works best when it's focusing on the making of Psycho.  Scarlett Johansson is very good as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy is wonderfully creepy as Anthony Perkins.  I just wish he was in the movie more.  Danny Huston is very good, but unfortunately his scenes are the ones that are the most unnecessary to the movie.  Any time the focus is on Alma and Whitfield, I was just wanting to get back to Hitchcock. 

We don't get to learn a lot about the man himself except that he was in an almost loveless marriage, and he liked to eavsdrop (and peep) on his actresses.  This movie is a lot of fun.