“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” _ Stuffed with Hollywood’s latest technology, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” prelude is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days. It’s also overstuffed with prologues, flashbacks and long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves as Jackson tries to mine enough story out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology to build another trilogy. Remember the interminable false endings of “The Return of the King,” the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”? “An Unexpected Journey” has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien’s brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras. Two more parts are coming, so we won’t know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one’s embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, “An Unexpected Journey” looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film. Martin Freeman stars as homebody Bilbo, the reluctant recruit of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) on a quest to retake a dwarf kingdom from a dragon. The 48-frame version offers remarkably lifelike images, but the view is almost too real at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film and exposing sets and props as movie fakery. PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
_ David Germain, AP Movie Writer
“Hyde Park on Hudson” _ Bill Murray as FDR? The casting might sound weird at first. But Murray’s subtly charming presence ends up being one of the stronger elements of this otherwise lightweight romance, which depicts one of the most revered United States presidents with all the substance and insight of a lukewarm cup of tea. “Notting Hill” director Roger Michell, working from a script by Richard Nelson, depicts a brief period in the secret affair between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his fifth cousin, Margaret Suckley _ or “Daisy” as she was known. Unflaggingly loyal, earnest and supportive, she’s also mousy, quiet and a total bore _ a huge waste of the versatile and vibrant talents of Laura Linney. The fact that Linney provides wall-to-wall voiceover doesn’t add much, as she’s stuck spelling out what should be pretty obvious on screen (“He said I helped him forget the weight of the world,” for example.) “Hyde Park on Hudson” focuses specifically on the June 1939 weekend when FDR hosted the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) at his family’s home in upstate New York, hence the title, just as World War II was about to erupt. Michell awkwardly tries to balance both the farce of cultural clashes and the jealous tension that arises as Daisy begins to understand that she’s not the president’s only paramour. Olivia Williams brings a no-nonsense presence to her portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in a “Rushmore” reunion with Murray that’s a total letdown. R for brief sexuality. 95 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
“Playing for Keeps” _ This is supposed to be the time of year when high-quality movies come out, whether they’re potential Oscar contenders or crowd-pleasing family fare. So the presence of this flat, hacky, unfunny dreck _ the kind of film that ordinarily tries to fly under the radar in January or February but would be torture to sit through in any month _ is a total mystery. It is truly baffling that all these talented, acclaimed people actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn’t possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane. Butler, still struggling with comedy, stars as George Dryer, a once-great Scottish soccer star who’s now divorced and in financial straits. He moves to suburban Virginia to reconnect with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and their young son (Noah Lomax). Naturally, a couple of things happen pretty quickly, accompanied by an intrusively jaunty score. First, George gets suckered into coaching his kid’s soccer team. Then, the mothers of all the other 9-year-olds start brazenly hitting on him. Director Gabriele Muccino veers wildly between wacky hijinks and facile sentimentality, and Robbie Fox’s script doesn’t feature a single character who resembles an actual human being. PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image. 105 minutes. Zero stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
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