A whole batch of new movies have arrived at the library. Here’s a quick preview of just a couple of the new DVDs available to rent:
Argo – Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Picture, Argo is certainly deserving of the award. With only three films under his belt, actor-turned-director Ben Affleck delivers his best with a gripping and suspenseful story of the CIA attempting to smuggle 6 American hostages out of a very hostile situation in Iran. Based on a true story, Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, who concocts the idea of sneaking the Americans out under the guise of a Canadian film crew who are scouting for the non-existing sci-fi film entitled “Argo.” Equal parts spy thriller and love letter to Hollywood in the 70’s, Argo is a fascinating true tale of the lengths the CIA went to in order to bring the 6 diplomats home. The film does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the time period as well as casting actors with striking resemblances to the actual people involved. The cast is rounded out with great work from John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston in supporting roles. While Affleck might have been snubbed for the Best Director Oscar, if he continues to produce films of this quality, it won’t be long until he takes home the trophy.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – The first of another trilogy of adventures into Middle-Earth by award winning director Peter Jackson, part one of the Hobbit re-introduces us to a young Bilbo Baggins. Played this time around by Martin Freeman (taking over for Ian Holm, who played the character in the Lord of the Rings), Bilbo is a hobbit who would be quite content to sit peacefully in his snug home until the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of dwarves come to whisk him away on an adventure. Almost ten years after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, due to legal battles, The Hobbit feels like we merely stepped outside for a moment before returning back to the same lush and vivid world we loved in those films. Several returning cast member such as Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchet, Hugo Weaving, and Andy Serkis (fantastic once more as Gollum) make the transition to a new trilogy an easy one. Full of stunning visuals and sweeping scale, the film does suffer from feeling padded due to the fact that its source material has been spread a little thin. As Bilbo would say, “like butter over too much bread.” Padding aside, just to revisit the world and characters we loved in the Lord of the Rings would be reason enough to watch, yet happily the movie provides fun enough of its own to make it worth it.
Les Miserables – More than 25 years after opening in London, the famous stage musical has finally been adapted for the screen. Oscar winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) brings together an impressive cast lead by Hugh Jackman as the fleeing fugitive Jean Valjean. Valjean, a man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for stealing bread breaks his parole only to be hounded by Russell Crowe’s Inspector Javert. Along the way, Valjean’s life becomes entangled with factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and later her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfired) and her suitor Marius (Eddie Redmayne). While it received several nominations and awards, the film is not without its problems. Many found Russell Crowe lacking in the vocals required for the role of Javert and the director’s frequent use of close-ups was off-putting to some. Those points aside, Hathaway delivers a heartbreaking performance that was truly deserving of her Oscar win and the trio of Seyfried, Redmayne and Samantha Barks all deliver memorable vocal performances in their roles.
Lincoln – Long a pet project of director Steven Spielberg, Lincoln delivers a biographical film full of heart, humor and incredible performances. Set towards the end of the Civil War, the film finds President Abraham Lincoln (played to uncanny perfection by Daniel Day-Lewis) coming to grips with the question of slavery and its future in a post-war America. Day-Lewis gives us a soft spoken man, weary from years of war and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet he still manages to find the strength to be both endearing and humorous in the face of his trials. Sally Field gives an emotional performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, a wife and mother with struggles of her own. In order to win over the senate, Lincoln most enlist the aid of others such as Mr. Bilbo (a surprisingly funny James Spader, no relation to the hobbit) and staunch abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who, if not for Day-Lewis’s amazing acting, would have easily stolen the show. The rest of the cast include the likes of David Strathairn, Jared Harris, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt amongst others. Lincoln is easily one of Spielberg’s best films in years.
(All images courtesy of Amazon.com)