WE’VE GOT A TER­RIFIC GROUP OF AC­TORS VERY, VERY SKILLED AT COM­EDY

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - PETER JACK­SON

con­fronting than the orig­i­nal chil­dren’s tale; Cate Blanchett, who reap­pears as the elf-queen Gal­adriel in scenes not in Tolkien’s orig­i­nal, ad­mit­ted that her four-year-old son Iggy didn’t see the film at its Lon­don pre­miere, though her two older boys — Ro­man, 8, and Dash, 11 — lapped it up.

The comedic scenes are as well played as Jack­son hoped. When they’re not fight­ing deadly bat­tles against gob­lins and wargs, the crew of 13 dwarfs — whose ad­ven­ture Bilbo is dragged along on by the wizard Gan­dalf — en­gage in what some re­view­ers have called a ‘‘ Mid­dle- earth frat party’’ and Barry Humphries is de­li­ciously wicked as the goblin king. Sylvester McCoy, best known to date as the sev­enth Dr Who, ap­pears here as Rada­gast the Brown, a wizard who didn’t make the tran­si­tion from Tolkien’s Rings books to Jack­son’s first three films, but is rein­serted into The Hob­bit as a foil to Gan­dalf. Ac­cord­ing to McCoy, he’s also a char­ac­ter whose sig­nif­i­cance will de­velop dur­ing the next two in­stal­ments. And as to the vexed ques­tion of whether The

Hob­bit really can sus­tain be­ing bro­ken down into three parts — the sec­ond is due in the mid­dle of next year and the third in mid-2014, with a to­tal es­ti­mated bud­get of $US500m — Jack­son has promised plenty of back­story and de­tours that fol­low ap­pen­dices writ­ten by Tolkien as he fleshed out the nar­ra­tive dur­ing the years spent con­struct­ing his Rings world. On the ev­i­dence here, you can ex­pect at the very least a very grand — as well as un­ex­pected — jour­ney. AMONG other block­busters hit­ting Aus­tralian screens this hol­i­day sea­son, Spiel­berg’s Lin­coln is the must-watch for any­one in­ter­ested in his­tory, civics and the ques­tion of whether to­day’s lead­ers are up to the tasks de­manded of them — par­tic­u­larly in the wake of calls this week for Barack Obama fi­nally to deal with the stran­gle­hold the gun lobby has on ev­ery­day Amer­i­can life.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the hot tip for a best ac­tor award at the Os­cars for his por­trayal of the 16th pres­i­dent of the US, who pre­vailed against a largely hos­tile congress to have slav­ery out­lawed. Lin­coln has al­ready chalked up seven Golden Globes nominations — the most of any film for the 75th an­nual awards cer­e­mony — and while Day-Lewis pulls off the cen­tral role with ef­fort­less poise, an en­sem­ble cast in­clud­ing Sally Field as Lin­coln’s wife, Mary Todd Lin­coln, and Tommy Lee Jones as the Repub­li­can Thad­deus Stevens is also out­stand­ing.

Lin­coln opens lo­cally on Fe­bru­ary 7. An­other pick of the crop — and a rel­a­tively fam­ily-friendly en­trant to the list — will be Ang Lee’s much awaited Life of Pi, based on Cana­dian au­thor Yann Martel’s Man Booker prize-win­ning (and best­selling) novel of the same name. Re­leased here on New Year’s Day, it tells the story of In­dian school­boy Pi Pa­tel and the menagerie his fam­ily is at­tempt­ing to trans­port from its Pondicherry zoo to a new life in Canada. The ac­tion takes place be­tween the adult Pa­tel’s liv­ing room, as he re­counts the tale of dis­as­ter that be­fell him on the jour­ney and in the af­ter­math of the storm that sank the freighter on which he was trav­el­ling.

Lee is a mas­ter­ful film­maker and the piece is lush; the ship­wreck scenes are gen­uinely ter­ri­fy­ing and Richard Parker, the tiger with whom Pi must share his lifeboat, be­comes as real a char­ac­ter as you could imag­ine. That, of course, is the con­ceit of the story but you can see it for your­self to de­cide which ver­sion of events — as Pi him­self puts it — you pre­fer.

Les Mis­er­ables is Bri­tish di­rec­tor Tom Hooper’s fol­low-up to his enor­mously suc­cess­ful The

King’s Speech, and it is likely to present the strong­est chal­lenge to Day-Lewis’s chances for a best ac­tor Os­car in the form of Aus­tralian songand-dance sa­vant Hugh Jack­man, who plays the rags-to-riches hero Jean Val­jean. The piece is al­most en­tirely sung, hav­ing been adapted from the stu­pen­dously suc­cess­ful Cameron Mack­in­tosh mu­si­cal, and even has a new song writ­ten es­pe­cially for Jack­man (which is in it­self go­ing to win him gongs). Anne Hath­away is cer­tain to add to her tro­phy cab­i­net for a dev­as­tat­ing per­for­mance as Fan­tine and Rus­sell Crowe, while not a singer of the same ver­sa­til­ity as Jack­man, Hath­away or oth­ers in the cast (in­clud­ing the stun­ning Ed­die Red­mayne, fi­nally also be­ing seen on Aus­tralian TV screens in the bril­liant The Pil­lars of the Earth, an adap­ta­tion of the Ken Fol­lett fan­tasy novel of the same name) will please fans.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty has been at­tract­ing crit­i­cism for its ap­par­ently pos­i­tive por­trayal of the tor­ture meth­ods used by CIA agents to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion from ter­ror­ists; Even ahead of its world pre­miere, it also has at­tracted over­whelm­ing praise from crit­ics.

Open­ing here on Jan­uary 31, it is a big film with a sin­gle fo­cus: the hunt, across a decade, for the al-Qa’ida leader, which ended with his killing in a se­cret Pak­istan res­i­den­tial com­pound, de­spite many false turns in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion along the way. It’s not for the squea­mish but Jes­sica Chas­tain’s nom­i­na­tion for a Golden Globe for best ac­tress as the CIA in­ves­ti­ga­tor Maya, who re­fuses to let go of the threads of ev­i­dence link­ing cap­tured ter­ror­ists to bin Laden, is solid ev­i­dence of the film’s qual­ity.

Aus­tralian brothers Joel and Nash Edger­ton play mem­bers of the elite Navy SEAL squad that takes out the ter­ror­ist leader, and former Aus­tralian TV ac­tor Ja­son Clarke as the CIA tor­turer-in-chief is un­flap­pable. Oth­ers to add to the must-see list in­clude The

Im­pos­si­ble (Jan­uary 27), Anna Karen­ina (Fe­bru­ary 7) and Bren­dan Cow­ell’s en­ter­tain­ing Save

Your Legs (Fe­bru­ary 23), about a sub­ur­ban Aus­tralian cricket team’s tri­umphant tour of In­dia. But more on that one nearer to the date.

Clockwise from main pic­ture, Martin Free­man, left, and Ian McKellen in The

Hob­bit; Su­raj Sharma in Life of Pi; Jes­sica Chas­tain in Zero Dark

Thirty; and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lin­coln

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