Cineast Movie Previews: ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Mr. Turner,’ ‘The Gambler’

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

It has been said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. To this we must add the certainty that, come Christmas, a film promising the “final battle between good and evil” will hit the multiplexes and take in a big wad of cash. Gloomy settings and low, guttural male voices will predominate—direct sunlight and women will be in short supply—and vast armies will descend, marching in perfect formation across barren landscapes. And that’s what really gets in the way, isn’t it? There are always attempts at explanations for these ruthlessly efficient armies that appear out of nowhere—sometimes the explanation is magical, sometimes it’s technological—but the questions still linger: who trains and equips these vast armies? Where are the supply chains? What do they eat in these barren wastes they march through? How is such brutal discipline maintained? This year’s version of the ritual features the Peter Jackson directed The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and, if we are to believe the copy, this will be the last of the films based on Tolkien’s “masterpiece” The Hobbit. Now Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, Dragons—for these we can suspend our disbelief. But FIVE vast armies? What are they going to eat?

Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner, directed by Mike Leigh, is a biopic about the revolutionary 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner. Turner is played by Timothy Spall as a gruff, eccentric man with neither much patience for the trappings or flattery of fame, nor much appetite for analyzing what he does or finding his place in the art world. This seems realistic, if perhaps problematic for a biographical film—artists of Turner’s skill and single-mindedness spend most of their time making art, which isn’t that much to watch. And, as with the 2000 biopic Pollock, another film about an inarticulate renegade artist, it’s left to supporting characters in Mr. Turner to make grand statements about the importance of Turner’s work—a device that feels stagy and yet is necessary to get the point across. The film features beautiful scenery, the inspiration for much of Turner’s work.

The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg has been in the news lately for his efforts to be granted a pardon in Massachusetts for a felony assault conviction that he received in his youth. Maybe while he’s at it, he should try to get Massachusetts to pardon him for the hairstyle he sports in this film. In The Gambler, Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a risk-taker by nature who leads a double life: by day, a mild-mannered professor, by night a high-stakes gambler. In both cases, his hair looks like it’s about to crawl off of his head and into a gutter.

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