REVIEW: Jack Reacher

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Jack Reacher
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and Werner Herzog

Tom Cruise, despite his kooky off-screen shenanigans, is a reliably lively screen presence.  He is a relentlessly physical actor, which is why franchises like Mission: Impossible have become his bread and butter.  With Jack Reacher he attempts, with varying degrees of success, to heighten his on-screen persona into that of a morally vague vigilante.

Reacher is a solid R-rated (or at least it should be) detective story based on a popular series by Lee Child.  Christopher McQuarrie, who adapted the script as well as directed, has some nice action set pieces to work with, but the movie is mostly built around making the star look good.  Action stars like Cruise, like the many cars his character here drives, are fast becoming vintage in the CGI era.  Here he is a blunt, no-nonsense “drifter,” a man who comes to the aid of those who need him and deals out justice how he sees fit.

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REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Andy Serkis

Peter Jackson established himself so well with his take on The Lord of the Rings books that he became indistinguishable from them.  After the ill-received mix bag that was 2009’s The Lovely Bones, he has retreated back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle Earth novel, The Hobbit.  Jackson’s storytelling confidence has returned to him in spades here, though drawing out one book into three separate movies that clock in at close to three hours seems like a money grab, especially after viewing this somewhat bloated first installment.

Much like the last film in Lord of the Rings, this first Hobbit segment, called An Unexpected Journey, doesn’t quite know when to end, so it just keeps going.  It is full of the scenic New Zealand grandeur and sweeping camera motions that made the earlier movies so visually thrilling, but the tone is much more slapstick.  This is because the dwarves, which were largely comic relief in Lord of the Rings, are front and center here, along with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).  Freeman and McKellen are both excellent, but there are few stoic, serious elves or gritty rangers to balance out the obnoxious dwarves.  When contrasted with the brutal fantasy series of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s almost child’s play at times.

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