Picks of the Week
‘Zero Dark Thirty’
(R, 157 minutes, Sony): From the very first scenes of “Zero Dark Thirty,” director Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates why she is such a formidable filmmaker, as adept with human emotion as she is with visceral, pulse-quickening action.
Starting with an opening sequence that consists of a blank screen and an audio track of the anguished 911 calls of people caught in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Bigelow cuts unceremoniously to a squalid prison two years later, where a CIA official is torturing a detainee. This harrowing scene embroiled Bigelow and “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter Mark Boal in a political firestorm, but anyone who appreciates movies at their most engrossing, taut and well-crafted will be supremely rewarded by a film that makes a 10-year bureaucratic slog utterly riveting.
Contains strong violence, including brutal and disturbing images, and profanity.
Extras: “Small Feat” featurette with Bigelow sharing the significance of this project and the recounting of the historic event; a behind-the-scenes featurette on the re-creation of bin Laden’s lair; a behind-the-scenes look at the raid; and “Targeting Jessica Chastain,” on the Oscar-nominated actress who played the key role in the film.
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’
(PG-13, 170 minutes, New Line/MGM/Warner): As the first of director Peter Jackson’s trilogy, this “Hobbit” may well please the franchise’s most devoted fans, who will no doubt savor the chance to traipse through J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginative landscape populated by dwarves, elves, goblins, trolls and the appealingly winsome title character.
But purely on its own terms, “An Unexpected Journey” is a dreary, episodic series of lumbering walk-talk-fight sequences that often looks less like genuine cinema than a large-scale video game. Jackson spends a great deal of time on back stories and explanation, which results in lots of windy, expository speeches and character introductions but not much by way of genuine emotional involvement or dynamism.
Contains frightening images and extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence.
Extras: Full suite of Jackson’s production videos, behind the scenes video journals covering start of production, location scouting, filming in 3D, post-production overview and the Wellington, New Zealand, world premiere. Also available in 3D version.
(PG-13, 160 minutes, Universal): There’s plenty to cheer in “Les Miserables,” including some astonishing breakout performances.
Eddie Redmayne delivers by far the most moving performance as Marius, who along with his fellow students is caught up in France’s political upheavals in the 19th century. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, “Les Miserables” juxtaposes Marius’ fight for political justice with the more personal struggle of Jean Valjean (played by an unrecognizably emaciated Hugh Jackman), who opens the film as an enslaved prisoner.
Russell Crowe plays Javert, the vengeful police inspector who, when Valjean breaks parole, pursues him obsessively. The centerpiece of a movie composed entirely of centerpieces belongs to Anne Hathaway as the tragic heroine Fantine; her Oscar-winning rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is a melodramatic tour de force.
There’s little sense of dynamism or pacing, a fault both of the original score and director Tom Hooper’s unimaginative staging and camera work, which tend to underline every emotional beat.
Contains suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
Extras: commentary with Hooper, “Creating the Perfect Paris” production design featurette; “The Original Masterwork” mini-documentary, a look at the historical backdrop and universal themes of Hugo’s classic. Also, on Blu-ray: featurette on the challenge of singing live rather than lip-syncing; featurette on the building of the barricade scene; a look at “The West End Connection,” with renowned London producer Cameron Mackintosh, as well as former “Les Miserables” theatrical stars who appeared in supporting roles in the current film; on location featurette. TheWashingtonPost