Cineast Movie Previews: ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ ‘American Hustle’

American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug open Friday.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Tolkien’s Hobbit-filled books have been called “interminable” by all but the most ardent readers, and now the endlessness that characterizes the books is being paralleled by the cinema: the production of films featuring hairy-footed little people will never end. Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves, who’s tedious songs were always an eye-glazing dead-end in the novels—smart readers doubtless razored those pages out rather than try to get through them—are back again, along with the whimsically named Bilbo, in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. The conspicuous absence of sex in the film, or, indeed, any female characters of note, should not dismay the pimple-pussed, video-game-addled core audience for the Hobbit films, who doubtless feel that they represent a “real” or “authentic” experience compared to the “bastardized” Harry Potter rip-offs. In reality it’s all the same muck. In theaters December 13.

Saving Mr. Banks
Walt Disney had an almost unerring instinct for what would entertain and delight children. On top of that, Walt Disney was one tenacious guy. So, when he decided in the 1940s that P.L Travers’ novel Mary Poppins could be turned into a fantastic children’s film, he wasn’t willing to take no for an answer, and he struggled for 15 years to convince the reluctant Ms. Travers to grant him the rights to her book. Saving Mr. Banks takes place in the early 60s, as Disney, played by Tom Hanks, has finally gotten Travers, played by Emma Thompson, to the bargaining table. Key to their negotiations is the treatment of the character of Mr. Banks, a figure based on Ms. Travers father and, for her, the soul of the story. She was also adamant that Disney not try to turn the character of Mary Poppins into a sort of fairy princess rather than the edgier figure of the book. We all know how it turns out: the Disney film Mary Poppins, while doubtless a compromise, did not sugarcoat Travers’ story, and it became the most beloved and successful children’s film of the 60s. Saving Mr. Banks shows how it happened. In theaters December 13.

American Hustle
American Hustle, set in what appears to be the late ’70s in the squalid world of con-men in New Jersey mafia-land, seems to be aiming at something bigger. Of course, it’s long been a cinematic tradition to equate the illegal hustles of organized crime to the legal hustling of ordinary people doing their jobs to get by. But, by calling the movie American Hustle, it feels like the filmmakers here are implying that we’re all in on some kind of shameful hustle. The film stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, as well as some suitably cheesy wide-collared shirts, double-wide neckties, and shiny leather jackets.  In theaters December 13.

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