Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Review: "Les Miserables"

It has taken a long time, but Broadway sensation, Les Miserables, finally makes it to the silver screen with this cinematic adaptation, courtesy of director Tom Hooper. This musical set during the French Revolution, follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), from prison to finding religion while trying to evade French officer, Javert, who is after Valjean for skipping his parole board.

The strength of the film is in the performances of Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Anne Hathaway as prostitute, Fantine, who is shown kindness by Valjean on her deathbed, as she names him her daughter's guardian. There is an emotional authenticity to their performances, largely because the actors are freed and are able to act in the moment thanks to director Tom Hooper choosing to film all of the music live when they shot, rather than per-recording the tracks in the studio.

While Les Mis does hit all of the emotional beats, sending shivers down your spine during the beautiful songs, the plot feels fairly disjointed and is resoundingly flat when they're not singing one of the showstoppers. For instance, only when the characters Marius and Cosette are singing a duet do I feel emotion, but between memorable songs, the plot takes over and is full of gaping plot holes. Am I supposed to believe these two who have only met once when they are singing about how they can no longer go on without the other? Not to mention, the film's editing is often chaotic, causing confusion as to the spatial relationship in scenes with multiple characters, and the shot design never fully takes advantage of the grandeur of the tale, save for that beautiful opening shot.

To put it mildly, Les Miserables is an emotionally potent disappointment, that only has moments that never connect into a cohesive whole worthy of the beauty of the songs.

I give Les Miserables a D+

The Year in Comics - 2012

2012, what a year in comics.  DC Comics continued their New 52 initiative to varying degrees of success, and Marvel brought nearly all of their long-running series to a close and relaunched almost their entire line with Marvel Now.

It's been a great year to be a fan of comics, because for the first time in a few years, it actually feels as if both of the major publishers are trying to really take their characters into drastically new directions.  While some have not been particularly fond of some of the changes that come with such creative thinking, for the most part I feel that the comic book industry has nailed majority of the landings.  From the deaths of Charles Xavier and Peter Parker, to the merging of the X-Men and the Avengers in Uncanny Avengers, all the way to the Court of the Owls, to the Joker's creeptastic return in the pages of DC Comics, there have been plenty of major moments from this year that their repercussions will continue to be felt for years to come.

Marvel wrapped up a long-running story, that sort of started all the way back with House of M, by tackling their best event in years, Avengers vs. X-Men.  The story saw the return of the Phoenix Force to Earth, the fall of Scott Summers from hero to renegade, the death of Charles Xavier at the hands of Cyclops, and created a new status quo for Marvel in general, with Marvel Now.

In the aftermath of the events in Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel renumbered almost all of their books at number one, from The Avengers to Fantastic Four, but unlike DC Comics' New 52 from last year, Marvel Now managed to welcome new readers without having to reboot and rewrite years of continuity.  It's a marvel in and of itself that Marvel managed to successfully pull off Marvel Now, without rebooting their universe like DC did, but each number one issue brought the reader up to date without jumping straight into complicated jargon, and let the longtime fans know that everything that had come before is still there, it just is a new beginning for the Marvel universe with the X-Men and the Avengers finally teaming up, with Captain America wanting to lead the charge in creating a bridge between mutants and humans.

Then, there's the death of Peter Parker, not Ultimate Peter Parker this time, but the real Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man that started back with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the '60s.  Personally, I felt that The Amazing Spider-Man was in dire need of a kick in the pants for a long time.  Writer Dan Slott had sort of just been spinning his wheels for about the past two years, with no story really bringing anything new to the table for Peter Parker, and honestly, I feel that Slott managed to deliver his best story yet with the finale of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man has ended with issue 700 and the death of Peter Parker, released just last week, but I mean, does anyone seriously think that Peter Parker will stay dead forever, and that The Amazing Spider-Man wont someday return with a new number one in perhaps just one years time?

To be completely honest, I'm excited for the kick-off of The Superior Spider-Man next year, seeing how the newly reformed Doc Ock will be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was.  Yes, I said Doc Ock as Spider-Man.  Doc Ock transplanted his consciousness into the body of Peter Parker, with all of Peter's memories, and put Peter Parker's consciousness into his dying body, that of Doctor Octopus.  Ock's body finally gives out, right after Peter manages to show Doc Ock why Spider-Man is needed. Sure, you have to roll with all of the complicated sci-fi aspects of this story, but it was so well executed, and it is the first, truly original thing that's happened in the Spider-Man comics in nearly a decade.  So for now, I'm good with this being the new status quo.  But enough about Marvel, what about DC?

Well, DC really just continued their New 52 initiative that started in 2011.  Personally, I found it refreshing that DC did not try to do a big event this year, so soon after rebooting all of the characters, I mean, many of the DCU characters are still trying to find their footing post-New 52, and honestly, that's the biggest problem that the New 52 has brought to light.  Now that each book has kind of shown all of their cards and the newness has worn off, the characters that were having problems before the New 52 are still having problems, such as Superman, and the characters that weren't having problems before are still going strong, such as Batman and Green Lantern.  While certain characters have picked up more steam since the New 52, such as Aquaman, writer Geoff Johns is just continuing the awesomeness that he started before the New 52 with bringing Aquaman back to life in the event, Brightest Day.  Even still, many DC characters had amazing years.

The mythology surrounding Aquaman was brilliantly fleshed out and made even more cooler this past year, with big revelations such as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, having killed archnemesis, Black Manta's father, and the realization that Atlantis was possibly sunk by Atlanteans themselves.  Then, Batman saw the epic finale of the Court of the Owls storyline with the crossover across all of the Batman books, titled Night of the Owls, which brought about huge changes for Dick Grayson's Nightwing, learning that he was next in line to become an assassin for the Court of the Owls until Bruce took him in.  Then, there was the return of the Joker in the ongoing Death of the Family storyline, which has to be the creepiest Joker story ever written, thus far.  The entire Bat-family of books has just had a banner year, and I cannot wait to see what they bring next year.  But enough chit-chat, the real purpose here is for me to highlight what I thought were the best comics of 2012.

While I do not read Indie comics, when it comes to superhero books from DC and Marvel, I try to read almost every major issue that comes around.  But to be perfectly honest, all this list is, is my personal favorite comic books from the past year, highlighting my favorite artists and writers, all at the same time.  So, without further ado, I give out my 2012 Comic Books Awards:

Best Writing - Brian Michael Bendis, All New X-Men

There were many well-written comics this past year, but leave it to Brian Michael Bendis to not only make the X-Men accessible again, but also honor the rich history of each character and the events of Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men at the same time.  His writing is funny, in particular his Bobby Drake, but it's the plot and the what if's of its concept that have made his run so memorable:  What if the X-Men from the 1960s traveled to modern day to see what they've become?  More intriguingly is the showdown between idealist Cyclops, and renegade Cyclops who murdered Charles Xavier.  Bendis delivers all of these moments with the right amount of epicness and clarity, which is why he is the Best Writer of 2012.

2.) Scott Snyder, Batman
3.) Stuart Moore, Web of Spider-Man
4.) Kyle Higgins, Nightwing
5.) Geoff Johns, Aquaman

Best Art - Eddy Barrows, Nightwing

There was no artwork from this past year that really knocked my socks off, but Eddy Barrows' consistent work in Nightwing really won me over.  What I love is Barrows sense of realism in his characters, and his embellishment in the environments.  In particular, his Gotham City is probably the most atmospheric of all of the Gothams currently being drawn in the Bat-books.  Not to mention, his attention to the details of human anatomy and how the body moves, bring the acrobatic sense to Dick Grayson that separates him from the rest of the Bat-family, while he also draws fight scenes that flow from panel to panel.  There is such clarity to how he draws the body movements, your mind automatically fills in the blanks between fight panels.

2.) John Romita, Jr., Avengers vs. X-Men 
3.) Stuart Immonen, All New X-Men
4.) Ivan Reis, Aquaman
5.) Mike Allred, FF

Best Cover - Justice League #12

Probably the most talked about cover in comics this past year, with the smooch between Superman and Wonder Woman plastered all over the internet and even in tabloids.  This issue kind of felt like a gimmick to try and sell more books by promising a hook-up between two of the more recognizable superheroes intertwined on the cover, but so far writer Geoff Johns has managed to not just make this kiss be a gimmick, and has made it the new relationship status quo for both Superman and Wonder Woman.  Watch out Steve Trevor and Lois Lane.

2.) The Amazing Spider-Man #700
3.) Green Lantern #0
4.) Batman #15
5.) Nightwing  #8

Best Back-Up Story - "Shazam!" Justice League

Ever since DC kicked off the New 52, almost all of their major books feature back-up stories every month -- a back-up story being a small four-to-eight page story that is in the book after the main 32-page story has ended.  The brilliance of a good back-up story is when it is either utilized to flesh out the story events from that issue, or in the case of the, "Shazam!" arc in Justice League, it works to re-introduces a classic character, making his origin more epic, funny, heartwarming, and enjoyable than ever before.  I really dig the character of Billy Batson, the way Geoff Johns has written him, and I can't wait to see him either get his own book or team up with the rest of the JLA, which has been teased at all year long.

2.)  "Tomorrow," Batman
3.) "The Fall of the House of Wayne," Batman

Best Story Arc - "Someone is Killing the Brooklyn Avengers," Web of Spider-Man

Every now and then an old comic is resurrected from the dead for a special story.  With 2012 being Spidey's 50th Anniversary, Marvel decided to bring back old Marvel writers to write special issues in the style of old, cancelled Spidey books, one of these being the two-parter for Web of Spider-Man written by Stuart Moore.  What was so brilliant about this story arc, was that it wasn't just a cheap cash grab, but it was the best Spider-Man story I'd read in years.  It was funny, got to the core of who Peter Parker and Spider-Man are as characters, while introducing a whole new slew of characters in the form of the Brooklyn Avengers, the most inept and pointless superheroes you'll ever meet, with powers like being able to shoot paint out of their hands.  Before Spidey ever made it as a member of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, we see in flashbacks how he joined the Brooklyn Avengers thinking they were legit, and they were just a bunch of somewhat superpowered kids who were playing dress-up and he always had to save their butts while also taking down the bad guys.  This arc was just good, clean fun, and the finale where the Brooklyn Avengers induct Howard the Duck into their ranks, was priceless.

2.) "The Court of the Owls," Batman
3.) "Death of the Family," Batman
4.) "The Others," Aquaman
5.) "Avengers vs. X-Men," Avengers vs. X-Men

Best Event - "Night of the Owls" - Bat-Family Event

This was a fairly light year for event comics, with DC not even doing a DC-wide event like they'd done in previous years.  Majority of the events this past year were just events targeted around a particular grouping of books, such as an event that transpired across all four Superman books, etc.  The event, "Night of the Owls," that spanned across seven or eight different Batman-related titles was by far the most epic of all events.  Gotham is overrun by assassins called Talons, out to kill some of Gotham's most notorious citizens, including Bruce Wayne!  From Nightwing to Batgirl, ever story involving the Court of the Owls was top-notch, tying in perfectly with the arc each individual character was experiencing in their own book at that time, while also tying into the larger story of Bruce's own struggles with the Talons.  Just one of the best orchestrated events I've read in the longest of time.

2.) "Death of the Family" - Bat-Family Event
3.) "Avengers vs. X-Men" - Marvel Universe Event

Best Individual Issue - Web of Spider-Man #129.1

As I said above, the storyline involving Spidey and the Brooklyn Avengers was just so entertaining and so funny, I can't say that I enjoyed a comic more this year, aside from the second part of this story that was nearly a close tie.  This issue just had it all.  A perfect characterization of Spider-Man.  Brilliant art.  Wonderful humor.  And tons of originality, which is something that seems to be lacking in the main Spider-Man books as of the past few years.  I for one would love to see more stories starring Spider-Man and the Brooklyn Avengers.  Who knows, maybe they'll even get their own comic series, and if they do, please let Stuart Moore come back and write it.

2.) Green Lantern #0
3.) Web of Spider-Man #129.2
4.) Nightwing #8
5.) The Amazing Spider-Man # 700

Best Series - Batman

Come on.  If you've been reading Batman, you'll realize why it deserves this honor.  No other series this past year was more consistent, more epic, and flat-out more awesome than Scott Snyder's run on Batman.  From the jaw-dropping conclusion of, "The Court of the Owls," storyline that left Batman's faith in Gotham shaken, to the creeptastic return of the Joker, claiming to know all of the Bat-Family's secret identities, there is no other book on store shelves that amazes this much, month after month.  Scott Snyder is slowly proving himself a Batman legend with his writing and creativity.  Not only does it feel like Batman is in the best shape it's been in years,  but it's the first comic I've read in a long time that I feel as if I'm getting in on the ground floor of classic stories that will be remembered for decades to come.

2.) Nightwing
3.) All New X-Men
4.) Green Lantern
5.) Aquaman

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Review: "Silver Linings Playbook"

Silver Linings Playbook is a joy from start to finish.  It's the kind of film that you feel as if you have actually experienced something, while at the same time you're wildly entertained.

Blurring the lines between drama and comedy, the film tells the story of Pat (Bradley Cooper), a former History teacher who walked in on his wife with another man.  Pat snapped and beat the man to a pulp, being sent to a mental hospital for 8 months, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  Once out, Pat moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), while he tries to get his life back on track and prove to his wife that he's changed.  To say that this film is a comedy, may seem hard for someone to fathom, but believe me, writer/director, David O. Russell makes it work.

Silver Linings Playbook shows these serious situations, but makes them funny by amping up the neuroses of all involved.  In a way, it's as if Russell is saying, everyone is a little bit crazy, as is evidenced by Pat's psychiatrist's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles, or his dad's obsessive, superstitious beliefs that if Pat doesn't watch the Eagles' games with him, then the Eagles will lose.

The performances by all involved are superb.  Bradley Cooper delivers a career best turn as Pat, being both likable and vulnerable at the same time, and what more can be said for Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a mentally unstable widower, named Tiffany, who befriends Pat.  Lawrence is having one great year.  From her career best work as Katniss in The Hunger Games, to her work in Silver Linings Playbook, she proves that she is full of spunk, but is not afraid to show emotion or fall apart, and that is why she very well may win the Best Actress Oscar come January.

There is just something special about Silver Linings Playbook.  It's funny and oddly heartwarming.  After a career high with The Fighter, two years back, David O. Russell bests himself again with this film.  This is quite possibly the best directing he has ever done, with his kinetic shot design utilizing a lot of camera movements to show the characters and emotions that he wants us to focus on at that time, by dollying the camera in or whipping it around other actors to get to the core of each scene.

Silver Linings Playbook is an offbeat film, and some might not find its straightforward nature all that funny, because with both Pat and Tiffany, what you see is what you get, and they both say whatever is on their mind.  While they often say socially unacceptable things at the wrong times, that is where the comedy often comes from, and it's why you realize that these two are meant to be together, learning, that no matter how crazy you think you are, there's always someone out there for you who is just as crazy and will love you for who you are.

I give Silver Linings Playbook an A+

(Note:  If you live in the Birmingham, AL, area, the film is now playing at the Carmike 10 - Vestavia Hills' location)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Movie Review: "Django Unchained"

I have never been a Quentin Tarantino fan, so to say that I enjoyed Django Unchained is a huge testament to the film itself.  While Django is not without its flaws, it's an enjoyable film that actually has a little more emotional weight than your typical Tarantino flick.

In the film, Jamie Foxx portrays Django, a Southern slave in 1858, who is freed by a German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, played with charismatic relish by Christoph Waltz.  The two become an unlikely dynamic duo, as they kill bad men for rewards.  Meanwhile, Schultz helps Django find his wife who was sold to a vile plantation owner, Calvin J. Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, with more boyish enthusiasm than I've seen from him in years.

The performances are top notch and the script does a good job of making these characters likable, for the most part.  The two best characters are Candie and Schultz, primarily because they are the most charismatic, but Schultz also turns out to be the most sympathetic and human, in terms of emotional response, than most other characters.  The big thing with the script is it never makes Django likable.  While I'm rooting for his character because of all the injustices that have separated him and his wife, I don't like Django as a person, especially by the end of the film where he seems to be more interested in exacting revenge, than in love, even after he's already saved his wife.  Another misstep in writer/director Tarantino's script, is that he kills off the two most charismatic characters thirty minutes before the end, making the final act feel like a chore to get through.  Not to mention, is there really this much need for blood and guts spewing everywhere?  The amount of gore was over-the-top, even for the genre that Tarantino is mimicking here.

Even through all this, Django Unchained does have its moments, in particular the hilarious scene with an early version of the KKK.  As well, from a technical standpoint, this is one of the more masterful films of the year.  The cinematography is immaculate, with all of the Spaghetti Western zooms Tarantino employs executed to perfection, never losing focus.  As well, this is quite possibly the best edited film of 2012.  Is all of this enough to warrant a second viewing?  No, but I don't regret seeing the film.  I love Christoph Waltz and his character Dr. King Schultz, and I rather enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio getting to have a little bit of fun as Candie.

I give Django Unchained a C+

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Movie Review: "Jack Reacher"

Jack Reacher is a pulp action movie in the vein of 1970's Steve McQueen.  There are car chases, mysteries, and a slightly more gritty view of everyday life.  In Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise portrays the titular character, and while I have never read the books, so I cannot say I agree or disagree with some critical statements that Cruise is far from 6' 5" and blonde, as a moviegoer I felt that this was Cruise's best action performance in years.

I actually buy Cruise as Reacher, an uber-smart drifter who can give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money, with the physicality of a bar brawler.  Reacher lives a life of freedom, no home, debt, or ties to society, he just travels from place-to-place, often using a fake identity wherever he goes to right the wrongs of justice.  A former military police officer, Reacher may be the true supercop, he's almost superhuman, but there and again, that is what makes Jack Reacher pulp.  If you have never enjoyed characters like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, then you will not enjoy Jack Reacher, but if you do love the aforementioned characters, or at least similar characters, then you'll love this movie.

Based on the ninth novel in Lee Childs' Jack Reacher series, One Shot, Jack Reacher comes to Pittsburgh to clear the name of a former military sniper who was set up for killing five people in cold blood, but Reacher, being the supercop that he is, manages to uncover a conspiracy behind the killings. The mystery behind the sniper and the conspiracy that unravels from that, are the best parts of Jack Reacher.  The movie is suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian at times, in particular the sniping sequence, where we see the crosshairs, we know what will happen, and we're on the edge of our seat just waiting for him to fire.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie proves he has great cinematic chops.  In particular, I was in awe of the first ten minutes, where there is no dialogue of any importance, but all visuals moving the story forward.  We learn everything we need to know about the case of the sniper in these shots, gathering all of the evidence and discovering who Reacher is all via the shot design and the exquisite editing.  Though, even for the brilliant piece of pulp entertainment that Jack Reacher is, with the exception of the Jack Reacher character, the majority of the other character's in Jack Reacher are stock lawyers, DAs, gangsters, and corrupt detectives, in particular the villain portrayed creepily by filmmaker, Werner Herzog.  The connection between Herzog's character and the shootings is never fully defined, leaving me confused when Jack Reacher and Herzog's men showdown in the final thirty minutes as to why I should care.  And as for Rosamund Pike's character, Helen, why does she start the film dressed conservatively and suddenly at the midpoint of the movie, she's wearing such low cut clothing it's distracting?  There was no discernible psychological change in her character as to why she'd change the way she dresses everyday?  Perhaps this was a mistake in the costuming department, or maybe McQuarrie just succumbed to the urges of his inner twelve-year-old?  I guess we'll never know.

Still, even though Jack Reacher falls into some of the common trappings that these kind of pulp stories can, I really love the character of Jack Reacher, and enjoyed Tom Cruise in the part.  Featuring one of the most pulse-pounding car chases in recent movie history, and some occasional humor that comes from Reacher's analytical mind often pointing out human flaws, Jack Reacher is a fun movie that any fan of these kinds of stories will enjoy, and I for one would love to see a sequel.

I give Jack Reacher a B-

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New: Archive Reviews!

It seems every year I wind up seeing more movies than I actually review.  Previously, I only ever reviewed films if I saw them within the first few weeks of their theatrical releases, but I very often see movies later on at dollar theaters or on DVD or Blu Ray, so I've decided to do something about that.  I am sometimes asked whether or not I've seen this movie or that, or if I have a review of a certain movie, and very often I have seen the movie, but I don't have a review for it, so I'm starting what I call Archive Reviews!

With these Archive Reviews, I review a movie after I see it, no matter when it was released, to share my thoughts on the film and hopefully let people know if they think the movie will be for them or not, after all, that is the true purpose of a film review I believe.  Of course, it would be a daunting task to review every movie I've ever seen in my lifetime, so I've decided to start this initiative with any movie I've seen that was released this year, 2012.  I have spent a lot of time the past few weeks writing up reviews to every single movie I have seen in 2012, and there are now 38 Movie Reviews in the back catalog on the Unicellular Review for you to enjoy, the links to which are in alphabetical order below:


Beasts of the Southern Wild




Cloud Atlas

Dark Shadows



John Carter


Life of Pi




Men in Black 3

Mirror, Mirror

Moonrise Kingdom


Red Tails

Seven Psychopaths


Snow White and the Huntsman

Take This Waltz

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Avengers

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Bourne Legacy

The Dark Knight Rises

The Expendables 2

The Grey

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

The Hunger Games

The Master

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Secret World of Arrietty

The Woman in Black

This Means War

Stay tuned as I will be posting links to more Archive Reviews on a regular basis, as I see more films once they hit DVD or Blu Ray.  My hope is to have a new post highlighting all of my new Archive Reviews at least once a month, and if you're interested in finding a Movie Review in the sidebar, all Movie Reviews from now on will be posted on the day that they hit theaters.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

I have an interesting history with J.R.R. Tolkien's classic, The Hobbit, finally getting the big screen treatment with the first part of a planned trilogy to bring the tome to life, An Unexpected Journey, now in theaters.

When I was in 8th grade, I played Bofur in a stage version of the book, in a joint production between Clay-Chalkville Middle School and Clay-Chalkville High School.  Bofur was one of the thirteen dwarves that came knocking on hobbit, Bilbo Baggins' door, recruiting him as their "burglar" to  sneak into their mountain fortress that is now under rule of a vile dragon, named Smaug.  I've always been very fond of Bofur as a character, and am delighted to see how director Peter Jackson and actor James Nesbitt have expanded his role into the primary form of comic relief in The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.  To cut to the chase, as a big fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and having a sentimental fondness for The Hobbit, I find The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey all the more stirring.

Pretty much the same crew from The Lord of the Rings trilogy returns behind the camera for The Hobbit trilogy, with the first installment not only proving to be as technically impressive as the groundbreaking effects work in The Lord of the Rings, but also surpassing it in many ways.  The visual effects from WETA are better than ever, with their pioneering motion capture technology having taken many significant steps since The Return of the King in 2003, with characters like the despicable, yet lovable, schizophrenic creature, Gollum, now having a wider range of emotion than he was ever able to relay in the previous installments.  Of course, what makes The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey such a joy, is that it feels like coming home after a long time abroad.

From the first moments of the film, we see old places and old faces.  From the first sights of the Shire, to Ian Holm as old Bilbo once more, narrating this story.  There's Elijah Wood as Frodo in a brief cameo, and then we get reintroduced to Ian McKellen's Gandalf, while welcoming Martin Freeman into the role of a Bilbo, 60 years younger, who still manages to make us feel as if we've known his Bilbo as long as we have Ian Holm's.  Even the music, by composer Howard Shore, harks back to The Lord of the Rings, with the Shire theme played as beautifully as ever before.  This film just knows how to stir your memories, and already has you drawn into the story before you even really meet any new characters.  With that said, while The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey does feel like The Lord of the Rings, it becomes it's own thing very quickly.

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey feels of the same world, but like how a film about the Gulf War will be different from a film about World War II, one is set at a more innocent time, and The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey takes that concept and runs with it.  It's funnier than The Lord of the Rings, with more emphasis on humor and a wider range of traditional fantasy.  Trolls did not talk in the other films, nor did Goblins, but they did in the book, and so they do in this film, often to hilarious results.  Jackson and his cast and crew play up all of the British humor that Tolkien included in the book, and do not shy away from it, just to make it feel like The Lord of the Rings (which coincidentally was written twenty years after The Hobbit).  Not to mention, the relentless sense of adventure from Tolkien's book is here as well.  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey is an adventure film, it's not a majestic epic like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it's like a storybook bedtime story.  Many of the visuals have this golden sheen to them, of sunlight streaming through trees and climbing over mountain tops, creating an inviting aura around the scenes that was not of the prior trilogy.  As well, the fellowship of dwarves, led by the heroic, yet stubborn Thorin Oakenshield, are a camaraderie as lovable as the Fellowship of the Ring, and composer Howard Shore does not sit on his laurels, having composed a score that takes many of the cues from The Lord of the Rings and incorporates them with a new theme based on the dwarf song, "Song of the Lonely Mountain."  It's sweeping and majestic, and brilliantly sung by musician Neil Flynn in the credits.  This film truly is a feat that is equal to what has already come before it.

If you're already a fan of Middle Earth, you will love The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.  You kind of get the feeling that Peter Jackson is no longer trying to pick up new fans with these films, but rather he's just trying to serve the already fans.  The truth is, the way Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he wrote it like a children's adventure storybook, and the film does have that feel in terms of the tone and the  visuals that Jackson creates, but Jackson also takes the rare opportunity to expand Middle Earth.  Using details from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson and fellow screenwriters, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo del Toro, flesh out areas in The Hobbit that add further depth of character to these often slight characters from the original book, allowing for a far richer, and far more emotional experience.  It's actually kind of like Peter Jackson -- who released an extended version of all three Lord of the Rings' films after they came out -- decided to release the extended version in theaters this time about.  Will it seem too long to someone who is just a passing cinemagoer?  Probably, but to fans, it's a treasure trove of joy.

The film lays the seeds for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with us seeing, not only how Bilbo found the one ring, but also promising to answer, in the next installment, what happened to ultimate villain, Sauron, between his demise at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, to his rise throughout the rest of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The way Peter Jackson has approached the first installment of The Hobbit, promises to not only answer a few questions left lingering from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also manages to be a rip-roaring adventure film that can stand on its own for fans of Middle Earth, marking this film as an entertaining and emotional classic of cinema.

I give The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey an A+!