Friday Flicks: Peter Jackson, Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey and Gollum Return for The Hobbit

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Warner Bros. Pictures

The Hobbit

A cursory look at the other new releases of the week will probably reveal a batch of films you’ve never heard of nor have any intention of seeing. The movie studios may be many things, but they’re not stupid — and they know not to go up against an utter behemoth on opening weekend, which Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey most certainly is.

Expectations are high among Hobbit fans, but with the final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy cleaning up at the Oscars, moviegoers and critics alike are hoping that Jackson can once again become Lord of the Ring. The movie – the first in another trilogy – was shot in 3D and, far more radically, at 48 frames per second (since 1927, the standard frame rate has been half that amount). “24 frames is jarring to me now,” Jackson has said. “It looks primitive. Change is good, it takes people some time to get used to it.”

But is his movie any good? In a nutshell, it follows the Shire-dwelling hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), with some assistance from a familiar friend, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), on a quest with 13 dwarves to reclaim their treasure and homeland from a dragon called Smaug (and yes, he’ll meet Gollum, once again played by Andy Serkis, along the way).

Critical reaction to the film, despite Jackson’s obsessive defense of the controversial frame rate – “Ultimately, it’s not critics who are going to decide if this [format] is going to be adopted or not, it’s the audience” – is pretty positive. Empire concludes that, “The Hobbit plays younger and lighter than Fellowship and its follow-ups, but does right by the faithful and has a strength in Martin Freeman’s Bilbo that may yet see this trilogy measure up to the last one. There is treasure here.” More surprisingly, the New Yorker is also pleased with what Jackson’s achieved with his latest take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s world: “On balance, honor has been done to Tolkien, not least in the famous riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum, and some of the exploits to come will surely lighten the load.” But when a bad notice is served, boy, is it served. “This film is so stuffed with extraneous faff and flummery that it often barely feels like Tolkien at all – more a dire, fan-written internet tribute,” writes the Daily Telegraph. And The Village Voice ain’t happy either. “Instead of feeling like we’ve been transported to Middle-earth, it’s as if we’ve dropped in on Jackson’s New Zealand set, trapped in an endless “making of” documentary, waiting for the real movie to start.” But when all’s said and done, or rather written, the likes of The Hobbit tend to be critic-proof because, if you’re even remotely interested in going on this unexpected, or perhaps expected journey, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.

MORE: Richard Corliss Reviews The Hobbit

Any Day Now

Tagline: They made him a promise. He made them a family.

We could tell you that Any Day Now is like Citizen Kane crossed with Casablanca and it wouldn’t matter a jot this weekend, as you’ll surely be at The Hobbit instead. As it turns out, this low-budget indie starring Alan Cumming is inspired by a true story and set in the late 1970s. Marco (Isaac Leyva) is a teenager with down syndrome who has been abandoned. His saviors come in the form of gay couple Rudy (Cumming) and Paul (Garret Dillahunt), who want to adopt him — but, considering this is the 1970s, the authorities aren’t too keen on their unorthodox living arrangements. Will Rudy and Paul be able to take on the legal system, with the considerable odds stacked against them, to adopt the child they love as their own?

In the eyes of reviewers, Any Day Now is Cumming’s film. “Acting from beneath the least flattering haircut this side of the Bee Gees, Cumming delivers what is possibly his best performance to date,” notes Variety. “Alan Cumming has never been nominated for an Oscar, but director Travis Fine’s powerful, fact-based movie could be the breakthrough role that makes it happen,” asserts the Seattle Times. And The Hollywood Reporter isn’t only a fan of the lead (“Cumming, who also gets to show off his vocal abilities, delivers Rudy’s hilariously bitchy wisecracks with estimable comic flair while also revealing his underlying vulnerability”) but the film itself: “Depictions of custody battles have become a cinematic staple, but few register with the heartfelt emotion of Any Day Now.”

Q&A: Alan Cumming on Speaking His Mind, Making His Own Hats and Getting In Touch With His Inner Elf

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: The Hobbit is clearly worth checking out, so you can find out whether the fuss is worth it. But we wouldn’t want you to ignore Any Day Now either, even if you do wait for it to become available on home video.
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