Reel Critics: Too much expected in 'Hobbit'

Director Peter Jackson has cinematic ownership of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary fantasy novels. His epic treatment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy led to box office success that allows him to do whatever he wants in the prequel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

The indispensable Ian McKellen reappears as the great wizard Gandalf to anchor the cast. Newcomer Martin Freeman plays the young Bilbo Baggins with subtle skill. He is perturbed when Gandalf sends a platoon of unruly dwarfs to his home to plan a journey of revenge. But Bilbo signs up for the adventure to help the dwarfs retake their homeland from a fire-breathing dragon.

The great special effects are even more spectacular in this stunning new film. But the best and worst aspects of Jackson's previous success are also on display. There's lots of fairy-tale charm, magnificent vistas and strange creatures in the story. But there's way too much carnage in the relentless battle scenes.

Disgusting goblins, trolls and orcs constantly attack our heroes. The resulting combat is a drawn-out slaughter of the bad guys that is not appropriate for younger children. With a nearly three-hour running time, these extended violent scenes poison the magic that should be the center of the tale.



In "Any Day Now," Rudy Donatello falls in love twice in one night in his West Hollywood neighborhood in 1979. First it's with Paul, a shy assistant district attorney, and the second time is with Marco, the sadly neglected son of Rudy's drug-addicted neighbor.

Marco's mother is sent to jail, and in short order Rudy and Marco move in with Paul. The boy, who has Down syndrome, thrives in their care — he goes to a special school and gets bedtime stories with cheerful endings and the occasional donuts he so loves.

Film, stage and TV star Alan Cumming ("The Good Wife," "X2") gives a fiercely heartfelt performance as Rudy, whose courage inspires Paul to fight for custody of this special-needs child nobody wants. But as an openly gay couple, they have little chance.

Garret Dillahunt is good as the conservative Paul, and while the lovers' relationship is idealized, the warmth and commitment between the two never wavers.

"Any Day Now" is a straight-on look at the prevailing attitudes toward homosexuality 30 years ago and how easy it is for a child to slip through the cracks of the system. Look for some wonderful singing from Cumming in this earnest, touching film.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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