One of the festive things about movies during the modern holiday season also poses a challenge for reviewers and editors: there is a wealth of choices available to viewers, but not necessarily all at the cinema.
Oh, there are good reasons to pack the theaters, such as the new version of "Les Misérables," with Hugh Jackman making a sturdy Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe a diligent if uncomfortable Javert and Anne Hathaway a suitably tragic Fantine.
By now, director Tom Hooper’s decision to have the cast sing live has been thoroughly publicized. Hooper’s concept is that the acting would not need to be shoehorned into carefully prerecorded songs. Hathaway certainly acts l’enfer out of “I Dreamed a Dream.”
But that’s one of the few songs where Hooper isn’t wandering around, looking at this and that and on a slant instead of simply letting the music sing for itself. Occasionally, his style matches the material, as with “Master of the House,” the comic number featuring those larcenous innkeepers, the Thénardiers, played by the well-cast Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.
The good cast also features good vocals from Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks as Éponine and even Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Hooper knows his way around historical fiction — after all, he made “The King’s Speech” — but like the street fighting of June 1832, his direction never breaks free of his concept.
Despite those movie shortcomings, “Les Mis” deservedly remains a crowd favorite. The source material — Victor Hugo’s monumental novel, the original French score by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and the English adaptation — simply powers through whatever indignities befall it.
Some of the other big-tent attractions also are worthy a trip to the cineplex, but with caveats. "Django Unchained" flirts with being a great movie, and perhaps the best about slavery that we are going to get anytime soon. But it settles for being an exemplary Quentin Tarantino movie.
Similarly, Skyfall is a good James Bond movie. "This is 40" is a tolerable Judd Apatow movie. The Hobbit has hobbits, but more dwarves.
Better news is the slow but steady advance of "Silver Linings Playbook" into more theaters around the Garden State.
Stop me if you’ve heard this: Bradley Cooper gives a good performance. No? Well, it’s true here in this nicely judged dramedy of borderline personalities from David O. Russell.
As Pat Solitano, a former substitute teacher being rescued from a psychiatric facility by his doting mother (Jacki Weaver), Cooper has all his usual Bradley Cooper character tricks going: the glib self-confidence, the lips that say “yes yes yes” while the eyes slide from side to side, warning “no no no.”
In Pat’s case, though, that flirtatious insincerity has not worked. He discovered his wife showering with a colleague and ferociously beat the man. Back in the Philly suburbs, his old boss tries to flee while Pat cheerfully and obliviously chitchats, obsessing on his ex-wife
We see where he gets compulsions and his violent, but Robert De Niro has his own tendencies under better control as Pat Sr., a very representatives Philadelphia Iggles fan. But good as he is, De Niro isn’t the main powerhouse here.
That would be Jennifer Lawrence, in another startling real performance as Tiffany, a recent widow whose grieving has also taken her along less than fully respectable paths. She and Pat compare medications, then bond in a flare-up at the Llanerch Diner over who is crazier, then prepare for a dance competition.
As another mental patient, Chris Tucker is restrained and useful, while Anupam Kher makes a lively and fully rounded shrink in this small but fully realized movie.