“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Grade B-minus: Bilbo Baggins continues his journey with the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves. The film is an exercise in excess. If one long, lingering shot of dwarves and a hobbit making their way across the rolling vistas of Middle Earth is good, 50 is grand. If a battle with a dozen giant spiders is creepy fun entertainment, then a dozen dozen spiders is grandiose. There’s not a single shot, line of dialogue or special effect that doesn’t show signs of director Peter Jackson’s unbridled style of filmmaking.
Jackson stages each of these major encounters with a bold and broad canvas. The forests are a lumbered maze that provides many dark and sinister hiding places for spiders and elves. Then the action moves to the film’s most heart-stopping encounter as the heroes escape from the elves and orc using wooden barrels to travel down a fast-moving river.
“August: Osage County,” Grade B: An emotionally brutal look at one of the most dysfunctional families on film in years. It is a powerful and engaging story that shows the flaws that make families so interesting.
It features solid direction by John Wells, a tough task considering the kind of collection of stars you normally only see gathered at the Oscars. It starts with A-listers like Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who treat every scene together like a heavyweight fight where both combatants refuse to give an inch.
Sometimes less is more. They both should pay attention to the kind of work Margo Martindale does. She can deliver the same emotional punch without the performance ever looking labored or forced.
“Grudge Match,” Grade C-minus: The boxing-movie genre gets pounded in this film starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, stars of some of the biggest boxing movies ever made. If it had committed to a full-scale parody, it would have been a knockout. Instead, the movie drifts between comedy and drama, which deals the overall concept a heavy blow.
When “Grudge Match” pokes fun at the fight film genre, it lands some comic blows. It eventually loses the battle on points, though, when the more serious story lines get in the way.
“Holy Ghost People”: Southern Gothic thriller about a teen searching for her sister in the Appalachian Mountains.
“Earthflight”: David Tennant narrates the six-part series that takes viewers over the planet’s most incredible landscapes.
“Justin Bieber’s Believe”: The popular young singer answers questions about his life and music.
“Extreme Bears”: Natural history special that reveals the many sides of this often misunderstood creature.
“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones”: Spinoff of the “Paranormal” films.
“Snake and Mongoose”: True story of the rivalry between Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen.
“Holliston: The Complete Second Season”: Horror comedy TV series featuring Kane Hodder, Danielle Harris and Bailee Madison.
“Winged Family”: Brings a new view of the lives and travels of birds across the globe.
“Todd Oliver: Funny Dog”: Comedy act featuring the ventriloquist.
“The Dog Who Saved Easter”: Canine must find a way to stop a gang of crooks.
“Black Coffee”: A man meets his soul mate at the wrong time.
“I am Divine”: Documentary on the plus-sized icon of bad taste.
“Thomas & Friends: Trouble on the Tracks”: Troublesome Trucks are causing problems.
“Best Night Ever”: One-night bachelorette party turns wild.
“Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded”: Includes new footage and stories about Miami’s Cocaine Wars.
“Power Rangers Megaforce: The Great Dragon Spirit”: Rangers summon the Dragon Spirit to earn new powers.
“Guardian Of The Highlands”: Sean Connery lends his voice to the animated tale.
“Lalaloopsy Ponies: The Big Show”: Includes a “Meet the Ponies” featurette.
“Nurse”: Horror film about a nurse with a secret double life as a murderous vixen.
“Cavemen”: Man turns to his nine-year-old nephew for dating advice.
“Lizzie Borden Took an Ax”: Christina Ricci plays the ax-happy killer.
“Sheriff of Contention”: Dangerous killer stalks the Wild West.
Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee