Rounding out the last few pages of Tolkien’s novel “the Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Ermitage) are left to comb the kingdom of Erebor in search of the arkenstone, the mythic crown jewel of the dwarves. Meanwhile, armies of Elfs, Orcs, Dwarves and Humans have set their sights on the kingdom’s treasure and it’s strategic military position. The table is set for one more monstrous battle for middle earth, but who can, should, and will prevail? And what of this dragon sickness that Thorin appears to be suffering from? Playing perhaps as the strongest and most thoughtful of the Hobbit trilogy Director Peter Jackson has managed to take what was once depicted as an animated scribble in the 1977 telling of the same story and fleshed it out into a full two hours and twenty minutes of axes swinging, arrows flying, Orcs bellowing, and dragons soaring. And yet, even with all of it’s magic and wizardry somehow the great mystery of the Hobbit continues, how does a film let alone a trilogy manage to survive absent of heart and soul? The darkness of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) must truly be at work here. Mildly distracting age reversal and softening CGI work also comes as a surprising shortcoming, especially considering that so much of the film actually spins from the patient hands of CGI artists and animators, ho hum. So, while the film does play as a who’s who of Tolkien lore with appearances from Galadriel (Kate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving), this final installment feels a bit like a college senior in the last few weeks of school, ready to be done and on to new adventures. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is rated PG-13.
Attempting to break out of his type cast roles as “a funny actor,” comedian Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is on the precipice of what could be a turning point for his career with a dramatic, albeit horrible, film about to be released and a televised marriage to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union). But when a writer and critic for the New York Times (Rosario Dawson) takes an interest in Allen’s latest work begging for an interview, it’s clear the star’s world is in chaos. Can Allen right his ship, will he find his funny again, and into which woman’s arms will his heart lead him? Written, Directed, and starred in by Chris Rock it’s clear Rock has the gift for film and a toolbox of skills that are growing ever sharper. That being said, while his writing is often on point, acting on the other hand perhaps not his strongest asset, regardless, we’re left with an endearing film that achieves laugh out loud respect. Looking for a fresh comedy this weekend, look no further, you’ve found it. Top Five is rated R.
In the mid 90’s Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman from Minnesota hit rock bottom following the loss of her mother (Laura Dern) coupled with a mix of substance abuse and a sexually destructive lifestyle. Setting her compass straight would be no easy task and it would come in the form of a self imposed wilderness trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Facing her demons and confronting her weaknesses along the trail would take her to the breaking point on multiple accounts, the big question being, would she have enough inner strength to continue and prevail on her own journey? Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) this nearly one woman show serves as a fine carrier to demonstrate a depth and range for Witherspoon, ironically similar to the same acting trajectory Matthew McConaughey has been on more recently, leaving phoned in simpler roles for dramatic powerhouse roles. And, in some respects serving as a modern day and female version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Vallée and Strayed’s examination of the human soul and drive makes for fertile drama farming– even in the barren Mojave desert. Worth your time and inspiring material for a hike here in the Cascades, Wild is rated R.