By Steven Rea

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Wednesday) The final installment in Peter Jackson's orc-sized trilogy, taking Tolkien's modest Middle-Earth adventure and blowing it up in more ways than one. With Martin Freeman as the titular Bilbo Baggins, and Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, and Orlando Bloom speaking Elvish, with subtitles. PG-13

Annie Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhané Wallis stars in this update of the '77 musical, based on Harold Gray's vintage comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Jamie Foxx is the Daddy Warbucks-ian multimillionaire running for mayor who thinks it would be good press to have his photo taken with a cute orphan. It's a hard-knock life. PG

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb Robin Williams' Teddy Roosevelt gets more to do in the third and final chapter of the hit Ben Stiller franchise, featuring various historical figures come to life, while the magic powers of the Tablet of Ahkmenrah start to wane. PG-13

Also Opening This Week


The popular musical is updated to 2014, where the title character's difficult childhood is about to take a dramatic turn. Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz star.

The Captive Strange occurrences indicate that a woman who disappeared years earlier may still be alive.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Bilbo and company embark on an epic and dangerous quest. Opens Wednesday

Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb Ben Stiller returns for this comic sequel with the usual cast of historic costars, including the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt.

Excellent (****)

Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), Dan DeLuca (D.D.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.

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Birdman Michael Keaton is a faded Hollywood star trying to reclaim his career by mounting a Broadway drama in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's fierce, funny, breathless dive into the head of a man in deep trouble. An exhilarating, out-of-the-blue masterwork that ranks as not just one of the best films of the year, but of the decade, the century. With Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. 1 hr. 59 R (profanity, violence, sex, adult themes) - S.R.

Foxcatcher Steve Carell, sporting an aquiline nose and a marionette's gait, morphs into Newtown Square multimillionaire John du Pont, a self-styled coach and sponsor of American wrestling. By inviting Olympic gold medalists Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) to live and train on his estate, du Pont invited disaster, too. Bennett Miller directs this slow-burning, brilliant account of a real-life tragedy. 2 hrs. 14 R (violence, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.

Very Good (***1/2)

Diplomacy German master filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum, Swann in Love) says much about the Nazi ethos during World War II in this fact-based account of the final hours before the Allies liberated Paris. 1 hr. 25 No MPAA rating (shocking subject matter, violence) - T.D.

Force Majeure Sweden's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race finds a family vacationing in the French Alps, where husband and wife are put to the test following a jarring event. Cannes-winning filmmaker Ruben Östlund shows us that sometimes there is an unbridgeable gap between image and reality. 1 hr. 58 R (profanity, brief nudity) - T.D.

Gone Girl Filmmaker David Fincher pulls off a cannily crafted adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best seller, a whodunit and a who-are-you- gonna-believe mystery about the disappearance of a wife (Rosamund Pike) and the husband (Ben Affleck) who becomes the prime suspect. With Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris. 2 hrs. 29 R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

The Theory of Everything The life, and loves, of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking are given keen, poignant treatment in Oscar-winner James Marsh's film, starring Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, the student he meets at Cambridge and falls for (and vice versa). Then, the challenge of the disease that cripples Hawking's body. 2 hrs. 03 PG-13 (adult themes) - S.R.

Top Five Chris Rock proves he's as brilliant a film auteur as he is a standup comic with this sharp romantic dramedy, which he also wrote and directed. He plays a disillusioned comic who's in N.Y. to promote his first serious film, an earnest if terrible story about slavery. Rosario Dawson is terrific as a reporter who forces the self-indulgent star to face up to his demons. Gabrielle Union is wonderfully sleazy as Rock's narcissistic reality-star fiancée. 1 hr. 41 R (strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, profanity, drug use) - T.D.

Whiplash Miles Teller (the student) and J.K. Simmons (the teacher) star in Damien Chazelle's propulsive drama about an aspiring jazz musician's torturous mentorship at a prestigious New York conservatory. It's a hyperventilated nightmare about artistic struggle and ambition - as much a horror movie as a keenly realized indie about jazz, about art, about what it takes to claim greatness. 1 hr. 46 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

Also on Screens

Big Hero 6 **1/2

Set in a wonderfully realized near-future San Francisco, this animated feature follows an adolescent robotics inventor and his puffy, inflatable companion. Disconcertingly violent and mature for a Disney kids' film. 1 hr. 48



- D.H.

Dumb and Dumber To * Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprise their roles as the intelligence- challenged Lloyd and Harry. Don't ask why. Just get down in this trough of crude humor and root around. 1 hr. PG-13 (profanity, crude and sexual humor, nudity, and drug references) - D.H.

Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott's big and curious cinematic retelling of the story of Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush, the march of the Israelites out of Egypt. All the impressive CG effects in the world can't make up for clunky dialogue and one-note thespianizing. With Christian Bale as the bearded, beleaguered Hebrew prophet, Joel Edgerton as his shiny-domed, eyelinered adoptive sibling, Ramses, and a cast of thousands - most of them virtual. 2 hrs. 30 PG-13 (violence, plagues, adult themes) - S.R.

Horrible Bosses 2 ** Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day return as pals completely unsuited to the life of crime they are driven to. (This time it's kidnapping.) The comedy starts with verve and ends with nothing. 1 hr. 48 R (pervasive profanity; crude sexual content) - D.H.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I *** Quieter and less flashy than its predecessors, the satisfying third installment in the four-parter based on Suzanne Collins' mega-selling trilogy finds Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss poised to lead the rebellion against the imperious fancypants in the Capitol. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Chris Hemsworth are ready to give her an assist. 2 hrs. 4 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) - S.R.

Interstellar *** Matthew McConaughey leads an intergalactic expedition, searching for a new home for humankind, which has turned our planet into a Dust Bowl of doom. Anne Hathaway is along for the ride, and Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and Casey Affleck figure into the equation back on Earth. A cinematic experience to be sure, but lofty queries about quantum physics and the human spirit are weighed down in sci-fi cliches, default-mode dialogue, and characters rendered in two dimensions, never mind the fourth and fifth dimensions everyone is talking about. 2 hrs. 49 PG-13 (violence, intense space-travel sequences, adult themes) - S.R.

Penguins of Madagascar **1/2 Insistently antic and intermittently clever spinoff of the DreamWorks Animation Madagascar franchise, with feathered, flappered, flightless heroes Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private caught up in global intrigue and groaningly bad punnery involving a gigantically obnoxious purple octopus (the voice of John Malkovich) bent on revenge. 1 hr. 32 PG (cartoon mayhem, adult themes) - S.R.

Wild Reese Witherspoon, wholly committed and wholly convincing, is Cheryl Strayed, the bestselling memoirist who hiked 1,100 miles, from the Mojave to the Cascades, to try to right a life gone terribly wrong. Blistered, bloodied feet were a sure thing; self-discovery less so. In the end, Strayed got both. 1 hr. 55 R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.