It's a pretty good week for DVDs because of hobbits, monsters, and Mr. Bean.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Grade B-: Forces come together to claim the riches that had been guarded by Smaug.
Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" trilogy - noteworthy for the way Jackson has transformed the book into a visual feast and delivers the tentpole moments - ends with uninspired battles and muddled characters.
Jackson's skill as a storyteller, so well displayed in the "Rings" movies, has been replaced by a mishmash of action with recycled characters. The most annoying example is that Ryan Cage's role of Lake-town flunky Alfrid has been expanded from a meaningless player to painfully unfunny comic relief.
Appearances by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Christopher Lee as Saruman feel forced, as though Jackson were more interested in giving loyal fans a treat rather than keeping the story structure on track. Just because this is the end doesn't mean everyone needs to a curtain call.
Into the Woods, Grade (B+): Fairy tale characters come together in this musical from Stephen Sondheim. Meryl Streep stars in this musical journey full of strong performances, a beautiful fairy tale landscape, and a story that is emotionally haunting.
The stories meet and move on but always feel connected by the themes of growing up, parenting, and sexual awakening. Generally, these heavy plot lines don't become too cumbersome, except with Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford). The song addressed to her by the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), "Hello Little Girl," takes on a creepy tone as it's performed here. It's the only musical miscue as the cast handles the edgy Sondheim score with great ease and passion.
Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean, Grade B+: Rowan Atkinson is a master of physical humor who can take the most mundane situation and milk countless laughs without saying a word.
You can get caught up with his brilliant work through an anniversary collection that includes 14 episodes of the 1990-95 TV series. The set also includes previously missing scenes from the original U.S broadcast and a 40-minute documentary.
Also new this week:
Unbroken: Olympic athlete must face the ordeal of being held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
Song One: Family uses journal to understand the world of man in a coma. Anne Hathaway stars.
Confessions of a Prodigal Son: Paints a picture of a young man's ups and downs through relationships, faith, hope, and redemption.
Digging Up the Marrow: Ghastly images haunting nightmares could be real. Ray Wise stars.
Marvel Knights: Wolverine Versus Sabretooth: Epic finale to the duo's greatest battle.