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Friday movie roundup: A ‘Hobbit’ worth keeping

First Published      Last Updated Dec 16 2013 12:10 pm

It's Friday the 13th, but it's a lucky day for "Lord of the Rings" fans.

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the second of three chapters of Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, arrives with plenty of rousing action, some dramatic intrigue, and a nail-biter of a finish setting things up for the third installment. Most importantly, though, it's got a dragon — a fire-breathing, gold-hording, urbane-talking (with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) beastie who's perfectly realized on screen. It takes a while for Jackson to get to Smaug, but the monster makes it worth the weight.

The other studios are smart enough to steer clear of the dragon — except for Lionsgate, which is opening Tyler Perry's latest, "A Madea Christmas" (which was not screened for critics).

Two documentaries arrive in the art houses.

"Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" is a fascinating discussion with MIT linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky — who talks about the origins of science, why we know what we know, and whether we actually know that. Chomsky's interviewer is filmmaker Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), who then added some trippy animation to illustrate and sometimes illumniate Chomsky's points.

Visuals are the highlight of "Bettie Page Reveals All," a look at the iconic pin-up girl and fetish model that Page (who died in 2008) narrates herself. Page's first-person account hits all the high spots of her career, but she's not particularly deep — and the interview subjects who try to explain her mystique are too gushing to be insightful.