<p>Surprisingly, Thorin actually smiles like this once in 'The Hobbit:&nbsp;The Desolation Of Smaug'</p>

Surprisingly, Thorin actually smiles like this once in 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug'

Credit: HitFix

Richard Armitage discusses the rising darkness in Thorin for 'Desolation of Smaug'

The dwarf who would be king is struggling these days

Here's something I like about Richard Armitage: I don't get any sense that he has any interest in or illusions about being a movie star.

Instead, like most of the people Peter Jackson casts in his "Lord Of The Rings" films, Armitage strikes me as a character actor who doesn't mind vanishing into the make-up he wears as Thorin Oakenshield. My kids are huge fans of both of the "Hobbit" movies so far, and if they ended up in the same elevator with Armitage, they'd never know it was him. The transformation is that complete.

This is my second time chatting with him about the series, and what struck me this time is how much Thorin is already teetering on losing his battle with the rising darkness within him. Unlike Bilbo, who is battling the influence of the One Ring that he found, Thorin's darkness is completely generated from within. There is a madness that seems to set in around the vast mountains of money waiting for him in Erebor, and the closer Thorin gets to fulfilling what he sees as his destiny, the more he seems willing to do anything to anyone to make it happen.

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<p>Will War Machine take Iron Man's place in 'Avengers:&nbsp;Age Of Ultron,' or will he play some other role in the upcoming mega-sequel?</p>

Will War Machine take Iron Man's place in 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' or will he play some other role in the upcoming mega-sequel?

Credit: Marvel Studios

CONFIRMED: Don Cheadle will suit up again as War Machine for 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'

Will this be his final time wearing the armor?

It seems weird to me to think that "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" is getting ready to shoot, but of course it is. After all, they plan to be in theaters for the summer of 2015, and if they shoot this spring, they'll have about a year of post-production to bring the gargantuan production to life.

And trust me… this one's going to make the first film look like "Stranger Than Paradise" by comparison.

As we enter this home stretch, there will be some big announcements coming about cast, and I'm curious to see how well the film protects some of its biggest secrets. Bleeding Cool reported a rumor today that Rhodey (Don Cheadle) will play a part in the film, and HitFix can confirm that Col. Rhodes, aka War Machine, has a key role in the conflict with Ultron that is the main focus of the sequel.

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<p>Martin Freeman may be playing a darker version of Bilbo than we're used to, but he was in good spirits when we sat down to discuss 'The Hobbit:&nbsp;The&nbsp;Desolation Of Smaug'</p>

Martin Freeman may be playing a darker version of Bilbo than we're used to, but he was in good spirits when we sat down to discuss 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug'

Credit: HitFix

Martin Freeman talks about being a more capable Bilbo in 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug'

Our second go-round with Bilbo deals with the way he's evolving

There have been several reviews for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" that criticize the film because they feel like Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins gets lost in the film.

While I'm not sure I agree, I can see why that would frustrate. After all, Bilbo is the Hobbit that the title refers to, and ultimately, this is him telling the story of his adventures in book form. It definitely makes the structure of the film tricker, because there are so many things that happen in these films that Bilbo is not present to witness that you have to wonder when he finally heard all of these details and how he remembered all of them so vividly to write them down.

What I like about Freeman's take on Bilbo is that it really isn't what I expected. After all, when Freeman played Arthur Dent in "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy," he played him as the complaining, vaguely incompetent Arthur that we all know and love. With Bilbo, though, there's a very different character emerging over the course of the films than what I expected.

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<p>It's too bad Luke Evans is so terribly, horribly ugly. Imagine what kind of career he could have otherwise.</p>

It's too bad Luke Evans is so terribly, horribly ugly. Imagine what kind of career he could have otherwise.

Credit: HitFix

Luke Evans on the way the massive sets of 'Desolation Of Smaug' helped his performance

Plus we talk about the Bard and his destiny

One of the characters who gets a fair amount of attention in "The Desolation Of Smaug," this middle chapter of Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" trilogy, is Bard, played by Luke Evans. I moderated a WonderCon panel with Evans for the film "Immortals," and when I walked into the room, he immediately remembered me. I had been warned that he wasn't feeling great, but he certainly held it together while we were talking.

Evans should be pleased with the way Bard's part was expanded for these films. Ultimately, he's there to complete one action, and that won't happen until the third film. Everything he does here is about laying the groundwork so when that moment finally happens, it is an emotional payoff for the audience?

Do they succeed at making us care about him? I think Evans helps a lot. Many of the roles we've seen Evans play before have had that same sense of swagger that he has when you meet him in person, a playful confidence that defines him. Not Bard, though. This is a guy who has had to accept that he has a certain role in life, and while he yearns for some sort of redemption for his family's name, he has accepted that it will never happen. Instead, he does a million small kindnesses for the people of Lake-town, hoping each one chips away at the humiliation he wears like a blanket, wrapped around him at all times.

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<p>Evangeline Lilly gets wild to play a Wood-elf in 'The Hobbit:&nbsp;The Desolation Of Smaug'</p>

Evangeline Lilly gets wild to play a Wood-elf in 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug'

Credit: HitFix

Evangeline Lilly on becoming a 'wild' Elf for her trip to Middle-Earth in 'The Hobbit'

If you don't swoon when she speaks Elvish, then I don't even know

Evangeline Lilly should have been huge coming out of "Lost." I'm still trying to wrap my head around how Hollywood dropped the ball with this one. From the start of the show to the bitter end, Lilly was one of the people whose work kept me coming back week after week.

Her character is sure to be polarizing among Tolkien fanatics. Tauriel seems to me to fit well into the world that Peter Jackson has spent five movies now building onscreen, and I like that she represents a wilder, darker sort of elf than we've seen in the films so far. We discussed that and the physicality of the role she's playing, and what became evident is that she is having the time of her life.

And why not? She's playing a strong character who ends up front and center for a big chunk of this film. What I'm curious to see is how fans react to a character who was invented completely by the filmmakers. This something that hasn't really happened before with these films. On "Lord Of The Rings," Jackson had to make hard decisions about what material did or didn't make it into the final films, and he had to cut whole characters and plot lines. Even so, he ended up with something like a ten hour final film when all is said and done. This time around, he's gone the opposite way, expanding instead of condensing, and there's quite a bit of time and attention paid to the way Tauriel fits uneasily into her place in things as part of the kingdom of the Wood-elves.

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<p>Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak and Bradley Whitford seemed ready to engage on the topic of how accurate 'Saving Mr. Banks' is</p>

Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak and Bradley Whitford seemed ready to engage on the topic of how accurate 'Saving Mr. Banks' is

Credit: HitFix

Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak and Bradley Whitford talk truth and myth in 'Saving Mr. Banks'

Disney would like the way they handled it

People sometimes assume that the only way we can sit down to do interviews with people is if we publish glowing praise of them, but that's ridiculous. Some of the best conversations are when there's some push and pull going on.

I had already published my review of "Saving Mr. Banks" before I attended the press day, and I wrote in that piece about my questions about some of the choices made in the way the film portrayed the relationship between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. When I went into each of the interviews, I wanted to discuss that with the cast, since they're playing real people and they've had access to materials that we haven't.

For example, in the closing moments of "Saving Mr. Banks," as the credits play, you'll hear actual excerpts of the recordings that were made of all of the story meetings that were held with Travers during her time in Los Angeles, and speaking just as a writer who has been through my fair share of brutal notes sessions, just that excerpt made me break into a sweat.

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<p>Look out, Tom, there's something right behind you!</p>

Look out, Tom, there's something right behind you!

Credit: Warner Bros

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt try to save the world again and again in 'Edge Of Tomorrow' trailer

This alien invasion spin on 'Groundhog Day' looks massive

One thing's for sure: if they ever make another adaptation of "Starship Troopers," there is no way they can make excuses for not using the jump suits that Robert Heinlein wrote about in that book.

Doug Liman's trippy new film "Edge Of Tomorrow" looks like "Groundhog Day" with a body count, and one thing I will always love about Tom Cruise is that he does not sneer at genre. He has built a career out of working with giant directors on giant mainstream films, and if he wanted, he could easily avoid ever having to deal CGI aliens or greenscreen stunts or any of that. He could do Oscar-bait drama every year forever and make the studios perfectly happy.

Cruise loves this stuff, though. He loves the physicality of this kind of storytelling, where action is as important as anything else, and he seems to genuinely enjoy world-building. If "Edge Of Tomorrow" works, it will work because we buy into the stakes and because there is a compelling sense of urgency as Cruise finds himself repeating the same day over and over, each time learning something new, putting all of these journeys together until he can find a way to defeat the alien menace that threatens the Earth.

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<p>If Will Smith and Martin Lawrence make a 'Bad Boys' sequel in the forest but Michael Bay's not involved, does it make a sound?</p>

If Will Smith and Martin Lawrence make a 'Bad Boys' sequel in the forest but Michael Bay's not involved, does it make a sound?

Credit: Sony Pictures

Is 'Bad Boys 3' a sign of what's ahead for Sony under Mike De Luca's leadership?

If so, let's hope this is only part of the story

When I first started writing about movies online, we were smack-dab in the middle of the first era of Mike De Luca. At that point, he was the enfant terrible of New Line Pictures, the guy who helped transform them from a sort of low-grade exploitation house into the studio that ended up winning Best Picture with "Return Of The King." De Luca was the risk-taker, the guy who championed films like "Boogie Nights," and along with Richard Brener and Stokely Chafin, he built New Line into something bigger and better than just "the house that Freddy built."

De Luca was young, though, and he embraced a certain kind of lifestyle that led to bad press, fair or unfair. He became a liability for the company, and he eventually left under a dark cloud. It has taken him years to build himself back up, and he's done it by working hard and completely rebuilding his image in the industry. When he was just promoted to co-president of production for Sony Pictures, it was a major, major moment for him, a redemption fulfilled, and it happens at a moment where the industry could use a guy with the same sort of edgy sensibilities that made him such a superstar in the first place.

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<p>Clark Gregg and J. August Richards both play important roles in the final episode of 'Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' for 2013</p>

Clark Gregg and J. August Richards both play important roles in the final episode of 'Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' for 2013

Credit: ABC/Marvel Studios

'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' reaches a major mythology turning point in last episode for 2013

After this one, you should know if you're in or out for the series

In our last recap, I talked about my mounting frustration with "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.", and part of my problem was the fact that it feels like they've been stuck in neutral so far. While they've certainly spent time setting up various story threads, it's all felt fairly low-stakes so far, and even the episodes I've enjoyed haven't really felt like they were compelling me to watch.

This week, the last new episode of 2013, seems to be the moment where everything they've done so far comes together, and by the end of the episode, they've essentially promised to answer the show's big questions in the very near future. Based on a quick scan of Twitter, many fans finally felt vindicated by tonight's episode, and it certainly felt like a major turning point for the series. Is it too little too late, or is this what they've been building towards the entire time?

When started working on reviewing this show this year, it was with the second week it aired, and I stated at that point that it felt like there were three big ongoing storylines for the year. In order, they were: (1) Who or what created the Centipede? (2) How did Agent Coulson really return from the dead? (3) Is Skye who she claims to be?

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<p>I'll bet Bryan Cranston wishes he was in a nice safe underground bunker cooking some meth right about now, eh?</p>

I'll bet Bryan Cranston wishes he was in a nice safe underground bunker cooking some meth right about now, eh?

Credit: Warner Bros

Bryan Cranston leads the fight as the 'Godzilla' trailer comes stomping online

Sometimes, quiet really is the best strategy

It's all about the tease.

I have no doubt that when the new "Godzilla," directed by Gareth Edwards, arrives in theaters in May of 2014 that Godzilla will be seen onscreen extensively in some big giant crazy action sequences. None at all. When I had a long conversation one afternoon with Thomas Tull of Legendary Pictures way back at the start of this process, part of the attraction for him was getting Godzilla back onscreen and actually treating him like a character.

But for now, this first official trailer for the film is pure tease, and smartly handled. In particular, I love the way it starts. What I want most from this film is some sense of the awe we would feel if giant monsters suddenly woke up and started roaming the Earth, and it feels like they may have nailed that. Edwards wasn't the immediate choice to helm this film if you're just going by box-office accomplishments, but anyone who saw "Monsters" knows that he's very good at finding quiet moments even amidst chaos and mayhem.

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