This week’s movie releases

Peter Jackson heads back to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

French master Jacques Audiard gets romantic in Rust and Bone

Ring back: Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the wizard in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / REUTERS

In a year in which we’ve had the Dark Knight return, the Avengers assemble and 007 bouncing sublimely back, the last major blockbuster of 2012 heaves into view. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings forerunner, which though barely half the size of any of the fantasy trilogy’s volumes is being similarly released in three parts. Martin Freeman — from the British version of The Office — plays Bilbo Baggins, the homely Hobbit led by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, returning from the LOTR films) into accompanying 13 dwarves on an adventure to recover their kingdom and an eventual, fateful run-in with Gollum (Andy Serkis, once again) and his “precious.” Also returning are Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Elijah Wood as Frodo. Jackson has shot the trilogy in high frame-rate 3D — 48 frames per second compared with 24 frames per second — promising a super-smooth image on those screens showing it. But there are also regular 3D, IMAX and vanilla 2D versions.

French director Jacques Audiard’s last two movies, The Beat that My Heart Skipped and The Prophet, are two of the very best works of recent cinema. But while they were both crime thrillers, his latest marks something of a departure. Rust and Bone is an out-there love story tracking the blossoming romance between a bare-knuckle boxer (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts) and a killer-whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) after the latter loses her legs in an accident.

Hugh Laurie looks to shrug off his role as cantankerous TV medic House in romantic comedy The Oranges. He plays a married man who becomes the object of the affections of the daughter (Leighton Meester) of his best friends and neighbors (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney), turning everyone’s lives on their head.

Art of the matter

Starring Rutger Hauer and based on a book by critic Michael Francis Gibson, Polish director Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross imagines the lives of a dozen of the 500 characters depicted in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary.

Featuring US actor Tom Sizemore, El bosc is a Civil War-set fantasy about the strange lights that twice-yearly illuminate the forest close to a family’s home in Bajo Aragón.

Meanwhile, documentary Las constituyentes looks at the 27 female deputies and senators involved in Spain’s 1970s transition to democracy.

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