MOVIES


OPENING THIS WEEK

ARMORED

Veteran armored truck guards coerce the newbie in their midst to steal a vehicle with $42 million aboard -- but their supposedly foolproof plan isn't, triggering dishonor and dissent among thieves. Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and Skeet Ulrich lead the cast of this action caper. At multiple locations. (88 min.) PG-13; intense violence, disturbing images, brief strong profanity.

BROTHERS

When a soldier (Tobey Maguire) disappears in Afghanistan, his black-sheep brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to comfort his sister-in-law (Natalie Portman) and her children in this remake of the 2004 Danish standout; Clifton Collins Jr., Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham and "An Education's" Carey Mulligan co-star for director Jim Sheridan ("In America," "My Left Foot"). At multiple locations. (110 min.) R; profanity, disturbing violent content.

EVERYBODY'S FINE

Read Carol Cling's review.

PARIS

A woman (Juliette Binoche) rebounding from a failed marriage moves in with her ill brother (Roman Duris), a professional dancer awaiting a heart transplant, in a comedy-drama that also focuses on several other Parisians, including an architect ("Tell No One's" Francois Cluzet) and a famed historian (Fabrice Luchini). Cédric Klapisch ("L'Auberge Espagnole") writes and directs. In French with English subtitles. At the Palms. (130 min.) R; profanity, sexual references.

TRANSYLMANIA

Crazed college students spend a semester at Transylvania's Razvan University, where leather-clad professors and topless vampiresses stalk the halls of the castle campus -- the former abode of a Dark Ages vampire king who's returned to reclaim it. Patrick Cavanaugh, James DeBello, Tony Denman, Paul H. Kim, Jennifer Lyons, Oren Skoog, Irena A. Hoffman, David Steinberg, Musetta Vander, Natalie Garza and Nicole Garza lead the cast of this horror spoof. At multiple locations. (92 min.) R; crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use, profanity, violence.

ALREADY IN THEATERS

Movies are rated on a letter-grade scale, from A to F. Opinions by R-J movie critic Carol Cling (C.C.) are indicated by initials. Other opinions are from wire service critics.

AMELIA

(C+) Earthbound: Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars as legendary pilot Amelia Earhart, who in 1937 attempts an around-the-world flight -- but disappears before completing the trip. Richard Gere (as Earhart's ambitious husband) and Ewan McGregor (as her dashing aviator lover) co-star for director Mira Nair ("The Namesake," "Monsoon Wedding") in a handsome but curiously traditional biography of a defiantly untraditional woman. (111 min.) PG; sexual references, profanity, thematic elements, smoking. (C.C.)

ASTRO BOY

(C) In futuristic Metro City, the super-powered title robot (voiced by "Finding Neverland's" Freddie Highmore) battles aliens threatening Earth in this big-screen revamp of the TV cartoon fave. Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane and Bill Nighy also turn up in the vocal cast, but it's the visuals that fall flat. Kids won't care; parents (especially boomers who remember the snappy animé original) should beware. (94 min.) PG; action and peril, brief mild profanity.

THE BLIND SIDE

(B-) This heartwarming, fact-based crowd-pleaser -- a natural for both football and holiday seasons -- focuses on future NFL tackle Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a gentle giant who rises from virtual homelessness to football stardom with an assist from a force-of-nature Southern belle (sassy Sandra Bullock) who takes him under her wing, and her roof. If it weren't a true story, it would be tough to believe, yet writer-director John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie") tackles a few gritty issues in between the stand-up-and-cheer and lump-in-the-throat moments. (126 min.) PG-13; brief violence, drug and sexual references. (C.C.)

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY

(C) Almost a decade after their first cinematic appearance, the vigilante McManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus) return to Boston to avenge the death of their beloved hometown priest. Billy Connolly, Clifton Collins Jr., Judd Nelson and Peter Fonda co-star for writer-director Troy Duffy in a sequel that, unlike the original, doesn't make you want to claw your eyes out. It's just a scurrilous, sub-Tarantino action comedy that goes in all directions at once -- especially over the top. (118 min.) R; bloody violence, profanity, nudity.

THE BOX

(C-) A simple wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden), giving them the chance at a million dollars -- but only, as a mysterious stranger (the great Frank Langella, shamefully treated) explains, at the cost of someone else's life. Writer-director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") delivers a preposterous chiller, based on a short story by the legendary Richard Matheson ("Twilight Zone," "I Am Legend"). Like a magician's prop, this gives the illusion that it's full of stuff -- ideas, portents, clues, meaning -- when it's all but empty. (115 min.) PG-13; thematic elements, violence, disturbing images.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

(C) Humbug: Charles Dickens' holiday classic gets writer-director Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture animation treatment in a visually impressive adaptation that's utterly uninterested in its characters (led by Jim Carrey's Ebenezer Scrooge and Gary Oldman's Bob Cratchit) as anything more than decorative figures populating a pageant of in-your-face special effects. (Which are especially in-your-face if you see this in 3-D or IMAX 3-D.) It's a cruel trick, transforming a heaping helping of holiday cheer into a coldly efficient cinematic thrill ride. (96 min.) PG; scary sequences and images. (C.C.)

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT

(C) Bill and Ted's Night of the Living Undead: A teen (charisma-challenged Chris Massoglia) and his rowdy pal (Josh Hutcherson) join the title freak show in a disjointed horror comedy based on the popular young-adult book series by Darren Shan that's an anti-"Twilight" geared toward pre-teens who'd rather see more fighting than smooching. But at least John C. Reilly and Willem Dafoe get the chance to sink their fangs into their vampire roles. (108 min.) PG-13; intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements, profanity.

COCO BEFORE CHANEL

(B) "Amélie's" Audrey Tautou plays Gabrielle Chanel, before she became the famed designer known as Coco, in an elegant portrait of the couturier in the years before she officially opened shop. Maybe it's the subtitles, but director Anne Fontaine ("The Girl From Monaco") seems to have a keener eye for the elements that made Chanel's style than she has an ear for dialogue. Yet she gets a splendid performance from Tautou, who plays Chanel like a time bomb that explodes into a bouquet. In French with English subtitles. (105 min.) PG-13; sexual content, smoking.

COUPLES RETREAT

(C) Trouble in paradise: Four couples (played by, among others, Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman and Jon Favreau) try to sort out their relationship problems amid Bora Bora's tropical splendor in a tepid marriage-renewal comedy that has a decent cast and a few good ideas -- but no clear grasp of what to do with them. (107 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity.

DINOSAURS 3D: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA

(B) If you like dinosaurs (and who doesn't?), you'll love this 3-D documentary, which follows paleontologist Rodolfo Coria as he tramps the rugged wilds of southern Argentina, where remains of the largest dinosaurs in the world -- including the 120-foot Argentinosaurus -- have been discovered. The perfect blend of scholarly information and totally cool dinosaurs brought to vivid life. (40 min.) G; scary dinosaurs.

AN EDUCATION

(A) Head of the class: One of the year's best movies, this smashing coming-of-age drama (set in early-'60s Britain) focuses on a bright, college-bound teen (Carey Mulligan, delivering an Oscar-caliber, star-is-born performance) who becomes involved with a smooth-talking sophisticate (Peter Sarsgaard) almost twice her age. Author Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity," "About a Boy") adapts British journalist Lynn Barber's memoir; he and director Lone Scherfig capture the endless, timeless conflict between book learning and the school of heartbreak with witty, rueful power. (95 min.) PG-13; mature thematic material involving sexual content, smoking. (C.C.)

FANTASTIC MR. FOX

(B+) Quirky director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums") goes from live-action to stop-motion animation with a captivating tale of a sly fox (voiced by George Clooney) who outsmarts the vengeful farmers out to get him. Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Willem Dafoe, among others, lend their vivid voices to this fanciful story from Roald Dahl ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach"), which proves an ideal vehicle for Anderson's trademark playful whimsy. (87 min.) PG; action, smoking, slang humor. (C.C.)

THE FOURTH KIND

(C) After 40 years of mysterious disappearances in an Alaska town, a psychologist (Milla Jovovich) begins videotaping sessions with traumatized patients -- and discovers disturbing evidence of alien abductions, and a possible federal cover-up. This fact-based, flat-lining thriller serves up a close encounter that buries an interesting idea under a barrage of gimmicky hokum. (98 min.) PG-13; violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements, brief sexuality.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

(C+) Nothing exceeds like excess in writer-director Quentin Tarantino's epic World War II "Dirty Dozen"-meets-"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" spoof/homage, set "somewhere in Nazi-occupied France," about a smilingly relentless SS colonel (irresistibly smug Christoph Waltz), Jewish GIs (led by a cartoonishly macho Brad Pitt) collecting Nazi scalps and a young survivor of a Nazi massacre (Mélanie Laurent) running a Paris movie house -- and plotting revenge. Tarantino trademarks galore, from tangy dialogue to gleeful violence, but he'd rather convince us of his brilliance than make a movie that might prove it. (153 min.) R; strong graphic violence, profanity, brief sexual situations. (C.C.)

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN

(D+) A victim of miscarried justice (Gerard Butler) vows to wreak revenge after a plea bargain sets his family's killers free. His No. 1 target: the prosecutor (Jamie Foxx) who engineered the deal. This hapless crime drama provides the sad spectacle of a movie far less intelligent than the one its filmmakers thought they were making. But it's nothing a new script, a new director and a couple of committed actors couldn't fix. (107 min.) R; strong bloody brutal violence and torture, including a scene of rape, pervasive profanity.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

(B-) In Iraq, a gung-ho reporter (a wryly endearing Ewan McGregor) encounters a special forces agent (ace goofball George Clooney, playing a character inspired by real-life Las Vegan John Alexander) who reveals the existence of a secret Army unit employing paranormal powers. Jeff Bridges (in welcome "Lebowski"-lite form) and Kevin Spacey (as a seething, sneering villain) round out the starring cast of this absurdist, likably lightweight wannabe satire that's not quite as smart as it thinks it is. (93 min.) R; profanity, drug content, brief nudity. (C.C.)

9

(B-) Not to be confused with the Broadway musical "Nine" (coming Christmas Day), this animated apocalyptic sci-fi blast, expanded from director Shane Acker's award-winning short, follows the title rag doll (voiced by Elijah Wood) as he takes refuge from a vicious machine. The thin story can't quite measure up to the stylishly haunting visuals, but Acker's definitely a talent to watch. (79 min.) PG-13; violence, scary images.

NINJA ASSASSIN

(D+) A young ninja (Asian pop star Rain, one of "Speed Racer's" rivals) turns his back on the orphanage where he was raised, triggering a martial arts showdown. Thanks (or no thanks) to the dire script, flat performances and slick, tricked-out fight scenes, it gets increasingly hard to care about what goes on, even on those rare occasions when the action's visible without the use of night-vision goggles. (99 min.) R; strong bloody stylized violence, profanity.

OLD DOGS

(D-) It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a turkey, and in "Old Dogs,'' we have the season's blue-ribbon gobbler, about friends and business partners (Robin Williams, John Travolta) forced to play daddy to 7-year-old twins. Yes, it's supposed to be a comedy -- but unless you think it's fun to watch elderly canines urinate, middle-aged movie stars overact or Seth Green get hit in the groin by a golf ball, be prepared to sit and squirm at this witless, mean-spirited farce. (88 min.) PG; mild rude humor.

PIRATE RADIO

(B-) When stuffy BBC officials ban rock 'n' roll in the swingin' '60s, DJs take to the high seas and broadcast from offshore, rocking the boat by blasting tunes and raising hell. A dream cast (led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans as the radio rogues, Kenneth Branagh as the government prude) parties hearty for writer-director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually"), but Curtis still hasn't figured out that, cinematically speaking, less is more. The result is almost a great soundtrack in search of a movie, but the cast's comic energy keeps it afloat. (135 min.) R; profanity, sexual content including brief nudity. (C.C.)

PLANET 51

(C-) In this cute but clichéd animated space romp, an American astronaut (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) lands on the title sphere and discovers little green people living in fear of alien invaders -- just like him. "Shrek's" Joe Stillman scripts, but this is no "Shrek." Instead of spinning its spoof of 1950s sci-fi paranoia in new directions, the movie trades in potty humor and tired "Terminator" and "Star Wars" send-ups. (126 min.) PG-13; brief violence, drug and sexual references.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE

(B) Set in 1987 Harlem, director Lee Daniels' acclaimed drama focuses on Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a black teen who's pregnant (for a second time) by her absent father, stuck at home with her angry, abusive mother (Mo'Nique), virtually illiterate -- and determined to find dignity in, and endure, her unendurable situation. Harrowing and marked by heroic, searing performances, "Precious" looks squarely in the wounded eyes of its title character and sees a girl with poetry in her. (109 min.) R; profanity, violence, sexual abuse.

A SERIOUS MAN

(B+) Seriously funny: Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, multiple Oscar winners for 2007's "No Country for Old Men," return to their own country -- suburban Minnesota, circa 1967 -- for this darkly comic tale about a beleaguered physics professor (Broadway veteran Michael Stuhlbarg) whose seemingly rational life unravels, Job-like, before his eyes. As usual, the Coens blur the line between the serious and the comic with almost sadistic expertise, exploring life's cosmic jokes with deadpan delight. (105 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity, brief violence. (C.C.)

SHORTS

(B) A weird Texas town gets even weirder when the local kids find a magical rock -- and the local grown-ups compete to control it -- in a funny, fast-as-lightning fantasy from writer-director Robert Rodriguez (in prime "Spy Kids" mode). This wonderfully offbeat kids' movie has enough smarts for parents too. Kat Dennings, Jon Cryer, Leslie Mann, William H. Macy and James Spader lead the able cast. (89 min.) PG; mild action, rude humor.

SURROGATES

(C) At a time when most humans live vicariously through robot avatars controlled by their minds, future-cop FBI agents (Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell) try to figure out who's murdering the cyber-surrogates. This sci-fi thriller boasts a notable supporting cast (Ving Rhames and James Cromwell co-star) and introduces some ingenious ideas, but quickly abandons them in favor of the same old formulaic chases and shoot-outs. (88 min.) PG-13; intense violence, disturbing images, profanity, sexuality, drug references.

2012

(C-) It's a disaster movie, all right, but what else can you expect from master of disaster Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day")? Once again, the director demonstrates how to blow stuff up real good, putting everyone on Earth on a collision course with oblivion -- including a few plucky souls (led by mavericky Everyman John Cusack and Noble Scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor) who prove humanity's resilience while faceless billions perish. If high-tech digital effects are your thing, you'll adore the destructo-derby spectacle, but those who care about a credible story line and sympathetic characters, abandon hope all ye who enter here. (158 min.) PG-13; intense disaster sequences, profanity. (C.C.)

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

(C-) The second bite(s): Where would Hollywood be without that old standby, the vampire-werewolf-schoolgirl love triangle? In this chapter of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling series, Bella (Kristen Stewart) discovers that the course of true love never does run smooth, especially when her beloved Edward Cullen (brooding Robert Pattinson) leaves town with his vampire family rather than endanger her life. Good thing her friend Jacob Black (hunky Taylor Lautner) is still around -- but he's got a deep dark secret all his own. Director Chris Weitz ("About a Boy," "The Golden Compass"), taking over from "Twilight's" Catherine Hardwicke, goes double on the swoon factor, transforming the urgency of teen lust into a dour, draggy mopefest. (130 min.) PG-13; violence and action. (C.C.)

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

(B) Let the wild rumpus start: Mischievous 9-year-old Max (the aptly named Max Records) acts out, then runs away to avoid the inevitable punishment, finding refuge with an assortment of squabbling monsters (voiced by, among others, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper and Forest Whitaker). Writer-director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation") transforms Maurice Sendak's kid-lit classic to suit his own offbeat sensibilities, delivering a melancholy, madcap live-action romp that speaks to the wild child inside us all. (100 min.) PG; mild thematic elements, adventure action, brief profanity. (C.C.)

ZOMBIELAND

(B) It's alive! The zombie comedy, that is, as four hapless travelers (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) try to survive the ravenous undead as they head for a California amusement park that may (or may not) be ghoul-free. "Zombieland" makes up in laughter what it lacks in screams, and the arch weariness with which it looks out at undead America hides a frisky yet disturbing message. (82 min.) R; horror violence/gore, profanity.

 

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