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Movies

OPENING THIS WEEK

ASHES OF TIME REDUX

A restored, recut version of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s third film, this 1994 martial-arts epic (filmed in the deserts of western China) boasts a who’s-who of Asian stars — led by Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Brigitte Lin, and the two Tony Leungs (Ka Fai and Chiu Wai) — in a stylized tale (filmed in the deserts of western China) about time, memory, love, regret and betrayal. In Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles. At Village Square. R; violence. (93 min.)

AUSTRALIA

Nicole Kidman reunites with "Moulin Rouge!" director Baz Luhrmann for this sprawling saga, set on the eve of World War II, about a starchy British aristocrat who inherits a remote cattle farm and reluctantly teams up with a hard-riding drover (Hugh Jackman) to save it from a rival cattle baron. At multiple locations. (165 min.) PG-13; violence, sexual references, brief profanity.

THE DUKES

A pair of doo-wop singers called the Dukes (Chazz Palminteri, Robert Davi) who’ve seen better days decide to supplement their income by stealing dental-lab gold in this heist comedy written and directed by Davi. Peter Bogdanovich, Miriam Margolyes and Melora Hardin co-star. At Village Square. PG-13; brief sexuality, drug references. (94 min.)

FOUR CHRISTMASES

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn star as a San Francisco couple whose annual holiday vacation plans go awry, forcing them to endure multiple Yuletide celebrations with four sets of divorced (and remarried) parents; Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight lead the supporting cast, along with Kristen Chenowith, country stars Tim McGraw and Dwight Yoakam and Vaughn’s "Swingers" compadre, Jon Favreau. At multiple locations. (88 min.) PG-13; sexual humor, profanity.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

Suffering "Twilight" withdrawal? This spooky import — winner of the best narrative feature award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival — focuses on a 12-year-old outcast (K?re Hedebrant) who finds a friend in his strange new neighbor (Lina Leandersson), who happens to be a vampire. In Swedish with English subtitles. At Village Square. (114 min.) R; violence.

TRANSPORTER 3

Hard-charging Jason Statham returns as unstoppable mob courier Frank Martin; this time, he’s shackled (literally) to the kidnapped daughter (Natalya Rudakova) of a Ukrainian environmental official (Jeroen Krabbe) who’s the target of shady eco-villains (led by Rob Knepper). At multiple locations. (105 min.) PG-13; intense action and violence, sexual content, drug material.

TRUMBO

Read the review.

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.

APPALOOSA

(B) Home on the range: City fathers of the titular town hire seasoned saddle pals Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen (both terrific) to stop a ruthless rancher (Jeremy Irons). Harris also co-writes and directs a refreshingly old-fangled Western (based on "Spenser" creator Robert B. Parker’s novel) that consciously echoes classic oaters yet serves up interesting twists on time-honored themes, riding tall in the saddle as it rides into the sunset. (114 min.) R; violence, profanity. (C.C.)

BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA

(C) To the dogs: Vacationing in Mexico, the pampered title pooch (voiced by Drew Barrymore) finds herself lost — and needs the help of the local canine contingent to get home. Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos, Luis Guzman, radio’s Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo and (believe it or not) Placido Domingo round out the vocal cast of this Disney canine comedy. It’s not the apocalypse-signaling cultural abomination its trailers make it out to be, but that’s pretty much the best thing you can say about it. (91 min.) PG; mild thematic elements.

BOLT

(B) A coddled canine TV star (voiced by John Travolta) discovers he’s not quite the super-dog he plays on TV when he’s forced to deal with the real world on an accidental New York-to-Hollywood trek. Disney’s latest computer-animated romp (showing in both 2-D and 3-D versions) covers familiar territory and lacks the magic (and emotional impact) of "Wall-E" and other Pixar triumphs, but this charmer shows that the Disney folks still know how to bring a story to life. (96 min.) PG; mild action and peril.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

(B) Bruno, the 8-year-old son (Asa Butterfield) of a Nazi official (David Thewlis), is none too pleased when the family moves from Berlin to a rural area where his father’s been stationed during World War II, but finds an unlikely friend in the title character, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), who lives behind the fence that divides Bruno’s home from Shmuel’s: a concentration camp. This kid’s-eye view of the Holocaust may suffer from lapses in logic, but writer-director Mark Herman adapts John Boyne’s novel with admirable restraint, delivering a poignant and powerful tale. (98 min.) PG-13; mature themes, violence.

CHANGELING

(B-) Director Clint Eastwood’s fact-based 1920s melodrama focuses on a single mother (Angelina Jolie, in another look-at-me Oscar bid) whose son vanishes — and takes on Los Angeles’ corrupt police department when they try to convince her that the little boy they’ve found isn’t really her son. It’s a fascinating true story, but its sprawling structure — It’s a mystery! Wait, it’s a corrupt-cop thriller! No, it’s a miscarriage-of-justice melodrama! Oh, it’s a courtroom drama! — means "Changeling" wrestles with even more questions of identity than its embattled heroine. (140 min.) R; violent and disturbing content, profanity. (C.C.)

THE DUCHESS

(B-) The toast of 18th-century London, the aristocratic Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) turns heads with her outrageous fashions, her political activism — and a loveless marriage that prompts her to turn to a rising politician (Dominic Cooper of "Mamma Mia!"). Any similarities to the duchess’ descendant, Princess Diana, are hardly coincidental in this handsome, if superficial, drama; only the dependably subtle Ralph Fiennes (as the duchess’ dour duke, a prisoner of his own exalted station) manages to suggest the emotional eddies churning beneath the stiff exterior. (110 min.) PG-13; sexual content, brief nudity, thematic material. (C.C.)

EAGLE EYE

(C+) Thrown together by a phone call from a mystery woman, two strangers (Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan) run for their lives — and try to figure out why they’ve been targeted as the country’s most wanted fugitives — in another wrong man (and wrong woman) on-the-run action thriller with a political message and a warehouse worth of high-tech gadgetry. Even with Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson on the case, this is still one overstuffed, yet relatively empty, chase. (118 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of action and violence, profanity.

FIREPROOF

(B-) A firefighter (a genuinely compelling Kirk Cameron) and his publicist wife (Erin Bethea) are on the verge of divorce, until his father challenges him to "The Love Dare" — 40 days of spiritual effort to work his way back into his wife’s heart. This religious drama from writer-director Alex Kendrick ("Facing the Giants") may be a bit gimmicky, with dramatic firefighter rescues that have little to do with the plot, but it also features the rarest of cinematic creatures: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy. (122 min.) PG; thematic material, peril.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

(A-) Being happy doesn’t always have to be serious business. Just ask Poppy (the wonderful Sally Hawkins), the irrepressible life force of this deceptively low-key character study from "Vera Drake" director Mike Leigh. A plucky primary-school teacher, Poppy responds to life’s challenges — a stolen bike, a troubled student, a dour driving teacher (Eddie Marsan) — with the same breezy optimism, challenging others to share her hopeful outlook. As usual, Leigh draws complex, compelling performances from the cast members who help him shape his down-to-earth human comedy; also as usual, the result is rueful, resonant and wise. (118 min.) R; profanity. (C.C.)

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR

(B) Hip to be square: It’s a threepeat for the Disney Channel’s smash song-and-dance franchise, which moves from the small to the big screen as East High Wildcats Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) and Chad (Corbin Bleu) face the big finale of high school life — and explore their conflicting emotions by (what else?) putting on a show. Eminently watchable, occasionally very funny and sweet enough to give you diabetes, "HSM" introduces new performers (including Matt Prokop, Justin Martin and Jemma McKenzie-Brown) who will enable director Kenny Ortega and company to keep the franchise singing and dancing well past graduation day. (112 min.) G; all ages.

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA

(B) The zany former denizens of the Central Park Zoo (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer), accompanied by wacky lemur king Julian ("Borat’s" Sacha Baron Cohen) — all of whom we met in 2005’s "Madagascar" — return to their roots, when their plane crash-lands on the African savanna. It’s a typical tale of self-discovery, but at least it’s punctuated by genuine hilarity and top-flight animation. (89 min.) PG; mild crude humor.

MAX PAYNE

(C) What a Payne: Yet another video game hits the big screen as Mark Wahlberg takes on the title role, a DEA agent (who lost his family to conspiracy killers) who teams up with an assassin (Mila Kunis) out to avenge her sister’s death — assuming the cops, the mob and a ruthless corporation don’t get them first. Stylish but derivative, this is one vacuous and bullet-riddled misfire — with a Wahlberg performance that makes you wonder whatever happened to that Oscar-nominated actor from "The Departed." (100 min.) PG-13; violence, including intense shooting sequences, drug content, sexuality, brief profanity.

NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST

(B+) A jilted hero — high school musician Nick ("Juno’s" Michael Cera) — and a humiliated heroine ("The House Bunny’s" Kat Dennings) discover that their common frenemy is their ticket to a wild Manhattan night in this on-the-town romp from "Raising Victor Vargas" director Peter Sollett. Some movies skate by fast on slick action, while others snap with crisp dialogue. This one springs high on the bounce of its hugely likable leads. (90 min.) PG-13; mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, profanity and crude behavior.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

(C) Bland, James, bland: After a slam-bang reboot in 2006’s "Casino Royale," the James Bond franchise suffers definite sophomore slump as a vengeful Bond (Daniel Craig, icy as ever) globe-trots from Europe to South America in pursuit of an enigmatic eco-entrepreneur ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Mathieu Amalric) — and his own inner demons. We get bullets flying, stuff blowing up real good and slice-and-dice editing that renders all that action all but impossible to follow. And while Bond’s always movie, he’s never moved. Neither are we. Or, as 007 himself might summarize it, not shaken — and definitely not stirred. PG-13; intense action violence, sexual content. (C.C.)

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

(B) Sprung from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding, a troubled young woman (Anne Hathaway) demonstrates her insatiable need to steal the spotlight, even from the bride (Rosemarie DeWitt). Yet another portrait of yet another dysfunctional family, but the acutely observed screenplay (by Jenny Lumet), slice-of-life direction (by "Silence of the Lambs" Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme) and standout performances (including Oscar-worthy support from Bill Irwin and Debra Winger as the bride’s divorced parents) put us in the midst of the jittery gathering — and the jittery people trying desperately to ignore their jitters. (113 min.) R; profanity, brief sexuality. (C.C.)

ROCKNROLLA

(B-) Director Guy Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch") returns to cockney crime capers — and, happily, to form — with this underworld romp about a London real-estate scam and the various lowlifes (including "300’s" Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Jeremy Piven) trying to get in on the action. It’s a low-rent "Ocean’s Eleven," but there’s plenty of rough humor, bruising action and a wicked dark streak to compensate for the lack of glamour. (114 min.) R; pervasive profanity, violence, drug use, brief sexuality.

ROLE MODELS

(B) As punishment for their wild behavior, a pair of energy drink reps (Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott) become Big Brother-type mentors to a pair of misfit kids (Bobb’e J. Thompson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, alias "Superbad’s" McLovin). The premise is completely formulaic and potentially cheesy, but it’s the wildly, hilariously crude way that director David Wain and Co. approach the concept that makes "Role Models" so disarming — and consistently, laugh-out-loud funny. (99 min.) R; crude and sexual content, profanity, nudity.

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

(C) In 1964 South Carolina, a 14-year-old (Dakota Fanning) flees her abusive father (Paul Bettany), accompanied by her caregiver and only friend (Jennifer Hudson); they find a haven with small-town sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo) who run a beekeeping business. Like a spoonful of honey, this adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel from writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") is cloyingly sweet and gooey — and almost impossible to swallow undiluted, despite the valiant attempts of the performers to sell the faux-profound platitudes they’ve been given. (110 min.) PG-13; violence, mature themes.

SOUL MEN

(C) Two estranged soul music legends (Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac) reunite for an Apollo Theater tribute to a fallen bandmate in a comedy that will be remembered, if at all, as the untimely swan song of Mac, who died in August at 50. When it’s about Mac and Samuel L. Jackson bickering over decades of pent-up resentments, this stale buddy road-trip has a fiercely raunchy, buoyant energy about it. Trouble is, it crams in myriad needless subplots — ostensibly to provide padding, which only draws attention to how thin the original story really is. (103 min.) R; pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

(B-) Art irritates life: All the world’s a stage for a small-time director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Schenectady, N.Y., who wins a MacArthur "genius" grant and spends the windfall on a vast avant-garde theater piece — in which he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse. Welcome to the wild world of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Adaptation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Being John Malkovich"), who extends his mind-bending to create a surreal alternate universe in an epically ambitious directorial debut populated by the likes of Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest and Michelle Williams. The result is bewildering — if intermittently bewitching. (124 min.) R; profanity, sexual content, nudity.

TWILIGHT

(B-) This adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling tale of the ultimate star-crossed romance (OK, except maybe for "Romeo and Juliet" "Wuthering Heights" and …) emerges as a fanciful, if fitfully engaging, amalgam of teen angst and vampire lore, as high school junior Bella Swan (appealingly direct Kristen Stewart) falls under the spell of dreamy biology lab partner Edward Cullen (brooding Robert Pattinson) — who’s been undead since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1917. "Thirteen" director Catherine Hardwicke’s affinity for everyday teen traumas keep the movie grounded in emotional reality, even during its most far-fetched flights of fantasy. (120 min.) PG-13; violence, sensuality. (C.C.)

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

(C+) Writer-director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Dogma") returns to sex and controversy (not necessarily in that order) for this bawdy comedy about two impoverished roomies (raunch king Seth Rogen, endearing Elizabeth Banks) who become porn entrepreneurs to flesh out their bottom line. Smith regulars Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson join "The Office’s" Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Justin Long and Brandon Routh in the supporting cast, but it’s Rogen and Banks, as the unlikely but inevitable romantic couple, who provide a welcome sweetness that helps compensate for the sour gross-out humor. (101 min.) R; strong crude sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, pervasive profanity. (C.C.)

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