MOVIES

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.

Motion Picture Association of America ratings:

G – General audiences, all ages.

PG – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 – Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children under 13.

R – Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian.

NC-17 – No one under 17 admitted.

NR – Not rated.

AMERICAN GANGSTER

(C+) This saga of a Harlem heroin kingpin (Denzel Washington) and the scrappy Jersey cop (Russell Crowe) on his case tries too hard to prove its classic credentials. It’s got two great stars, but only one great star part (Washington’s), throwing the movie off-balance. Hardly the knockout it wants to be, but still worth seeing. (158 min.) R; violence, pervasive drug content and profanity, nudity, sexual situations. (C.C.)

ATONEMENT

(B) Keira Knightley reunites with "Pride & Prejudice" director Joe Wright for an admirable, if less than enthralling, adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, set in 1935 Britain, about a precocious 13-year-old (Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan), who misinterprets the romance between a servant’s son ("The Last King of Scotland’s" James McAvoy) and her older sister (Knightley). (123 min.) R; disturbing war images, profanity, sexual situations. (C.C.)

THE BUCKET LIST

(C) Doing it to death: After sharing a hospital room during cancer treatment, a grouchy billionaire (Jack Nicholson) and a dignified mechanic (Morgan Freeman) share death-defying adventures during one last spree. Despite the dynamic duo of Nicholson and Freeman, Rob Reiner’s languid pacing and hokey staging transform what might have been a touching meditation on life’s fleeting wonders into a maudlin exercise in audience manipulation. (97 min.) PG-13; sexual references, profanity. (C.C.)

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

(B) Finally, a movie about America’s (mis)adventures in Afghanistan that’s actually entertaining, focusing a good-time Texas congressman (a wry Tom Hanks), a right-wing Houston socialite (a sly Julia Roberts) and a rogue CIA agent (best supporting actor Oscar nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman, in another grand-slam portrayal) teaming up to funnel money and weapons to Mujahedin rebels after the 1979 Soviet invasion. (97 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity, drug use. (C.C.)

CLOVERFIELD

(C-) There Will Be Motion Sickness: Something (or some thing) strange and dangerous is rampaging around New York in "Lost" producer J.J. Abrams’ apocalyptic monster stomp, which pulls the plug on a party full of interchangeable 20-somethings who prove their vapidity with nitwit swiftness — and then hang around, making it even easier for the unidentified beastie to put the bite on them. Alas, we have to sit through an entire movie of shaky-vidcam hokum before they get theirs. No wonder I was rooting for the monster to end it all. Bring Dramamine, or a barf bag, if you’re susceptible to motion sickness. Better yet, steer clear. (105 min.) PG-13; violence, terror, disturbing images. (C.C.)

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

(A) A "cardiovascular accident" leaves an editor (Mathieu Almaric) virtually paralyzed, except for his left eye — which he blinks to dictate the memoir that inspires Oscar nominee Julian Schnabel’s award-winning drama. The visual lyricism and irascible humor make for a life-against-the-odds drama like none you’ve ever seen. In French with English subtitles. (112 min.) R; nudity, sexual situations, profanity.

THE EYE

(D+) Following a corneal transplant, a blind violinist (a laughably miscast Jessica Alba) recovers her sight, but is tormented by strange, shadowy images, which may be her imagination — or visions of a terrifying supernatural world. Alessandro Nivola and Parker Posey (let’s hope they both got fat paychecks) co-star in a preposterous remake of a Hong Kong horror hit that was — surprise! — far more compelling before it got lost in translation. (97 min.) PG-13; violence/terror and disturbing content.

FIRST SUNDAY

(C) We wuz robbed: Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan lumber about as a pair of serial petty crooks with their eyes on a church collection plate. Choir director Katt Williams, peeking out from under a Little Richard fright wig, coaxes most of the laughs in a so-called heist comedy where audience members are the ultimate victims. (98 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual humor, brief drug references.

THE GREAT DEBATERS

(B) Denzel Washington stars in and directs an earnest, stand-up-and-cheer drama, set in small-town 1935 Texas, about the members of an all-black college’s winning debate team, who battle Jim Crow — and each other — on the road to glory. Yes, it’s formulaic, but Washington shows welcome restraint in recounting a tale well worth telling — one that could have easily degenerated from inspiration to manipulation. (123 min.) PG-13; violence, disturbing imagery, profanity, brief sexual situations. (C.C.)

HANNAH MONTANA & MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT

(B-) It’s screaming-tweenie time as the Disney Channel’s singing sensation takes the stage in a 3-D concert film, with Miley Cyrus appearing as herself — and her TV alter ego, rock princess Hannah Montana. The 3-D camera throws drumsticks and confetti in our faces, but the technical effects seem superfluous to the star’s bona fide energy. It’s all totally slick and vanilla, but you have to like a kid who works this hard. (74 min.) G; all ages.

HOW SHE MOVE

(C+) In gritty inner-city Toronto, the studious daughter of Caribbean immigrants (winningly played by Las Vegas native Rutina Wesley) joins an all-male step crew to finance her prep-school tuition. You know the drill, but some new and surprisingly thoughtful moves put this a step beyond the usual gotta-dance, gotta-dream teen melodrama. (98 min.) PG-13; drug content, sexual references, profanity. (C.C.)

JUNO

(B) Major Oscar buzz (some of it deserved) surrounds this witty comedy-drama, from screenwriter du jour Diablo Cody, about a wisecracking high school misfit (Oscar nominee Ellen Page), pregnant by her boyfriend ("Superbad’s" Michael Cera), who finds a seemingly perfect couple (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) to adopt the baby. Mostly a delight, if a bit too self-consciously clever for its own good. (92 min.) PG-13; mature themes, sexual situations, profanity. (C.C.)

THE KITE RUNNER

(B-) An Afghan-born writer living in the U.S. ("United 93’s" Khalid Abdalla) returns to his homeland to redeem a childhood act of betrayal in a hit-and-miss adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel that begins well but drags onward, and downward, as it shifts from past to present. In English and Dari, Pashtu, Urdu and Russian with English subtitles. (122 min.) PG-13; mature themes (including child rape), violence, brief profanity. (C.C.)

MAD MONEY

(C) When her husband (Ted Danson) loses his high-paying job, a pampered suburbanite (Diane Keaton) starts scrubbing toilets at a Federal Reserve Bank — and enlists a single mother (Queen Latifah) and a trailer-trash ditz (Katie Holmes) to help her "recycle" cash headed for the shredder. A throwback to 1980’s "How to Beat the High Cost of Living," this gets some fizz from Keaton and Latifah, but never pays off the way it should. (103 min.) PG-13; sexual and drug references, profanity. (C.C.)

MEET THE SPARTANS

(D-) How do you make fun of something that was already dangerously close to self-parody? Badly, in turns out, in an alleged "300" spoof that finds 13 strapping warriors (led by erstwhile TV Hercules Kevin Sorbo) attempting to defend their homeland from invading Persians — and a few dirt-cheap laughs. Sean Maguire, "Borat’s" Ken Davitian and Carmen Electra round out the cast of a movie that wallows in the slop it denigrates, making it virtually indistinguishable from its dopiest targets. (94 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, profanity, comic violence.

MICHAEL CLAYTON

(B+) One man’s corporate failure is another man’s moral triumph in this thriller from writer-director Tony Gilroy, about an elite law firm’s world-weary fixer (Oscar nominee George Clooney), who’s had it with cleaning up behind-the-scenes messes. Fellow nominees Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton anchor the ace supporting cast. (120 min.) R; profanity, including sexual dialogue. (C.C.)

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

(A) The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, get back to basics with an instant-classic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the wild New West, which finds deadpan humor on the blood-soaked trail of a crime spree gone wrong, as a good ol’ boy (comeback kid Josh Brolin) finds $2 million at the site of a botched drug deal — and finds himself on the run from a spectral psycho killer (a stunning, Oscar-nominated Javier Bardem). Tommy Lee Jones rounds out the superb starring trio as a sheriff who wonders where the code of the West went. (122 min.) R; strong graphic violence, profanity, nudity. (C.C.)

THE ORPHANAGE

(B) A young woman ("The Sea Inside’s" Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage where she lived as a child, only to find herself pulled back into her past when her young son (Roger Princep) disappears — after playing with what she presumed were imaginary playmates. This atmospheric Spanish ghost story is never less than engaging and genuinely frightening in places. But the big payoff (like the big payoff in "The Sixth Sense," a film it resembles) never comes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (100 min.) R; disturbing content.

OVER HER DEAD BODY

(D) Dead on arrival: The ghost of a control-freak Bridezilla (Eva Longoria Parker) who dies in a freak wedding-day accident tries to sabotage the blossoming romance between her grieving fiancé (Paul Rudd) and a ditzy psychic (Lake Bell) in a deadly supernatural comedy (make that attempted comedy) that’s both boring and annoying. It’s not the dead body you have to worry about in "Over Her Dead Body." It’s the dead brain cells — yours. (95 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity. (C.C.)

P.S. I LOVE YOU

(C+) A young widow (tearfully gallant Hilary Swank) tries to rebuild her life, following instructions left by her late husband ("300’s" Gerard Butler). Swank’s "Freedom Writers" director, Richard LaGravenese tries to cool down the mostly overheated farrago of sentiment, self-help and romantic cliché that marks this seven-hankie weepie featuring Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Lisa Kudrow (will someone please give this woman her own movie already?) and Harry Connick Jr. (126 min.) PG-13; sexual references, brief nudity.

PERSEPOLIS

(A) An Oscar nominee for best animated feature, this adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic-book series — in basic black-and-white — chronicles the coming-of-age of a precocious Iranian girl in the wake of the 1978 Islamic revolution. A riveting odyssey in pictures and words, it’s as universal as a coming-of-age story and as unique as a fingerprint: whorled, intricate, endlessly fascinating and indescribably touching. In French with English subtitles. (95 min.) PG-13; violent images, sexual material, profanity, brief drug references.

THE PIRATES WHO DON’T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE

(B-) Stranded as busboys at a pirate dinner theater, animated misfits Larry the Cucumber, Mr. Lunt and Pa Grape get a chance to play real heroes when a mysterious artifact zaps them back to the 17th century, where they battle brigands to rescue a royal family. This warm, cuddly swashbuckler spoof has just enough unassuming cleverness to keep you from checking your watch while the little ones get wrapped up in the color and clamor. (85 min.) G; all ages.

RAMBO

(C) After 20 years, Sylvester Stallone revives America’s favorite mercenary, who stirs from his sullen stupor to rescue missionaries from ruthless Burmese soldiers fighting a decades-long civil war. Not as bombastic as its predecessors, which is both its blessing and its curse. Indeed, the battle sequences are so muddled in execution that we can’t tell who’s killing whom, which may have been the point. But knowing Stallone — and Rambo — it’s doubtful. (102 min.) R; strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images, profanity.

THE SAVAGES

(B+) Struggling 40-something siblings (Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman) struggle even more when their ailing dad (Philip Bosco) slips into dementia, forcing them to do right by someone who never did right by them. This astringent comedy-drama from Tamara Jenkins ("Slums of Beverly Hills") nails the psychic maelstrom of the nursing-home blues so precisely you may find yourself squirming in your seat — or laughing because it hurts too much to cry. (113 minutes.) R; sexuality, profanity. (C.C.)

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

(A) In their sixth collaboration, Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton deliver a soaring adaptation of composer Stephen Sondheim’s landmark Broadway musical, with a haunting, Oscar-nominated Depp as a falsely imprisoned barber who returns to Victorian London after years in exile — and launches a bloody quest for vengeance against the judge (Alan Rickman) who stole his wife and daughter. (117 min.) R; graphic bloody violence. (C.C.)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD

(A-) Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia") finally gets out of his own quirky way to spread his filmmaking wings with an epic adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s "Oil!" about the showdown between a budding oil baron (powerhouse Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) and a neophyte preacher (Paul Dano) in early 20th-century California. A bit overlong and over-the-top, this gripping study of all-American greed and rapaciousness signals Anderson has finally struck gold — black gold. (158 min.) PG-13; violence. (C.C.)

27 DRESSES

(B-) Here’s a toast to this semi-sparkling romantic comedy about a perennial bridesmaid ("Knocked Up’s" Katherine Heigl), whose fixation on other people’s weddings — and the lack of romance in her own life — makes her a prime target for a cynical reporter ("Enchanted’s" James Marsden) desperate to escape the wedding beat. As frilly and fluffy as the title attire, but a nimble cast and an insouciant spirit make this more fun than its by-the-numbers plot indicates. (107 min.) PG-13; profanity, innuendo and sexuality. (C.C.)

UNTRACEABLE

(C-) Bringing new meaning to the term "Internet hit," an FBI agent Diane Lane) races against the clock to catch a psycho who displays his graphic murders online — with visitors to the site determining how fast his captives die. Lane is always fascinating to watch (in no small part because she’s that rare actress over 40 whose face isn’t a plastic-surgery case study), but this abhorrent cyberthriller exploits the inhumanity of torture as it cynically condemns Internet rubberneckers (and by extension, moviegoers) for watching it. Talk about torture. (111 min.) R; strong gruesome violence, profanity.

THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP

(B) In World War II-era Scotland, a lonely boy ("Millions" charmer Alex Etel) discovers a mysterious egg that hatches a playful sea monster in a sweet, family-friendly fantasy featuring Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey — and narrator Brian Cox. It borrows more than a bit from "E.T." as it amusingly explains the legend of the Loch Ness monster. But it also weaves a moving tale of loyalty and unexpected friendship. (111 min.) PG; action/peril, mild profanity, brief smoking.

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