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.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
(C+) Everybody’s favorite singing chipmunks add rap to their repertoire in a live-action/animation combo starring Jason Lee (TV’s "My Name Is Earl") as David Seville, who loses control of the computer-generated title cuties (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) to an evil music executive. (92 min.) PG; mild rude humor.
(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). Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, supporting actress (Ronan), adapted screenplay and cinematography. (123 min.) R; disturbing war images, profanity, sexual situations. (C.C.)
(B — what else?) Just out of college, bee student Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, who also co-writes) rebels and ventures outside the hive, where he encounters a sympathetic florist (voiced by Renée Zellweger) — and decides to sue the human race for stealing honey. Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Alan Arkin, Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Bates buzz in and out of this fast-flying cartoon, while Seinfeld bats a zinger for every stinger. (90 min.) PG; mild suggestive humor.
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. Nominated for one Academy Award: supporting actor. (97 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity, drug use. (C.C.)
(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.)
(C+) Maybe not: A 30-something political consultant (Ryan Reynolds) tries to explain his romantic past to his inquisitive 10-year-old daughter ("Little Miss Sunshine’s" Abigail Breslin), who wants to know everything about her dad’s love life with three very different women (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz). They’re all appealing, which is more than we can say, at times, for this disjointed romantic comedy from writer-director Adam Brooks ("Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), which strains to live up to its smart, rueful potential. (105 minutes.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, smoking. (C.C.)
DIARY OF THE DEAD
(C-) While shooting a horror movie, film students (Joshua Close, Michelle Morgan) encounter real-life zombies in "Night of the Living Dead" director George A. Romero’s latest creature feature. Alas, Romero’s fifth "Dead" movie in four decades seems almost dead-on-arrival; after far too many imitations, this is moderately scary, moderately amusing, intermittently dull and obvious. Far from groundbreaking, it’s not even ground-quaking. (95 min.) R; horror violence and gore, profanity, adult themes.
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. Nominated for three Academy Awards: director, film editing, adapted screenplay. (112 min.) R; nudity, sexual situations, profanity.
(B) When an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) zaps storybook princess Giselle (the enchanting Amy Adams) to modern-day Manhattan to get her away from her princely stepson (James Marsden, delightfully dunderheaded), Giselle’s new surroundings — and a dreamy divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) — alter her happily-ever-after plans. This fractured fairy tale succumbs to computerized effects overkill at the end, but until then it’s a tuneful Disney charmer that both salutes and spoofs studio traditions. Nominated for three Academy Awards, all in the best song category. (107 min.) PG; scary images, mild innuendo. (C.C.)
(B+) Visionary filmmaker David Lynch describes this 1977 cult classic, his feature debut, as "a dream of dark and troubling things" — which is as accurate an assessment as you’re going to get for this hypnotic experiment in nightmare visuals, Grand Guignol gore and campy comedy. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it focuses on a walking-dead factory worker (Jack Nance, who became a Lynch regular) trying to deal with his angry, pregnant girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart) — and, ultimately, the screams of their mutant baby. (108 min.) NR; violence and gore, sexual references, frightening and intense images, smoking.
(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.
(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.
(D+) Pure pyrite: Decorative "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" sweethearts Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey reunite for an "as-if" action romp about newly divorced couple (guess who?) on the trail of long-lost Spanish treasure. Donald Sutherland (as a globe-trotting billionaire), Ray Winstone (a rival treasure-hunter), Kevin Hart (a treasure-lusting rapper) and his henchmen (Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Brian Hooks) co-star; let’s hope they all enjoyed their tropical trek, because the movie they brought back is utter dreck, a tedious waste of everyone’s time — including yours. (112 min.) PG-13; action violence, sexual situations and references, brief nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
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.
I AM LEGEND
(C+) Will Smith steps into the roomy shoes of Charlton Heston (1971’s "The Omega Man") and Vincent Price (1964’s "The Last Man on Earth"), playing the last uninfected survivor of a cataclysmic plague that’s transformed fellow survivors into ravenous vampires. The movie’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic New York City is suitably creepy, but director Francis Lawrence ("Constantine") zooms through fleeting food-for-thought passages to get to the action. (100 min.) PG-13; intense sci-fi action, violence. (C.C.)
(C+) Two Laurel-and-Hardy hit men — one (Colin Farrell) forever getting into not-so-fine messes, the other (Brendan Gleeson) stuck with cleaning them up — bide their time while on an enforced vacation in the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges, awaiting further instructions from their rabid boss (Ralph Fiennes). Playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh’s off-kilter killers prove diverting, but in trying to balance twisted humor and explosive violence, McDonagh creates glaring shifts in tone that make this a wild yet only sporadically satisfying trip. (107 min.) R; strong bloody violence, pervasive profanity, sexual references, drug use. (C.C.)
(C-) A genetic glitch allows a young man (a sullen Hayden Christensen) to teleport himself anywhere, anytime — and into a centuries-long war between the "jumpers" and their enemies — in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" director Doug Liman’s sci-fi misfire. Rarely have so many humdrum digital effects and so much expensive location photography been lavished upon so many disagreeable characters — played by, among others, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane and Rachel Bilson. They deserve better; so do we. (88 min.) PG-13; intense action violence, profanity, brief sexuality.
(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. Nominated for four Academy Awards: best picture, actress (Page), director (Jason Reitman) and original screenplay. (92 min.) PG-13; mature themes, sexual situations, profanity. (C.C.)
(B) An intimate, predictably eccentric portrait of visionary filmmaker David Lynch (captured during the making of "Inland Empire"), which offers revealing close-ups of Lynch directing — whether he’s working with his star Laura Dern or the homeless people he casts for his films out of the doorways along Hollywood Boulevard. (85 min.) NR; adult content.
(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.
NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS
(B-) Dauntless treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) returns for more fractured history lessons and Indiana Jones-ing as he searches for 18 missing pages from the diary of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth — which could prove the key to an international conspiracy. Silly, breezy escapism with nothing on its mind but unpretentious fun. (124 min.) PG; action violence.
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 (osh 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. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, supporting actor (Bardem), directing, cinematography and adapted screenplay. (122 min.) R; strong graphic violence, profanity, nudity. (C.C.)
ONE MISSED CALL
(C) Yet another Hollywood co-opting of a Japanese horror hit, this remake of 2003’s "Chakushin Ari" admonishes us that personal electronics are the highway to hell, as several people receive voice-mail messages from the future — including the date, time and details of their deaths. Sure, it’s absurd, but it also taps into our concealed fantasies of what we’d like to see happen to people who talk too much on their cell phones. Edward Burns and Shannyn Sossamon lead the cast. (87 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence and terror, frightening images, some sexual material, thematic elements.
(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.
(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.
(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. Nominated for two Academy Awards: best actress (Linney) and original screenplay. (113 minutes.) R; sexuality, profanity. (C.C.)
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES
(B-) After moving (unwillingly) to a rundown estate, twin brothers (one rebellious, one brainiac, both played by Freddie Highmore) and their plucky older sister (Sarah Bolger) battle hobgoblins, trolls and other assorted beasties lurking in the woods beyond. This brisk adaptation of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s fantasy tales goes overboard on the computer-generated effects, but potent fractured-family themes, plus memorable turns by Nick Nolte (as the movie’s resident monster), Mary-Louise Parker (as the kids’ embattled mother) and David Strathairn (as the inquisitive scientist who started it all) make this an all-ages treat. (97 min.) PG; scary creature action and violence, peril, thematic elements. (C.C.)
STEP UP 2 THE STREETS
(C-) Been there, danced that: In this sequel to the 2006 sleeper, romantic sparks strike between a street dancer (Briana Evigan, daughter of actor Greg Evigan) and a new classmate (Robert Hoffman) at the Maryland School of the Arts. Less a sequel than a variation on a theme, this dance movie can move — which is fortunate, because the rest of it, from the predictable class conflicts to sanitized keeping-it-real bluster, is too leaden to get off the ground. (98 min.) PG-13; profanity, sexual references, brief violence.
(F) Blowing smoke: Laughter is definitely an endangered species in this burned-out stoner comedy about the host (Steve Zahn) of a nature-themed TV series who, when his ratings tank, rounds up his sidekicks (Allen Covert, Jonah Hill) to search for the one creature that could save the show: Bigfoot. The funniest part of "Strange Wilderness" is the trailer for "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" that precedes it. (87 min.) R; non-stop profanity, drug use, crude and sexual humor.
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. Nominated for three Academy Awards: actor (Depp), art direction, costume design. (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. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, actor (Day-Lewis), director, adapted screenplay and cinematography. (158 min.) PG-13; violence. (C.C.)
(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.)
(B) This Imax 3-D concert documentary, filmed in South America on the last leg of U2’s 2005-2006 "Vertigo" tour, captures the Irish superband in action, from close-ups of Bono to sold-out soccer stadiums of frenzied fans. Cinematically, it’s nothing special, but it works so well because the concert is so well-executed — and the audience is so passionate they practically reach out and yank us into the movie. (92 min.) G; all ages.
(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.
WELCOME HOME, ROSCOE JENKINS
(C) A big TV star (Martin Lawrence) gets cut down to size when he heads south to join his extended family for his parents’ 50th anniversary celebration, reconnecting with old rivals (Cedric the Entertainer) and old flames (Nicole Ari Parker) alike. Despite a promising premise and an all-star cast (including James Earl Jones, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mo’Nique and Mike Epps), this recycles so much material it’s a wonder the film stock didn’t turn green during filming as writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike’s cousin) struggles to combine slapstick and sentiment. (114 min.) PG-13; sexual content, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)