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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.

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.

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, especially for the performances. Nominated for two Academy Awards: supporting actress (Ruby Dee) and art direction. (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), leading to life-changing consequences that reverberate through World War II — and beyond. 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.)

AUGUST RUSH

(C-) Sugar rush would be more like it. Given up at birth, an 11-year-old musical prodigy (Freddie Highmore) survives on the New York streets and composes the siren call that will lure his musical parents (Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers) back together. The kind of saccharine fairy tale that makes "Cinderella" look like kitchen-sink realism. Nominated for one Academy Award: original song. (114 min.) PG; mild violence and profanity, mature themes.

BEE MOVIE

(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.

BEOWULF

(C ) Director Robert Zemeckis uses 21st-century motion-capture technology to revive this Old English epic — and reshape its leading players — as the stalwart title warrior (voiced by Ray Winstone) battles a fearsome monster, the monster’s shape-shifting siren of a mother (Angelina Jolie) and a persistent dragon. The special effects are the real stars of the show, so see this in 3-D, where they really make an impact. (114 min.) PG-13; intense sequences of violence, sexual situations, nudity. (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.)

CASSANDRA’S DREAM

(C+) Woody Allen returns to Britain — and dark thriller territory — for this tale of two cash-strapped brothers (Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell) who agree to help their rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson) eliminate a threat — for a price that turns out to be far too high. Allen generates genuine suspense and the performances (especially Farrell’s as an in-over-his-head loser) are predictably absorbing. But Allen’s visited this territory before, far more memorably, in 1989’s "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and 2005’s "Match Point," prompting us to ask: Is this trip necessary? (105 min.) R; sexual situations, brief violence, mature themes. (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.)

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 loft party full of interchangeable 20-somethings who prove their vapidity with stunning, 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. Nominated for three Academy Awards: director, film editing, adapted screenplay. (112 min.) R; nudity, sexual situations, profanity.

ENCHANTED

(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 salutes and spoofs studio traditions with equal flair. Nominated for three Academy Awards, all in the best song category. (107 min.) PG; scary images, mild innuendo. (C.C.)

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 and the good guys triumph. 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.)

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 feral, 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.)

I’M NOT THERE

(B+) "Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan," writer-director Todd Haynes explores American mythology, the all-American practice of reinventing yourself — and the even more all-American preference for mythology over truth — along with his subject. embodied by (among others) best supporting actress Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett, the late Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin and Richard Gere. Like its inspiration, this movie is by turns impish, inventive, moving, maddening, teasing, tedious, clever and endlessly challenging. Nominated for one Academy Award: supporting actress. (135 min.) R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity. (C.C.)

IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE

(D) A family man (Jason Statham) takes up arms when an evil sorcerer (Ray Liotta) unleashes bloodthirsty beasties that destroy his village and abduct his wife (Claire Forlani). Ron Perlman, Will Sanderson, John Rhys-Davies and Burt Reynolds (as the besieged king himself) co-star in this medieval fantasy, based on a video game series, from director Uwe Boll, who’s not the worst director in the world — which is too bad, because this would be a lot more entertaining if he were. (150 min.) PG-13; intense battle sequences.

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. 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.)

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. Nominated for one Academy Award: original score. (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. This throwback to 1980’s "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" gets some fizz from Keaton and Latifah, but this crime never pays off the way it should. (103 min.) PG-13; sexual and drug references, profanity. (C.C.)

MICHAEL CLAYTON

(B+) One man’s corporate failure is another man’s moral triumph in this thriller from writer-director Tony Gilroy, about a world-weary fixer for an elite law film (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 of a movie in which manipulative characters plot moves, score points — and gauge the price they’ll eventually have to pay. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, actor (Clooney), supporting actor (Wilkinson), supporting actress (Swinton), director and original screenplay. (120 min.) R; profanity, including sexual dialogue. (C.C.)

THE MIST

(C) Giant, bloodthirsty creatures unleashed by a freak storm prey upon a Maine village, and people (played by, among others, Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones and a holy-rolling Marcia Gay Harden) react in unconstructive ways. "Shawshank Redemption" writer-director Frank Darabont’s windy adaptation of yet another Stephen King novella serves up yet another Chicken Little admonition built upon the cynical belief that when the sky really falls, we’ll reveal our true inner beast — and prey on one another. (127 min.) R; violence, terror and gore, profanity.

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. The Coens’ best since 1996’s "Fargo," this 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 an old-school 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.

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.

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.

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.

THE SAVAGES

(B+) Struggling 40-something siblings (Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman) struggle even harder when their ailing dad (Philip Bosco) slips into dementia in Sun City, Ariz., forcing them to try and 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: actress (Linney) and original screenplay. (113 minutes.) R; sexuality, profanity. (C.C.)

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

(A) There’s thrilling, as in "producing sudden, strong and deep emotion or excitement." And there’s thrilling — as in "moving with rapture; delighting beyond measure." Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton’s sixth collaboration is both: a soaring adaptation of composer Stephen Sondheim’s landmark Broadway musical, with a haunting, Oscar-nominated Depp as both monster and victim, 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," "Punch-Drunk Love") 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 that 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.)

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.)

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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