OPENING THIS WEEK
This documentary profiles Danish economist and global-warming skeptic Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," who hopes to convince those terrified of looming environmental apocalypse that smaller, cheaper ways can make the planet a more livable place. At Suncoast. (89 min.) PG; thematic elements.
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, who first teamed in "21 Grams," reunite for this fact-based drama about CIA agent Valerie Plame, who’s outed by the White House after her husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson, questions the intelligence behind the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq — in a New York Times opinion article. Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith") directs from a script based on Plame and Wilson’s memoirs. At Green Valley, Village Square. (108 min.) PG-13; profanity.
More than a decade after a paralyzing spinal-cord injury, a magician (Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan) sues for the right to end his own life in this Indian drama; Aishwarya Rai and Aditya Roy Kapoor co-star for director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In Hindi. At Village Square. (135 min.) NR.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
It’s the beginning of the end for everyone’s favorite boy wizard (hardly-a-boy-anymore Daniel Radcliffe) and his faithful Hogwarts companions Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) in the first half of the saga’s concluding chapter, as they continue their battle against the villainous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Director David Yates returns to helm his third Potter movie; the fourth, this chapter’s conclusion, will be in theaters next summer. At multiple locations; in IMAX at select locations. (146 min.) PG-13; intense action violence, frightening images, brief sensuality.
THE NEXT THREE DAYS
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.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
(C-) Two wolves at opposite ends of their pack’s social order (voiced by Justin Long and Hayden Panetierre), transferred to an Idaho park, must work together to find their way home to Canada in an animated adventure that boasts advanced 3-D but a script that’s a let-down in the humor and heart department. (88 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action.
(B-) When her ne’er-do-well brother (Sam Rockwell) goes to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, a high-school dropout (double Oscar-winner Hilary Swank) goes back to college and earns a law degree so she can prove his innocence. This fact-based drama may be a great story, but it’s not exactly great storytelling; not content to let the facts speak for themselves, "Conviction" undercuts its dramatic power with only-in-Hollywood contrivances. Fortunately, powerhouse performances from Swank and Rockwell (along with standout support from, among others, Juliette Lewis, Minnie Driver and Ari Graynor) save the day. (107 min.) R; profanity, violent images. (C.C.)
(B) Assisted by a legion of jabbering, goggle-eyed Minions, the villainous Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) plots to outwit a nerdy rival (voiced by Jason Segel) by committing the world’s most dastardly crime — until a trio of adorable orphan girls changes his focus from bad to dad in a cheeky computer-animated tale that combines impish slapstick humor and expert use of 3-D. (95 min.) PG; rude humor, mild action. (C.C.)
(C+) An uptight businessman (Robert Downey Jr.) heading home for the birth of his first baby finds himself saddled with a walking-disaster traveling companion: a childlike aspiring actor (Zach Galifianakis) on his way to Hollywood. This comedic cross-country jaunt sounds like it should be fun, especially with "Hangover" director behind the wheel. But this "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" retread for the road-rage era is crazy without being all that comedic, forcing us to endure a cinematic road trip almost as draggy (and sometimes as druggy) as the one shared by the movie’s odd-couple buddies. (95 min.) R; profanity, drug use, sexual content. (C.C.)
(B) A sarcastic, witty teen ("Zombieland’s" winning Emma Stone) uses her high school’s rumor mill to enhance her bad-girl reputation when word gets around that she’s no longer a virgin. This smart, sassy teen comedy (featuring Amanda Bynes, "Hellcats’ Aly Michalka and "Gossip Girl’s" Penn Badgley) hearkens back to those golden ’80s days of John Hughes — right down to scene-stealing adult performances from the likes of Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci and Lisa Kudrow. (93 min.) PG-13; mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, profanity, drug material. (C.C.)
A FILM UNFINISHED
(A) An award-winner at this year’s Sundance film festival, this moving, mysterious and intellectually provocative documentary focuses on an infamous Nazi propaganda film shot in May 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto — and recently discovered footage that reveals how cinematic manipulation alters our view of historic images. We’ve seen the familiar Holocaust horrors before, but watching director Yael Hersonski revisit them makes this profoundly unnerving, and utterly unforgettable. In German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and English, with English subtitles. (88 min.) R; disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity.
FOR COLORED GIRLS
(C-) Writer-director Tyler Perry’s tone-deaf update of Ntozake Shange’s 1974 "choreopoem" cycle "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf" intertwines the lives of nine women trying to cope with a variety of torments. Timely and moving on the stage 30-plus years ago, this now seems strained and sentimental, stranding a mostly-terrific cast: Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad are particular standouts alongside Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington and Whoopi Goldberg. They’re not the problem (except maybe for Goldberg); Perry’s concept is, as he tries, and fails, to meld Shange’s poetry with his own overblown brand of strained soap opera. (120 min.) R; disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content, nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST
(C) In the snoozy final (made-in-Sweden) chapter of Stiegg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (the furious Noomi Rapace) is hospitalized with a bullet to the head — and awaiting trial for murder, leaving it up to journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to prove her innocence. Watching Lisbeth stuck in a confined space is like seeing Superman trapped in a phone booth: It’s a blueprint for a mighty boring movie. In Swedish with English subtitles. (148 min.) R; strong violence, sexual material, brief profanity.
(B) Director Clint Eastwood’s psychological drama focuses on a blue-collar American (Matt Damon) with a special connection to the afterlife, a French journalist (Cecile de France) who survives a near-death experience and a London schoolboy (twins George and Frankie McLaren) desperate to connect with his dead brother. Not the emotional knockout it might have been, but this thematic departure for Eastwood nevertheless showcases his trademark easy, elegant storytelling. (129 min.) PG-13; mature thematic elements, including disturbing disaster and accident images, brief profanity.
(B) Pretzel logic: "Dark Knight" writer-director Christopher Nolan’s intriguingly twisty sci-fi thriller focuses on a team of dream raiders, led by heartbreak-haunted Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who must test their expertise when they’re hired to plant an idea in the mind of a dying industrialist’s heir (Cillian Murphy). Slyly witty Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whip-smart Ellen Page and femme fatale Marion Cotillard provide invaluable support, but it’s Nolan’s mind-bending visions that dominate this three-dimensional puzzle of a movie. (148 min.) PG-13; violence, action. (C.C.)
(B+) "No End in Sight" director Charles Ferguson returns with another acclaimed documentary, this one devoted to a thorough dissection of the country’s, and the world’s, economic collapse of 2008. It’s a daunting, unwieldy topic, but with the help of user-friendly graphics and Matt Damon’s narration, Ferguson breaks down the meltdown without ever being condescending. At the same time, he’s managed to make a potentially headache-inducing subject cinematic. That doesn’t make it any less depressing. You my think you don’t want to see this — but you should. (120 min.) PG-13; drug and sex-related material.
(C) Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the rest of the "Jackass" gang are comin’ at you with a third big-screen round of in-your-face mayhem that’s even more in-your-face than ever before, thanks to 3-D. But more often than not, this installment (directed, as always, by Jeff Tremaine) doesn’t take advantage of its visual potential; very little occurs in "Jackass 3D" that wouldn’t have sufficed in 2-D. (94 min.) R; male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, profanity.
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
(C) Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel play mismatched singles forced together when their mutual best friends die in an accident — and name them guardians of their baby daughter, leading to antics with diapers, anxious speeches over kitchen sinks and (Spoiler Alert!) gradual heartwarming toward each other and their makeshift family. Heigl and Duhamel are pleasant to watch, which is more than we can say for this overly familiar comedy. (113 min.) PG-13; sexual material, profanity, drug content.
MAO’S LAST DANCER
(C+) A Chinese peasant boy trains at the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy, goes to the U.S. on a cultural exchange — and defects when he falls in love with an American — in a fact-based drama featuring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen. Director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy") packs this tale of artistic aspirations and international politics with more corn than an Iowa silo. (117 min.) PG; brief violent image, sexual references, profanity, incidental smoking.
(C+) A dastardly super-villain (voiced by Will Ferrell) who turned evil because of a bad upbringing finds himself seduced to the good side to defeat an even badder guy. Didn’t we just see this in "Despicable Me"? This latest DreamWorks action romp (in 3-D and IMAX 3D at select locations) features dazzling computer-animated design and action. Yet, ultimately, the underdeveloped story and characters (voiced by, among others, Brad Pitt and Tina Fey) seem to be there to service the visuals, rather than the other way around. (96 min.) PG; action, some profanity.
(B-) A beleaguered producer (spunky ‘n’ sparkling Rachel McAdams), hired to revamp a network’s low-rated morning program, tries to keep the anchor team — an arrogant news legend (hilariously grouchy Harrison Ford) and a chirpy ex-beauty queen (divine diva Diane Keaton) — from sabotaging the show, and each other. Patrick Wilson and Jeff Goldblum co-star in a "Broadcast News"-meets-"Devil Wears Prada" comedy that’s the cinematic equivalent of a TV morning show — overstuffed, scattershot and sometimes scatterbrained, yet diverting just the same. (102 min.) PG-13; sexual content including dialogue, profanity, brief drug references. (C.C.)
THE OTHER GUYS
(B-) Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make an amusingly arresting team as mismatched New York City detectives — one a by-the-book desk jockey, the other a street guy itching for action — who stumble onto Wall Street chicanery. Not the bust-a-gut buddy-cop spoof it wants to be — it careens between action and comedy too much for that — but its intermittent goofiness makes it easy enough to go along for the ride. (107 min.) PG-13; crude and sexual content, profanity, violence, drug material. (C.C.)
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
(D+) If there was any lesson to draw from the first "Paranormal Activity," it’s that men should take their girlfriends’ concerns seriously, especially when it comes to encounters with the demonic. This slightly Hollywood-ized sequel follows similar gender lines, as a family of four (Sprague Grayden and Brian Bolden play the parents) wilt when a malevolent presence haunts their house. Once again, almost everything we see is from surveillance cameras, a perspective that makes the sequel’s frights seem natural — and almost everything else seem boring. (91 min.) R; profanity, brief violent material.
(C+) When a mysterious hit squad tries to take out a former CIA black-ops agent (Bruce Willis), he rounds up a few "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" colleagues (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren) to find out why in yet another comic-book adaptation with the accent on run-and-gun fun. Its top-chop cast (which also include Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox), seems to be having a collective blast, but "Red" keeps interrupting them for cartoony action sequences we’ve seen a zillion times before. (110 min.) PG-13; intense action violence, brief profanity. (C.C.)
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
(D) With the world ravaged by a viral infection that transforms its victims into the Undead, Alice (Milla Jovovich) continues her quest to find survivors and lead them to safety — and her battle with the Umbrella Corp. Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller co-star for director Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s husband), a serious contender for worst filmmaker in the biz. This fourth installment of the "Resident Evil" franchise is the first to go 3-D, but that doesn’t improve this witless workout. (90 min.) R; strong violence, profanity.
(D) In the seventh, presumably final chapter of the "Saw" saga — the first in 3-D — several of the diabolical Jigsaw’s victims must deal with his deadly legacy, including a self-help guru (Sean Patrick Flanery) with his own dark secrets. Another autumn, another torture porn outing, despite a chilling flashback turn for Jigsaw himself (Tobin Bell) and the return of Carey Elwes. It’s all bunk and has been for years; whatever moral lessons were presented in the earliest "Saw" films seem to have been dispensed with as the movies grow more and more gruesome. (87 min.) R; grisly bloody violence and torture, profanity.
(B-) Get a horse: In the early ’70s, feisty housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) literally bets her family’s deep-in-debt horse farm on the success of a rangy thoroughbred who turns out to be the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Both Secretariat and Tweedy deserve better than this illustrated lecture, full of important Life Lessons in which Penny and her wonder horse show everyone what being a champion is all about. Yet "Secretariat’s" thrilling racing sequences capture both the beauty and the pulse-pounding suspense of the title character’s awe-inspiring feats. (116 min.) PG; brief mild profanity. (C.C.)
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
(C) It’s not easy being green: The fourth (and, we hope, final) chapter of the fractured fairy-tale cartoon saga strands the restless title ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) in a twisted version of Far Far Away ruled by the unruly Rumplestiltskin. Not the worst "Shrek" sequel (that would be 2007’s "Shrek the Third"), this nevertheless confirms that the franchise is long past its sell-by date. (93 min.) PG; mild action, rude humor, brief profanity. (C.C.)
(D) Those pesky extraterrestrials are back, heralded by strange lights outside L.A. that lure unsuspecting residents outside — and toward a strange force that threatens to zap humanity off the face of the Earth. "Haven’s" Eric Balfour, "NCIS’ " Scottie Thompson and "Scrubs’ " Donald Faison headline this no-thrills sci-fi thriller; like those of us stuck in the audience, they’re simply bystanders — observers of a special-effects battle that plays like a special-effects experiment in search of a movie. (92 min.) PG-13; intense sci-fi action and violence, profanity, brief sexual content.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
(A-) Facebook’s contentious birth in a Harvard dorm, as inventive but socially inept Mark Zuckerberg (a memorably unsympathetic Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with a revolutionary way for others to connect online — alienating and/or betraying his own friends in the process. Andrew Garfield ("Never Let Me Go") and, of all people, Justin Timberlake anchor a standout supporting cast, while director David Fincher demonstrates his flair for fluid visual storytelling and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin delivers trademark biting dialogue. Overall, a sharply observed study of how, and why, some people prefer virtual life to the real thing. (120 min.) PG-13; sexual content, drug and alcohol use, profanity. (C.C.)
(C-) Together again for the first time since 2001’s "The Score," Robert De Niro and Edward Norton can’t save this strained, strangely unfocused drama about a calculating convict (Norton) trying to manipulate his world-weary parole officer (De Niro) into recommending his release — with more than a little help from his semi-slutty, semi-nutty wife (a cartoonish Milla Jovovich). Despite earnest stabs at moral ambiguity, "Stone" sinks under the weight of its overblown philosophical musings — and its initially intriguing, ultimately annoying characters. (105 min.) R; violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity. (C.C.)
(C) Lifestyles of the rich and lawless: When smooth criminals (Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy and Chris Brown) pull off a Los Angeles bank heist, a dogged detective (Matt Dillon) gives chase in a movie that recycles the usual cops-and-robbers claptrap in a routine workout that’s not exactly redeemed by its attractive cast or rock-’em, sock-’em action sequences. (107 min.) PG-13; intense violence and action, sexual situations, partial nudity, profanity, drug references. (C.C.)
(B) In an arresting crime thriller co-written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, two wild cards threaten the continuing success of a blue-collar Boston heist crew: a hard-charging FBI agent ("Mad Men’s" Jon Hamm) and the fact that the crew leader (Affleck) is falling for a witness (Rebecca Hall) who could put them all in jail. "Hurt Locker’s" electrifyingly intense Jeremy Renner steals the movie from actor Affleck, but it’s a mark of honor that director Affleck lets him get away with it. (125 min.) R; strong violence, pervasive profanity, sexual situations, drug use. (C.C.)
(B) All aboard: A runaway freight train filled with toxic chemicals rumbles toward derailment — unless a veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) and a rookie conductor (Chris Pine) can figure out a way to avert disaster. This full-steam-ahead action thriller, inspired by a real-life 2001 Ohio incident, marks the fifth collaboration between Washington and director Tony Scott, and it’s a big improvement over last year’s overheated "Taking of Pelham 123" remake, keeping the accent on the action without overlooking the human dimension. The legendary Orson Welles once likened moviemaking to "the biggest electric train set a boy ever had," and in "Unstoppable," Scott embraces that philosophy with undisguised glee. (99 min.) PG-13; action, peril, profanity. (C.C.)
(D) What’s in a name? An all-too-accurate description of the movie when it’s "Vampires Suck," a scene-by-scene vamp of the Stephenie Meyer "Twilight" movies — with the odd "True Blood," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gossip Girl," Kardashian and Lady Gaga gag tossed in — from the folks who brought you "Disaster Movie," "Date Movie" and other lame parodies. Even by the standards of these things, which rely on an onslaught of jokey references to float, "Suck" s(t)inks. (88 min.) R; crude sexual content, comic violence, profanity, teen partying.
WAITING FOR ‘SUPERMAN’
(B) Davis Guggenheim, director of the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," puts a human face on another daunting problem — the wretched state of America’s public schools — in a documentary that focuses on children victimized by a broken system and education reformers trying to fix it, with suspense and heartbreaking human drama as five kids (four from impoverished areas) hope to win coveted spots in alternative schools. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you’ll find it hard not to get sucked in emotionally. (102 min.) PG; thematic material, mild profanity, incidental smoking.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
(B) Greed is still (pretty) good: Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s timely sequel to 1987’s "Wall Street," as just-out-of-prison Gekko tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter ("An Education’s" Carey Mulligan), who’s involved with a young Wall Street whiz (Shia LaBeouf) negotiating shark-infested investment waters. Frank Langella and Josh Brolin (Stone’s "W." star) deliver sterling support as Wall Street titans old and new in an overstuffed tale that’s surprisingly entertaining, despite its topical-depression subject matter. (133 min.) PG-13; brief profanity, thematic elements. (C.C.)