Opening in Hollywood Friday
"Half Moon" &
An ailing musician from Iraqi Kurdistan leads his dozen sons on an arduous journey to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kurdish music in this drama from director Bahman Ghobadi. In Kurdish and Persian with English subtitles.
Writer-director John Sayles plays the blues with this story of a debt-ridden lounge owner in 1950 Alabama who tries to pass off a kid as a legendary guitar great. With Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Stacy Keach and Mary Steenburgen. PG-13 for brief violence and some suggestive material.
"The Orphanage" &
A woman asks parapsychologists to investigate a series of mysterious events in the orphanage where she was raised in this imported drama. R for some disturbing content.
Also in Theaters
"Alien vs. Predator &
Round — went to the Predator. Who will win this rematch in a small Colorado town? With Reiko Aylesworth and Steven Pasquale. Written by Shane Salerno. R for violence, gore and language.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" &
Don't call it a comeback. The Chipmunks, those high-frequency crooners of yore, hardly ever went away &
they released music and videos right up through 2004. Now the rambunctious rodents are the latest franchise to get a reboot, bouncing and warbling through multiplexes in "Alvin and the Chipmunks," a live-action/computer-generated holiday movie aimed straight at kids. And, dang it, the little animated rodents are cute. Not as cute as the uber-rendered daemons of "The Golden Compass," but they'll do. (1:31) PG for some mild rude humor.
As directed by Joe Wright and acted with fervor by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, this is one of the few adaptations that gives a splendid novel (by Ian McEwan) the film it deserves. An assured and deeply moving work, "Atonement" is at once one of the most affecting of contemporary love stories and a potent meditation on the power of fiction to destroy and create, to divide and possibly heal. It is about the effects a young girl's false accusations have on her older sister (Knightley) and her lover (McAvoy). (2:03) R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality.
"August Rush" &
This film feels the cinematic equivalent of being stuffed with fruitcake and doused with a gallon of eggnog, so if that's the sort of thing you go in for around the holidays. ... Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland") stars as a Dickensian orphan with an ear so prodigious that he can hear the music in everything. This talent doesn't exactly make him popular at the orphanage, where listening to the wheat with your arms outstretched and an ecstatic smile on your face is grounds for a solid beating. But little Evan is staunch. He's convinced that if he listens hard enough, he'll hear his parents, and if he ever learns how to play an instrument, they'll hear him and they'll all be reunited. You can probably guess what happens next. (1:40) PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language.
"The Bucket List" &
This travelogue of triteness is the story of two older men with terminal medical conditions. It arrived on Christmas Day to remind us to live life to its fullest and leave no cliche unturned. Its watchability almost entirely depends on your tolerance of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson doing the things that made them stars and won them Oscars, only much more so. (1:37) PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference.
"Charlie Wilson's War" &
This is the wrong movie at the wrong time. Not only does it tell its tale in a style that feels dated and artificial, its story of how American aid helped free Afghanistan from the Soviets also focuses on events that history has overtaken. Not even the combined star power of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols can do anything about that. (1:34) R for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use.
This is one film that lives up to its name. An adroit combination of wised-up and happily-ever-after, its story of an animation princess thrust into New York's gritty reality gently mocks the mighty Disney fantasy machine without losing the core of the franchise's family appeal. Amy Adams is as good as it gets in the princess role. (1:47) PG for some scary images and mild innuendo.
"Fred Claus" &
This film has the disadvantage of having to transcend its promotional materials &
that poster of Vince Vaughn on a tricycle wearing an expression of irrepressible delight makes one very badly want to repress it. On the other hand, the movie's cast is spectacular and the character of Fred strangely endearing, so "Fred Claus" turns out to be not bad for a Santa movie, which could be interpreted as either faint or excessive praise, depending on your view. When Santa (Paul Giamatti) finds himself unable to make the rounds on Christmas Eve, Fred (Vaughn) steps in to save the day. The worldwide sleigh tour is a special-effects thing of beauty, but the sweetest thing about "Fred Claus" is that the message about filial love feels genuine. (1:56) PG for mild language and some rude humor.
"The Golden Compass" &
The first of the novels in Philip Pullman's landmark "His Dark Materials" trilogy, about an alternate England where souls manifest themselves as creatures and a mysterious group plots to control the world, is turned by writer-director Chris Weitz into a formidable piece of craftsmanship, as some 1,100 effects shots are used to create a physical world that has the ability to take your breath away. The voice of Ian McKellen as a fighting bear is the icing on the cake. (1:54) PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.
"The Great Debaters" &
Don't underestimate this film the way opponents underestimated the 1935 debate team from tiny all-black Wiley College in Texas. Working hard on both sides of the camera, director and star Denzel Washington has grafted his intensity onto this production, giving it a kind of backbone it would not otherwise have. (2:03) PG-13 for depictions of strong thematic material, including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality.
"I Am Legend" &
This film is ostensibly based on Richard Matheson's much-adapted 1958 science-fiction novel about a last man on Earth living among vampires, but the latest version, written and produced by Akiva Goldsman, directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Will Smith, has a lot more in common with Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later." In fact, "Legend" is "28 Days" on steroids. Or on Hollywood, which amounts to the same thing. A doomsday scenario wrought by scientists trying to cure cancer (those meddling do-gooders), the movie imagines an apocalypse in the form of a genetically engineered virus that mutates and turns the world's population into zombies. (1:40) PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Ellen Page plays a pregnant teen who tries to find the right set of adoptive parents for her unborn baby in this seriocomic tale from writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. With Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Allison Janney. PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
"The Kite Runner" &
This film, an epic tale charting Afghanistan's history from the end of the monarchy through the brutal Taliban rule, is a house divided against itself. The Marc Forster-directed version of the Khaled Hosseini novel does one part of its Afghanistan story &
childhood sequences in a peaceful Kabul &
so well that its success underlines what's lacking in what remains. (2:02) PG-13 for strong thematic material including the sexual assault of a child, violence and brief strong language.
"Lagerfeld Confidential" &
In his elegant documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential," Rodolphe Marconi attempts to reveal the man behind fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld's signature dark glasses. It's not an easy task, for Lagerfeld, who revived the House of Chanel 25 years ago, is dedicated to preserving his privacy as a way of sustaining an intriguing image. As determined as he is to remain ultimately an enigma, Lagerfeld gives the viewer a good idea of his beliefs, ideas and values. (1:32) Unrated.
Inspired by what the filmmakers say are the 30 million surveillance cameras capturing our movements every day, writer-director Adam Rifkin finds some intriguing crevices to explore with a cold, unblinking eye in his latest film, a collection of interwoven tales told from the perspective of those cameras. Considering the premise's potential, though, it's disappointing that the film doesn't delve beyond the prurient surface. The filmmakers get points for inventiveness and stick-to-itiveness, and the result is watchable enough, but don't look here for something that peers into the soul or casts a hard eye on issues of surveillance. (1:42) R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some violence and brief drug use.
"Man in the Chair" &
A troubled, aspiring young filmmaker finds unlikely allies in the retired residents of the motion picture home. As the bellicose onetime gaffer at the center of the story, Christopher Plummer sheds his usual on-screen elegance and breathes life into crotchety-old-codger cliches. For all its scruffiness and clumsy charm, though, this independent feature travels a formulaic path toward a predictably heart-tugging conclusion. (1:49) PG-13 for language and thematic elements.
"The Mist" &
Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile") directs yet another adaptation of a Stephen King story, this one a fog-shrouded terror tale. With Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurie Holden. R for violence, terror and gore, and language.
"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" &
In this sequel to "National Treasure," Nicolas Cage returns as the "treasure-protecting" Benjamin Franklin Gates, positioned as a contemporary Indiana Jones tap-dancing his way through a cornucopia of U.S. history, myth and legend and a heavy dose of conspiracy theory. Even if you're fully prepared to accept the franchise's preposterous plot twists and connect-the-dots historiography (which can be admittedly clever at times), this edition wears out its welcome pretty quickly. Everything has been significantly amped up &
bigger, louder, further removed from reality &
but it also feels that much more forced. (2:11) PG for some violence and action.
"No Country for Old Men" &
With this intense, nihilistic thriller, the Coen brothers drop the mask. They've put violence on screen before, lots of it, but not like this. Not anything like this. The story of stolen drug money and the horrific carnage it precipitates, "No Country for Old Men" doesn't celebrate or smile at violence, it despairs of it, despairs of its randomness, pervasiveness and inescapability, of the way it eats at the soul of society and the individuals in it. It's all topped off by superb performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and the star of the show, Josh Brolin. (2:02) R for strong graphic violence and some language.
"The Perfect Holiday" &
Gabrielle Union stars as a single mom whose attempt at romance with a struggling songwriter/part-time mall Santa (Morris Chestnut) is undercut by the meddling of her three children hoping for a reunion with their rap-mogul father, J-Jizzy (Charles Q. Murphy). Narrated by Queen Latifah. Directed by Lance Rivera. PG for brief language and some suggestive humor.
Jessica Yu's documentary uses case studies of four men &
a German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist and a martial arts student &
and a Greek chorus of puppets to reveal the often tragic consequences of trying to construct one's own personal narrative. R for language.
"P.S. I Love You" &
A young widow gets some unexpected assistance in coping with her husband's untimely death. With Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow. Written by Richard LaGravenese and Steven Rogers, based upon the novel by Cecelia Ahern. Directed by LaGravenese. PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity.
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" &
Director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team for the sixth time in an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical about a murderous London barber. R for graphic bloody violence.
"There Will Be Blood" &
This joint venture between actor Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson might be the most incendiary combination since the Molotov cocktail. This morality play set in the early days of California's oil boom can be over the top and excessive, but it also creates considerable heat and light. (2:39) R for some violence.
"This Christmas" &
A family reunites for the holidays for the first time in seven years and attempts to mend past differences. With Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine and Regina King. Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II.
"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" &
This gleefully jaundiced skewering of American popular music in general and biopics such as "Walk the Line" and "Ray" in particular knows that humor comes from both loving your source material and knowing it inside out. The film also benefits from being written for the exceptional John C. Reilly, one of the few serious dramatic actors who has a true gift for comedy. And he can sing too &
15 monumental spoofs, as clever as they are melodic, that cover the musical waterfront from rockabilly to punk and include one last riff after the final credits roll. (1:36) R for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.
"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" &
This enchanting tale of friendship and evolving relationships engagingly grafts coming-of-age movie chestnuts onto a Scottish folk tale. Though most of the narrative won't surprise anyone who has seen "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" or numerous similar stories, director Jay Russell and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs create a realistic world where the fantastical is credible. Alex Etel and Emily Watson star. (1:51) PG for some action/peril, mild language and brief smoking.
"Youth Without Youth" &
Francis Ford Coppola's first film in a decade is the tale of a college professor who undergoes a mysterious transformation in the days before World War II. Based on a novella by Romanian comparative religion scholar Mircea Eliade, "Youth Without Youth" is not only gorgeously shot by Mihai Malaimare, Jr. but impressively far-flung. The movie goes from Romania to Switzerland, Italy to India to the Mediterranean and across three decades seemingly effortlessly. But it is hard to keep generating interest in each new story thread and esoteric theory. Ultimately, this film is more intriguing than it is satisfying. It hooks you, then lets you flounder. (2:04) R for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image.
Opening in Hollywood Friday