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Capsule reviews of recently released films 

OPENING FRIDAY

CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA When a cook is mistaken for a reincarnated warrior, martial arts hijinks ensue.

DEFIANCE (R) See review.

HOTEL FOR DOGS (PG) Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin star in this comedy about pooch-loving kids who secretly adopt dogs.

LAST CHANCE HARVEY 2 stars. (PG-13) See review.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (R) This gore-splattered horror flick centers around a mine-shaft tragedy.

NOTORIOUS 2 stars. (R) See review.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP (PG) Kevin James plays a security guard and the unlikely hero of this goofball comedy set in a shopping mall.

THE WRESTLER 4 stars. (R) See review.

DULY NOTED

ATLANTA JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL Read more.

Continuing

AUSTRALIA 2 stars. (PG-13) An English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) and an Australian cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) become reluctant partners for a cattle drive across the outback at the eve of World War II. Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann indulges his taste for cartoonish hypberbole for the film's hyperactive, grating first 45 minutes, before settling down into a more conventional, tolerable Old School sprawling epic romance. -- Curt Holman

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON 4 stars. (PG-13) Remarkable special effects show Brad Pitt age backwards from an elderly infant to a middle-aged hunk in this adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Fight Club director David Fincher crafts fascinating and haunting images, and Tilda Swinton shines in the centerpiece romance, set at a wintry Russian hotel. -- Holman

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 3 stars. (PG-13) When an alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) takes human form in advance of a possible invasion, a single mom/scientist (Jennifer Connelly) tries to show him the best sides of humanity. Reeves should always portray aliens, since he's not as good at playing emotions than he is at not playing emotions. — Holman

DOUBT 3 stars. (PG-13) A strict nun (Meryl Streep) suspects a progressive young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of an inappropriate relationship with a student in 1964. John Patrick Shanley adapts and directs the film version of his acclaimed play, which nevertheless still feels like material that belongs on the stage. -- Holman

GRAN TURINO 3 stars. (R) For possibly his last screen role, Clint Eastwood plays a pistol-packing, bigoted Korean war vet who becomes reluctantly involved with his Hmong neighbors. Gran Turino's ideas are about as obvious as a bad Stephen King adaptation, but thereís something irresistible about the filmís middle section, when Eastwood bonds with a young man (Bee Vang) over manual labor. -- Holman

MILK 3 stars. (R) Sean Penn offers a charismatic and uncharacteristically elfin performance as San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to major public office in America. In many ways director Gus Van Sant delivers a conventional Hollywood biopic of a compelling martyr, but Milk's portrayal of gay activism and California ballot measures proves almost shockingly relevant as it opens after the passage of Prop 8 in California. -- Holman

QUANTUM OF SOLACE 3 stars. (PG-13) Picking up where James Bond reboot Casino Royale left off, the now-brooding British superspy (Daniel Craig) tracks his girlfriendís killers to a mysterious organization whose members include a scheming power broker (Mathieu Amalric). Solace feels too much like part two of a trilogy, relying on the previous filmís set-up while leaving key plot points unresolved. -- Holman

THE READER 4 stars. (R) A German law student (David Kross) discovers that his older-woman fling (Kate Winslet) from his teenage years was a former guard at Auschwitz. The Hours' Stephen Daldry directs one of the seasonís richest and most challenging films, in which the central relationship unfolds as a powerful, two-pronged character study as well as providing sturdy metaphors for a nationís guilt, responsibility and forgiveness. Playing the same character in different decades, Kross and Ralph Fiennes show how short relationships can reverberate across a personís life, but Kate Winslet owns the film with her career-best leading performance. -- Holman

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD 2 stars. (R) A young, miserably married couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) seek to escape the suburban rat race of 1950s America in this adaptation of Richard Yates' acclaimed novel. Seldom has such an intelligent, impeccably-mounted production seemed so out of sync with the cultural zeitgeist: DiCaprio and Winslet dig deeply in their performances, but its hard to feel sorry for such superficial, prosperous characters at a time of foreclosures and layoffs. -- Holman

SEVEN POUNDS 2 stars. (PG-13) Will Smith plays a man claiming to be an IRS auditor to serves a hidden agenda as he investigates several people, including a blind call center operator (Woody Harrelson) and a single woman (Emily Posa) with congenital heart failure. Seven Pounds reunites Smith with his Pursuit of Happyness director for an enigmatic, overly ambitious film. -- Holman

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 3 stars. (R) Police suspect a young man (Dev Patel) of cheating his way to the brink of victory on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" although he's motivated by reconnecting to his long-lost sweetheart (Freida Pinto). Trainspotting director Danny Boyle transplants his trademark narrative velocity to sprawling Mumbai for a harrowing, Dickensian tale of children in the Indian underworld. -- Holman

VALKYRIE 2 stars. (PG-13) Tom Cruise dons a much-maligned eye-patch to play wounded German Col. Claus von Stauffenberg who led a coup and assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler in the waning months of World War II. Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer creates an effective mood of paranoia as the conspirators (including Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy) seek allies for their treasonous plan. Despite some heist-style thrills, the characters remain too one-dimensional for audiences to invest much emotion in their fates. -- Holman

YES MAN 3 stars. (PG-13) After an encounter with a "self-empowerment" guru (Terence Stamp), a noncommittal loan officer (a more modulated Jim Carrey) vows to answer "yes" to every question and opportunity life offers, leading to preposterous situations as well as romance with free-spirited musician (Zooey Deschanel). Yes Man runs low on ideas in its last act, but otherwise offers minor charms and a genuinely positive message about living life to the fullest. -- Holman

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