2012 2 stars (PG-13) Solar flares and Mayan mumbo jumbo spell a world-ending catastrophe, even for an upstanding White House science adviser (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a divorced novelist (John Cusack) and the U.S. president (Danny Glover). You can say what you want about director Roland Emmerich: The man’s the John Holmes of disaster porn and delivers jaw-dropping money shots of quakes wrecking Hollywood, Yosemite National Park erupting, a tsunami wiping out Washington, D.C., etc. The trouble is, it’s two and a half hours long and not even as cheesily fun as The Day After Tomorrow. — Curt Holman
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL (PG) Here’s hoping the New Oxford Dictionary had time to add the word “squeakuel” to its 2010 edition. Jason Lee reprises his role as the human straight man to a trio of piercing-voiced mammals. The trailer hints that the follow-up will include girl chipmunk singers, too. Uh-oh.
ARMORED (PG-13) Hungarian-American Antal Nimród, who directed the fascinating foreign film Kontroll, helms this heist thriller about security guards who decide to knock over one of their armored cars. The cast includes Matt Dillon, Jean Reno and Laurence Fishburne.
AVATAR 3 stars (PG-13) On the planet Pandora in the 22nd century, disabled ex-marine (Sam Worthington) downloads his intelligence into a cloned body of the 10-foot-high catlike natives and begins to take their side against the human military-industrial interests bent on exploiting the planet. James Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic mostly lives up to its years of hype as a 3-D space opera with the finest special effects money can buy and narrative momentum far superior than, say, the Star Wars prequels. Despite Pandora’s lighter-than-Earth gravity, the tree-hugging themes prove surprisingly heavy-handed, but it’s still an entertaining, eye-popping sci-fi epic that will probably inspire consumers to buy Blu-Ray players next year. — Holman
BROKEN EMBRACES 4 stars (R) A blind screenwriter (LluÌs Homar) flashes back to his doomed, on-set love affair with his leading lady (Penélope Cruz), the mistress of a ruthless financier (José Luis Gumez). Despite dropping meta-references to his breakout comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Spanish director Pedro Almodovar presents a controlled, downbeat melodrama with overtones of Alfred Hitchcock. Cruz and the cast provide vivid performances, but Almodovar's plot twists seem too personal to resonate with many audiences. — Holman
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (PG-13) Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant play estranged couple relocated from New York to small-town Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program. From the writer/director of Music and Lyrics, who also wrote the Miss Congeniality films.
EVERYBODY’S FINE 2 stars (PG-13) Robert De Niro plays a retired widower who pays surprise visits to his grown children (including Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore) and gradually ferrets out the secrets they’ve been keeping “for his own good.” This sleepy remake of a 1990 Marcello Mastroianni vehicle of the same name tends to be at once bland and heavy-handed, and De Niro doesn’t really reconcile his role’s contradictions as a remote, demanding Dad prone to chat up his fellow travelers. Apart from a few highlights (including a surreal dream scene), Everybody only aspires to be fine. — Holman
FANTASTIC MR. FOX 4 stars (PG) Wes Anderson’s loose adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book casts George Clooney as the voice of middle-class Mr. Fox, whose midlife crisis and poultry-stealing habit incurs the wrath of local farms. Despite the inexpressiveness of the stop-motion animated characters, Fantastic Mr. Fox brings charming, idiosyncratic personality to the overpolished genre of contemporary family films. It turns out that Anderson’s trademark obsessions — fussily formal compositions, period pop songs, father-son friction — suit animation better than live-action, and lend Fantastic Mr. Fox humanity and heart, despite its cast of woodland creatures. — Holman
INVICTUS 2 stars (PG-13) After assuming the presidency of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) tries to inspire the country’s rugby team to win the World Cup in the hopes of unifying the nation’s racial divide. Matt Damon credibly comports himself as a rugby captain and Freeman offers a warm, sprightly performance as Mandela, but the latter figure becomes only a spectator to the action in the film’s second half, when Invictus turns into a more conventional underdog sports film. It’s an interesting fact-based story, but one wishes director Clint Eastwood had focused more closely on Mandela, one of the most fascinating global political figures of our time. — Holman
IT'S COMPLICATED (R) What Women Want director Nancy Meyers presents a light-hearted romantic triangle between Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin as her macho ex-husband and Steve Martin as her nice-guy suitor. Expect to hear Baldwin and Martin mention it at least once when the host the Oscars next year.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN 3 stars (R) After home invaders kill his wife and daughter, “tinkerer” Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) exacts revenge on Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, particularly district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who cut a deal to give a sleazy killer a light sentence. If you like films with inventive “kills” but are too embarrassed to see theSaw series, Law Abiding Citizen puts a thin veneer of respectability over the bloodshed. It’s hard to care very much about Foxx’s crises of conscience, but Butler makes a fine villain, less like Charles Bronson in Death Wish than The Joker in The Dark Knight. — Holman