Capsule reviews of recently released films 

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OLD DOGS (PG) Dan (Robin Williams) has been happily divorced for seven years when his ex-wife shows up and reveals that she and Dan have 7-year-old twins. Dan, who knows nothing about family life, recruits his friends Charlie (John Travolta) and Ralph (Seth Green) to help him take care of the kids and learn the true meaning of family.

PIRATE RADIO Originally titled The Boat that Rocked, this British comedy about a fictitious pirate radio station that broadcasts to the United Kingdom from a ship is hitting American shores.

PLANET 51 (PG) In this week’s 3-D computer animated comedy, an astronaut (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) lands on a planet and discovers a population of green alien suburbanites who view him as an invader.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE 3 stars (R) In Harlem of 1987, Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) suffers enough hardships for several Greek tragedies, including obesity, illiteracy, sexual molestation and a shockingly abusive mother (Mo'Nique). Precious finds self-respect in an alternative school and a classroom full of boisterous women. Subtlety is not in the vocabulary of this film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, but the performances of Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey (really) and the supporting cast make good on the film's ambitions. — Holman 

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG 4 stars (G) In 1920s New Orleans, hardworking waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) hits a bump on the road to buying her own restaurant when she kisses enchanted Prince-turned-frog Naveen (Bruno Campos) and — oops! — transforms into an amphibian herself. Like its workaholic heroine, The Princess and the Frog tries a little hard and tends to rush through songs and character introductions, so it lacks the ease of classics like Beauty and the Beast. The screwball bickering of hardheaded Tiana and hedonistic Naveen holds few surprises, but it’s still a lovely, tuneful film with gorgeous musical numbers that make the average CGI feature look sterile by comparison. — Holman

RED CLIFF 3 stars (R) Renowned action director John Woo designed this Chinese military epic, set in 208 A.D., to be released in two parts that totaled well over four hours, but the U.S. edit clocks in at only two and a half. The result resembles watching one of the latter Lord of the Rings films without having seen the first — but that’s not so bad, because Woo’s lavish combat scenes give Peter Jackson a run for his money. Tony Leung plays a noble viceroy leading a rebellion against a Napoleonic prime minister, but the spectacular set pieces are the real stars, including some of the most astonishing naval battles ever seen in movies. — Holman

THE ROAD 2 stars (R) A nameless father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively) struggle to survive in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic America in John Hillcoat’s faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-seller. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee capture the anguish of the pair’s attempt to maintain their moral balance amid despair, but the film’s tone proves as monochromatic as its ashy color scheme, which falls short of the images evoked by the book’s stark lyricism. — Holman 

A SERIOUS MAN 4 stars (R) A Jewish physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) endures crises of family, career and religion in the Minneapolis suburbs of 1967. The Oscar-winning Coen brothers mine their own childhood for a Kafka-esque, seriocomic spiritual quest in which God, if He even exists, refuses to provide answers to the protagonist’s sufferings. The Coens offer caricatures of most of the Jewish characters, but nevertheless touch on provocative issues of the ineffability of the universe. — Holman

SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 stars (PG-13) English hipster director Guy Ritchie takes a flashy look at the 19th century super-sleuth (Robert Downey Jr.) and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) as they take on the fiendish, potentially undead Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Downey's scruffy, comedically nimble turn and Strong's glowering charisma go along way to redeem the half-coherent storytelling and occasionally elephantine production. McAdams and Law seem a bit over their head, but Ritchie's Victorian London looks appropriately crowded and filthy, and Holmes and Watson's bickering couple-shtick provides the minimal level of witty banter. — Holman

A SINGLE MAN 2 stars (R) Colin Firth gives one of his best performances as George Falconer, a gay college professor in 1962 California who contemplates whether life is worth living following the death of his longtime companion (Matthew Goode). Directing his first feature, fashion designer Tom Ford crafts impeccably costumed and composed images that improve on "Mad Men" as evocations of Kennedy-era glossy magazine style. Nevertheless, Ford seems more interested in the film's tastefully-appointed design (with overly simplistic visual cues) than emotional nuances, so Firth's rich acting ultimately feels separated from the audience by a wall of bulletproof glass. — Holman


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