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NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (PG-13) A Puerto Rican family living in the area of Humboldt Park in Chicago face what may be their last Christmas together.
NOTORIOUS 2 stars (R) Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G. (played by likeable newcomer Jamal "Gravy" Woolard) rises from the violence of 1980s Brooklyn drug dealing to the violence of the 1990s hip-hop scene. The film captures some of Biggieís hip-hop excitement without replicating the charisma such figures as Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), and the details of the East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry prove disappointingly sketch. Antonique Smith and Naturi Naughton offer sultry support as Faith Evans and Lil' Kim, respectively. -- Holman
THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2009 4 stars (NR) The animated shorts outshine the live-action features in this pair of programs based on the current Oscar nominees and winners. None of the animation highlights feature dialogue but they range from the melancholy, Impressionist-looking "Le Maison En Petits Cubes" to the charming simplicity of "Lavatory Lovestory" to the outrageous black humor and deadpan sight gags of "This Way Up" (as well as several nominees from previous years). Live-action shorts include the Holocaust tale "Toyland," the haunting, would-be romance "On the Line" and the heavy-handed hospital comedy "The Pig." -- Holman
OUTLANDER 3 stars (R) Vikings vs. aliens! A human from another planet (Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ) crashes his spaceship in Norway circa the Iron Age, and must enlist the suspicious mead-swillers against a glowing, whip-tailed beastie called a Morwen. Director Howard McCain deserves his own Hollywood action franchise for helming a film that's just silly enough to be fun, while taking it just seriously enough to be exciting and kinda cool. -- Holman
PAUL BLART: MALL COP (PG) Kevin James plays a security guard and the unlikely hero of this goofball comedy set in shopping mall.
THE PINK PANTHER 2 (PG) Expect high-stakes hijinks in this latest installment of the classic heist series.
PUSH (PG-13) Young Americans with mysterious mental abilities utilize their powers to evade evil-doing government agents.
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. It still offers a fast pace, exotic locations and a likeable interplay between Craig and Judi Denchís M, so hopefully Bond's next outing will be bigger than a Quantum. -- Holman
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (R) Rachel may be getting married, but to her irritation all eyes are on her train wreck of a sister, who's been temporarily released from a drug treatment facility. Their rivalry is only the tip of the iceberg, and over the weekend the waters recede to reveal a family broken by tragedy, grief, and bitter recrimination. Alternately funny and gripping, this well-acted feature marks Jonathan Demme's return to original drama after a decade dominated by documentaries, concert movies, and remakes. -- J.R. Jones
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. Director Sam Mendes (Winslet's husband) returns to themes he explored in his Oscar-winner American Beauty, but humorlessly hammers ideas handled with more wit and subtlety on "Mad Men." -- Holman
SAW V (R) Tobin Bell and Costas Mandylor star in the fifth installment of the now perennial series of horror flicks about Jigsaw, a psycho with a penchant for complicated, tortuous schemes for his victims.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES 2 stars (PG-13) A motherless 14 year-old girl (Dakota Fanning) and her family's fugitive housekeeper (Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson) runaway and find refuge in a Carolina honey farm run by a maternal beekeeper (Queen Latifah). In adapting the popular novel of the same name, director Gina Prince-Bythewood touches on the complexities of Southern racism in 1964. Despite some tragic plot points and fine performances, the excessive sunny tone, look and acting from Latifah ultimately smothers its serious intentions in a honeyed glow. -- Holman
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