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THE KITE RUNNER 3 stars. (PG-13) Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) returns to familiar themes of childhood and loss in his adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's beloved book. The story moves from 1978 Afghanistan to America and then back again to the Taliban-ruled country as it tells the story of two boyhood friends and the trauma that defines them. Solid acting and moments of acute emotional truth can't, however, distract from Forster's sublimation of his unique style and a feeling that he took the safe path in this adaptation. --Feaster
NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (PG) In the sequel to National Treasure, treasure-hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) follows clues in a mystery involving John Wilkes Booth and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Jon Turteltaub directs.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN 4 stars. (R) The Coen brothers make a rousing return to form in this Texas crime drama that strips away their trademark irony for brilliant, suspenseful set pieces. Josh Brolin's Vietnam vet, Tommy Lee Jones' aging sheriff and Golden Glove winner Javier Bardem's ruthless hitman engage in a three-way chase on either side of the Rio Grande. Don't let the anticlimactic ending sour you on the superb filmmaking. (The Coens won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.) -- Holman
ONE MISSED CALL (PG-13) The English remake of a Japanese thriller about a group of young people who start receiving voice mails from the future detailing their deaths.
THE ORPHANAGE 3 stars. (R) Sinister, supernatural events occur when a young mother (Belén Rueda) moves back into the stately orphanage where she grew up in rural Spain. First-time director Juan Antonio Bayona crafts superbly suspenseful sequences, and Rueda offers a richer portrayal than audiences usually expect from moody ghost stories. It lacks a little narrative momentum and doesn't quite measure up to producer Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, but nevertheless earns its scares the old-fashioned way. -- Holman
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY 1 star. (PG) An aspiring songwriter (Morris Chestnut) uses his job as a department store Santa Claus to court a divorcee (Gabrielle Union). Despite the undeniable charms of Chestnut and Union, The Perfect Holiday, written and directed by Lance Rivera, bestows the gift of contrived plotting, flavorless jokes and holiday whimsy forced down your throat. To call it a lump of coal in your stocking insults the heat-generating usefulness of real lumps of coal. -- Holman
THE PIRATES WHO DON'T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE (G) In the latest VeggieTales film, three lazy misfits dream of putting on a show about pirates, but their timidity, lack of confidence and laziness relegate them to waiting tables at a pirate-themed restaurant. The plot twists when they travel back in time on a quest and learn about being pirates.
P.S. I LOVE YOU (PG-13) When Holly Kennedy's (Hilary Swank) husband dies from an illness, she is left grief-stricken. She discovers her late husband has planned out 10 monthly messages to guide her through recovery, which help her slowly transition to a new life. Directed by Richard LaGravenese.
THE SAVAGES 4 stars. (R) Two self-absorbed intellectual siblings (superbly played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) find themselves forced to care for the ailing, demented father (Philip Bosco) who abandoned them years ago. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins' razor-sharp sophomore film (after Slums of Beverly Hills) manages to be at once gentle and merciless, encouraging us to laugh at the characters' childishness while empathizing with their unhappiness. The Savages' mix of comedy, insight and fear of mortality play almost like a subplot to Jonathan Franzen's novel The Corrections. -- Holman
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING (PG-13) Frank Langella stars as Leonard Shiller, a once-famous New York writer who is both shaken and emboldened when a beautiful grad student invades his isolation for her thesis about his novels. Andrew Wagner directs.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET 5 stars. (R) A wrongfully accused barber (Golden Globe winner Johnny Depp) returns to Victorian London to wreak bloody vengeance on an evil judge (Alan Rickman). And it's a musical! In adapting Stephen Sondheim's Broadway classic, director Tim Burton casts movie stars whose lack of musical experience doesn't interfere with the show's skin-crawling intimacy and grand passions. Sweeney Todd proves lushly operatic, grotesquely violent and at times darkly funny, with one number suggesting a cannibalistic version of "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! (Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical.) -- Holman
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