THE DESCENDANTS 4 stars (R ) George Clooney positions himself for a Best Actor win as the trustee of a Hawaiian real estate fortune who must step up his parenting skills when a boating accident puts his wife in a coma. Sideways director Alexander Payne would rather jerk tears than draw blood, and the first half relies dismayingly on swearing child and idiot boyfriend jokes. The Descendents hits its stride in its second half, though, when it dispenses with the forced humor and finds the emotional truths in painful situations. — Holman
HUGO 3 stars (PG) An ingenious orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) lives in a 1930s Parisian railway station, where he tries to solves the riddles of a malfunctioning mechanical man and a mysterious toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley). Martin Scorsese experiments with both 3D effects and family-oriented storytelling with mixed results. Hugo succeeds best as a lyrical love letter to the pioneers of cinema, but seems bored by the adventures of the title character and his young friend (Chloe Moretz). — Holman
THE MUPPETS 4 stars (PG) The heyday of “The Muppet Show” long behind them, Kermit and the gang must reunite to put on a show and save their beloved studio from Chris Cooper’s evil oilman. Co-writer/star Jason Segel and a great team of screen artists (including music supervisor Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords) shower love on the original muppets while craft jokes and situations that are genuinely funny, not just corny. Musical numbers ranging from the faux-melodramatic “Muppet or Man” to some jaw-dropping covers provide the most inspired lunacy of 2011. — Holman
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (R )
Based on two books by British director Colin Clark, My Week With Marilyn recalls the week in 1957 that young Clark spent as set assistant to The Prince and the Showgirl, where he became friends with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). When Monroe’s new husband Arthur Miller leaves London, will Monroe focus more on work or play? Co-starring Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Oliver.
WEEKEND (NR) This acclaimed romance likened to Before Sunrise depicts two young gay Englishmen (Tom Cullen and Chris New) whose one-night stand turns into an unexpectedly emotional 48 hours.
LES DOULOS (1962) (R) Jean-Pierre Melville, director of some of France’s finest crime dramas, helms this tale of a murderous ex-con and his friend, who may be a police informant. Dark Streets and Dangerous Dames: Film Noir. Wed., Nov. 30, 7:30 p.m. Emory Cinematheque. 205 White Hall, 301 Dowman Drive, Emory University. Free. filmstudies.emory.edu/home/events/film-series/emory-cinematheque.html
THE ROOM(2003) 1 star (R ) This hilariously incompetent, sub-Skinemax-level romantic triangle has become a wildly entertaining monthly viewing party, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau strikes a freaky presence as a long-haired, heavy-lidded, thick-accented bank employee cuckolded by his vicious fiancée (Juliette Danielle). The film’s bizarre touches, like framed photographs of spoons, inspire audiences to throw plastic spoons at the screen, and more. Not to be missed. Tue., Nov. 29, 9:30 p.m. $8. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com.
ABDUCTION(PG-13) In Taylor Lautner’s breakaway role from second-choice heartthrob (Team Jacob, anyone?) to lead action star, his character fights off attacks from mysterious hit men. Lilly Collins also stars as Lautner's neighbor and only ally, along with Michael Nyqvist (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
ANONYMOUS 2 stars (PG-13) In Elizabethan London, the 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) tries to manipulate courtly intrigue by writing plays performed under the name of a boorish actor, Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). Like Rowan Atkinson's "Blackadder II" without the jokes, this insanely convoluted period piece has trashy fun dredging up
THE GREENING OF WHITNEY BROWN (PG) When her father loses his job, wealthy city princess Whitney Brown relocates with her parents (Aiden Quinn and Brooke Shields) to the family farm, where circumstances are humble, not to ment400 year-old gossip about Queen Elizabeth (played in her dotage by Vanessa Redgrave and as a sexy monarch by Joely Richardson) and the era's playwrights. And who would have guessed that Roland Emmerich, director of 2012 and ID4, would helm a loving tribute to the plays of Shakespeare (or whoever)? — Holman
THE BIG YEAR (R ) Based on the book by Mark Obmascik, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, this film depicts bird-lovers Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson (a loser, workaholic and playboy respectively) who embark on a year long battle to see who can find the largest number of bird species. But can they better their messy personal lives in the process? It’s not certain, but, the essence of the movie lies in its quote, “They’re men. If they ever stop competing, they die.”
CONTAGION 4 stars (R ) A virulent disease spreads across the globe, beginning with Gwyneth Paltrow’s corporate traveler. Can intrepid CDC workers (including Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and a scene-stealing Jennifer Ehle) find a cure? Director Steven Soderbergh brings both a compelling cinema verite style and an A-list cast to what’s essentially a throwback to a 1970s disaster movie. After an agonizingly creepy first half, Contagion loses some of its focus with some oddly sharp critiques of rumor-mongering bloggers and the Chinese. — Holman
COURAGEOUS (PG-13) Four law enforcement officers struggle with family and faith issues after a tragedy strikes in this drama from the makers of the Christian film Fireproof.
THE DEBT 3 stars (R) Oscar-winner Helen Mirren and the suddenly-ubiquitous Jessica Chastain effectively play the same role, separated by decades, in this espionage drama about three Israeli intelligence agents who share a secret about a 1966 mission in East Berlin. Shakespeare in Love director John Madden makes a comeback with this twisty espionage drama co-starring Tom Wilkinson and Ciarin Hinds (with Martin Csokas and Avatar’s Sam Worthington as their younger selves). — Holman
DOLPHIN TALE 3D (PG) Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick Jr. star in this heartwarming movie about a dolphin whose tail is destroyed by a crab trap, and the doctors and supporters who join efforts to save her.
DREAM HOUSE (PG-13) When Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) and his family find out that their new home is the site of an unsolved murder, Will joins forces with neighbor Anne Paterson (Naomi Watts), to uncover the truth. Rachel Weisz co-stars as Libby, Will's wife and mother of their two daughers.
DRIVE 4 stars (R ) Ryan Gosling delivers a macho star turn as a taciturn Los Angeles mechanic and stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for high-risk heists. Quirky Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn won Best Director at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for this terrific, moody film noir update that has all the L.A. alienation of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. Gosling, who keeps cool even with patrol cars and police helicopters on his tail, captures the soft-spoken magnetism of Steve McQueen. — Holman
11-11-11 (R ) When a grieving American author reunites with his estranged father and brother in Spain, he grows increasingly convinced that the world is on the verge of a disaster involving the number “11.”
50/50 3 stars (R ) Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a self-effacing, 27 year old radio producer struggles with a cancer diagnosis with the dubious support of his freaked-out girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his horndog pal (Seth Rogen). JGL’s understated performance movingly captures his role’s personal crisis, but as with 500 Days of Summer, his acting doesn’t redeem the tame, familiar film that surrounds him. Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston co-star. — Holman
FOOTLOOSE (PG-13) Kenny Wormold steps into Kevin Bacon’s dancing shoes as a big-city teen who moves to a small-town that has outlawed dancing. In this remake of the 1984 hit, Dennis Quaid takes over the Jon Lithgow role as the repressive preacher, with Julianne Hough as the daughter.ion pastoral. Forced to adapt to a new school, rural surroundings, and a new grandfather (Kris Kristofferson), Whitney trades her entitled attitude for some real “horse sense.” At the AMC North Dekalb 16.
HAPPY FEET TWO (PG) In this sequel to the first toe-tapping musical adventure, Sofia Vergara, Robin Williams, and Common are part of a large cast of A-listers who lend their voice to a chorus line of rapping, singing penguins whose feet have a penchant for walkin' it out.
THE HELP 2 stars (PG-13) In Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s, a white would-be journalist (Emma Stone) attempts to enlist African-American housekeepers (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) to write about about Southern race relations from their point of view. In adapting the bestselling novel by Atlanta's Kathryn Stockett, writer/director Tate Taylor retains too much of the book's sprawling plot spends too much time trying to establish The Help as a feel-good Southern comedy-drama like Steel Magnolias. The film conveys the African-American characters' anger and captures plenty of winning details about the South, but uses Bryce Dallas-Howard's manipulative, racist socialite as nearly a scapegoat for Southern racism. — Holman
THE IDES OF MARCH 2 stars (PG-13) Ryan Gosling faces a test of ideals as an ambitious staffer for a presidential candidate (George Clooney) during the Democratic primary. Clooney directed this adaptation of the play Farragut North, which features juicy roles for A-list actors, particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as rival campaign managers. Unfortunately the plot relies on minor scandals and the temptation of a bland central character, so it feels like an exhibition game between terrific thespians, with nothing at stake. — Curt Holman
IMMORTALS (R ) Stylish director Tarsem Singh helms this Greek sword-and-sorcery epic in which the hero Theseus (Henry Cavill, star of the next Superman movie) challenges an evil king (Mickey Rourke) who seeks to overthrow the gods.
J. EDGAR 2 stars (R ) Spending half the film under competent but distracting old-age make-up, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an obsessive, petty J. Edgar Hoover over nearly 50 years, most of them as the power-hungry head of the FBI. DiCaprio unquestionably commits to his performance of Hoover as a closeted, power-hungry bureaucrat and blackmailer, but the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, fails to find a compelling story about Hoover’s abuses of power. Armie Hammer steals the picture with scarcely any dialogue as Hoover’s longtime companion Clyde Tolson, who radiates a half-amused ease with himself and his bond to Hoover. — Holman
JACK AND JILL (PG) Adam Sandler stars as identical twins Jack and Jill who are more alike than Jack would like to admit. When the abrasive, single Jill pays a visit to Jack’s happily situated family, it soon becomes clear that she has no plans to leave. Katie Holmes co-stars as Jack’s docile, peacemaking wife, with a cameo by Al Pacino.
JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (PG) In this sequel to the spy spoof, Johnny English, Rowan Atkinson, the actor/comedian well-loved for his role as Mr. Bean, returns to protect the Chinese premier from assassination. Can M1-7’s agent leave this job unbotched?
KILLER ELITE 2 stars (R ) A Middle Eastern sheik coerces a retired special ops agent (Jason Statham) to kill a trio of murderous British SAS officers. Meanwhile, another former military operative (Clive Owen), in cahoots with a star chamber of British conspirators, tries to thwart Statham’s team. Taking a premise reminiscent of Spielberg’s Munich, first-time feature filmmaker Gary McKendry can’t sort out the supporting players and hidden agendas, so coherence gets killed off early on. Statham still serves as a great movie tough guy, while Owen makes the most of a confusing role. — Holman
LIKE CRAZY (PG-13) Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones star in this romance about star-crossed college students who become separated when she loses permission to stay in the United States. Featuring Jennifer Lawrence.
THE LION KING 3D (1994) 3 stars (G) In Disney’s animated version of Hamlet, a young prince confronted by his father’s ghost must confront his duplicitous, murdering uncle. Of course, it’s also an Elton John musical populated by animals of the African plains, freshly converted to 3D, but the Shakespeare comparison holds up. The Lion King 1 ½ is the franchise’s equivalent to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. — Holman
MARGIN CALL4 stars (R ) A young analyst (Zachary Quinto) at a high- powered investment bank goes increasingly high up the corporate chain of command with the news that the company’s toxic assets are about to collapse the economy. Writer-director J.C. Chador delivers the best fiction film to date about the current financial slump by focusing on financiers torn — ever so slightly — between covering their asses and doing the right thing. This mostly quiet and moody film features Kevin Spacey as a conscientious executive and Jeremy Irons as a corporate titan. — Curt Holman
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE 4 stars (R ) A young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from control of a cult in the Catskills but struggles to adjust to so-called normal life with her estranged yuppie sister (Sarah Paulson). In flashbacks, Oscar nominee John Hawkes gives a performance of understated menace as the group’s subtly manipulative leader, while Olsen affectingly captures the heroine’s struggles to reconstruct her fragile psyche. The film’s most disturbing moments reveal not what the cult did to her, but what she did to others under the cult’s sway. — Curt Holman
MONEYBALL 3 stars (PG-13) Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, manager of the cellar-dwelling Oakland A’s, who gambles on recruiting undervalued, inexpensive players based on the “sabermetrics” championed by a meek analyst (Jonah Hill). Co-written by Aaron Sorkin based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book, Moneyball crunches numbers to make an entertaining underdog sports movie, with Pitt and Hill serving as a terrific comedy team. Philip Seymour Hoffman goes underused as the A’s uncooperative coach, and director Bennett Miller’s stabs at moody seriousness weigh down a story that wants to be a feel-good movie. — Holman
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (R ) The multiplex has apparently come down with prequelitis as this latest — or is it technically the first? — chapter in the Paranormal Activity trilogy arrives a week after The Thing. This one takes place 18 years before the events of the previous films. Hey, at least we’re spared another Saw movie this year.
PUSS IN BOOTS (PG) Before Puss in Boots was pals with Shrek, he led a heroic life of his own, brandishing his sword and being generally suave (his is the voice of Antonio Banderas, after all). His posse includes nursery-time fav Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakas) and the lovely Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), both of whom accompany Boots on his journey to thwart an evil plan by infamous outlaws Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).
REAL STEEL (PG-13) Hugh Jackman stars in this adaptation of a Richard Matheson "Twilight Zone" episode about a former boxer who becomes the trainer of a robotic pugilist.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES 4 stars (PG-13) James Franco plays a geneticist whose flawed Alzheimer’s cure creates a superintelligent chimpanzee named Caesar (in a stunning motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis), who leads his fellow apes to take up arms in San Francisco. Rise delivers the best extended “breakout” sequence since Toy Story 3 and Serkis’ Caesar provides one of the year’s most sympathetic performances of any species. This thoroughly entertaining reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise lays groundwork for potentially intriguing sequels. — Curt Holman
THE RUM DIARY 3 stars (R) The latest 'Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson' involves an intrepid, liberally minded, good looking reporter who gets in over his head by taking a job at a Puerto Rican newspaper. A Faustian millionaire played by Aaron Eckhart shows up to make things interesting and Giovanni Ribisi plays a hilariously ravaged drunk. Car chases, cock fights, and an acid trip ensue.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN 3 stars (R ) In a creepy change-of-pace performance, Antonio Banderas plays a driven plastic surgeon who keeps a beautiful young prisoner (Elena Anaya) in his tasteful Toledo home. Beloved Spanish director Pedro Almodovar comfortably shifts from the splashy melodrama of his previous films to elements of psychological horror, although the beautifully photographed revenge tale avoids shocks in favor of twists and themes involving how people shape their identities. If not one of Almodovar’s most emotionally resonant films, The Skin In Live In proves to be fascinatingly skin-crawling. — Holman
STRAW DOGS (R ) An L.A. screenwriter (James Marsden) moves back to his Southern hometown with his young wife (Kate Bosworth), only to encounter escalating hostilities with the locals. The Contender director Rod Lurie adapts the notorious Sam Peckinpah/Dustin Hoffman vehicle from 1971.
TAKE SHELTER 4 stars (R ) When a small-town construction worker (Michael Shannon) experiences visions of apocalyptic storms, is he suffering from a hereditary form of mental illness or having prophesies of the future? Writer-director Jeff Nichols borrows the vocabulary of a horror film for Take Shelter’s first hour as Shannon’s good-hearted character grows increasingly unhinged. The film slows down in its second half, however, as if worried that audiences won’t take it seriously enough, muffling its impact. Excellent performances from Shannon, Jessica Chastain as his concerned wife and Shannon’s “Boardwalk Empire” co-star Shea Wigham. — Curt Holman
THE THING 3 stars (R ) An American scientist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and pilot (Joel Edgerton) join a team of Norwegians to investigate an alien frozen — temporarily — in the Antarctic ice. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 cult movie doesn’t bring many new ideas to the paranoia-inducing premise of the shape-changing alien, and the climax devolves into predictable sci-fi horror clichés. But it doesn’t suck, delivering a moody, clever first hour and some memorably disgusting special effects. — Holman
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (PG-13) Junior Swashbuckler D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) joins forces with three Musketeers (Matthew MacFadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson) in this 3D adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure story. Featuring Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz and Milla Jovovich.
THUNDERSOUL (PG) Jamie Foxx narrates this highly praised documentary about how band leader Conrad “Prof” Johnson turns a Houston high school band into a funk powerhouse in the 1970s, and how the former students reunite to pay tribute to their mentor. It sounds like Mr. Holland’s Opus with sooooouull!!!
TOWER HEIST (PG-13) Director Brett Ratner delivers a timely power-to-the-people comedy about stealing from the rich what they ripped off the poor in the first place, starring an ensemble cast brimming with some of Hollywood’s most popular, long-standing comics. Fresh out of white-collar “jail” for Madoff-esque scheming, Alan Alda stars as Arthur Shaw, a Wall Street scumbag, whose new penthouse residence is located in a building run by victims of his dirty deals. Bent on retaliation, a building manager (Ben Stiller) enlists the help of an ex-con (Eddie Murphy) to rally his co-workers and a ruined businessman (Matthew Broderick) around a revenge plot to beat Shaw at his own game. Tea Leoni takes a turn as an intimidating FBI agent, and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious star) displays skillful humor in a light-hearted role as a saucy maid.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN — PART 1 2 stars (PG-13) The penultimate entry in the Twilight film series, Breaking Dawn achieves glorious levels of B-movie camp. The film opens with Edward and Bella cementing their union with a Midsummer Night's Dream-y wedding, and then spirals into a teen romance grindhouse fantasy. Yes, it's painfully misogynistic. Yes, it's full of mixed messages about sex and abuse and purity. But the triumph of camp over earnestness makes Breaking Dawn the franchise's most watchable entry yet. — Debbie Michaud
A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS (R ) In the third film of the trilogy, if you can call it that, estranged buddies Harold Lee and Kumar Patel (John Cho and Kal Penn) embark on a madcap holiday adventure involving a package of drugs, a destroyed Christmas tree and depraved celebrity Neil Patrick Harris.
WARRIOR (PG-13) Directed by Gavin O'Connor, Warrior depicts two brothers, a Marine veteran (Tom Hardy) and an ex-fighter-turned-teacher (Joel Edgerton), who each return to the mixed martial-arts ring and end up on a collision course. Hardy might be the biggest draw after his breakout role in Inception and upcoming turn as roided-out Batman villain Bane in next summer's The Dark Knight Rises.
WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? (R) Anna Faris flips her Rolodex back twenty ex-boyfriends in this comedy about what can happen when you take love advice from a magazine article.
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