WE BOUGHT A ZOO 2 stars (PG-13) In this cutesy-pooh adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s novel, Matt Damon plays a grieving Dad unprepared to face his impulsive purchase of a dilapidated rural zoo. Characters constantly nudge Damon to let the sunshine in and stuff, but director Cameron Crowe drenches the film in warm glows from the outset, along with cute kids, appealing animals, Scarlett Johnansson and baby boomer rock songs. Even Colin Ford’s “troubled” teenager comes across as far more huggable and charismatic than real adolescents wrestling with grief and anger. — Holman
THE DARKEST HOUR (PG-13) The Darkest Hour is aptly titled perhaps as much for the emptiness of its plot as it is for the darkness left behind by the invisible, numberless, electricity-sucking aliens attacking every major city on Earth. Representing humankind with good ideas, like holding lightbulbs as “clues” for sensing the otherwise undetectable extraterrestrials lying in wait to vaporize the crap outta ya, Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Olivia Thirlby (The Whackness, anyone?) would probably fair better if survival of the fittest gave way to survival of the prettiest.
WAR HORSE 3 stars (PG-13) A Devon farmboy (Jeremy Irvine) raises a thoroughbred named Joey, only to see it sold to an English cavalry officer and whisked away to World War I No-Man’s-Land. When director Stephen Spielberg focuses on the military the film proves powerful and harrowing, but its scenes of farm life (including the endless first half hour) are clumsy, mawkish, and practically crushed under the weight of a suffocating John Williams score. At least War Horse doesn’t obnoxiously anthropomorphize the title steed.— Holman
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., Dec. 27, 9:30 p.m. $8. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (G) When Dave (will he ever learn?) decides it’s a good idea to take the Chipmunks and their gal pal counterparts, the Chipettes, on a cruise, one-too-many “AAAlvin!”-related disasters leave them “chipwrecked” on an island. Separated from Dave after the accident, with only their wits and pop music to sustain them, the survival skills of the ‘Munks and the ‘Ettes are put to the test.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS 3 stars (PG) When the North Pole’s high-tech Christmas present delivery system overlooks a little English girl, Santa’s bumbling son Arthur (James McAvoy) resolves to delivery the gift. The plot bogs down in some superfluous business in the second half, but the film boasts a Christmas feast of funny gags and a surprisingly complex approach to family dynamics and the tension between cutting edge and old-school holidays. Voice actors include Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, and Ashley Jensen as a gift-wrap-obsessed elf. — Curt Holman
THE DEAD (NR) Not to be confused with John Huston’s adaptation of the James Joyce story of the same name, this zombie film finds a fresh spin on the genre through the depiction of a white and a black soldier who fight to survive when the undead rise in Africa. At the Plaza Theatre.
THE DESCENDENTS 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
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
EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS (NR) Controversial Chef Ferran Adria and his team put creativity before all in this film documenting their six-month-long menu preparation for El Bulli, considered by many the world’s top restaurant.
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 struggling 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 and 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
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 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.
KINYARWANDA 3 stars (NR) Set on the streets of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda chronicles the story of Jean (Hadidja Zaninka), a young woman grappling for a bit of normalcy as a spree of violence takes place in her neighborhood. Writer/director Alrick Brown decides to break Jean’s story into a series of six vignettes that seem like a collection of shorts, with perspectives from peacekeepers, the Mufti of Rwanda and Hutu rebels. Stripping away the need to tell a linear story, Brown focuses more intensely on the facets of the Rwandan people from a street level while adding beautiful imagery to punctuate the underlying themes of fortitude, faith and hope. At Phipps Plaza 14. — Ed Adams.
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
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL 4 stars (PG-13) Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team of superspies must go rogue to catch a nuclear terrorist obsessed with launching World War III. Pixar director Brad Bird makes a confident leap to live-action with this outlandishly exciting spy flick, unified by plausible gadgets and jaw-dropping set pieces, which include Cruise dangling from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest building, as a sandstorm approaches. Simon Pegg deserves top billing for his hilarious comic relief. — 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
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.
NEW YEAR’S EVE (PG-13) In what might be the year’s most generic holiday film, a huge ensemble cast of characters (Michelle Pfeiffer, Ashton Kutcher, and Ludacris to name a few) put aside various gripes in an attempt to regain the holiday spirit and enjoy New Year’s Eve in New York. Also, Katherine Heigl delivers a pretty good slap to Bon Jovi’s face.
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.
SHAME 4 stars (NC-17) Steve McQueen directs this austere, compelling drama about a Manhattan sex addict (Michael Fassbender) whose well-maintained life spins out of control when his self-destructive sister (Carey Mulligan) comes for a visit. Fassbender plays a consummate pick-up artist whose life amounts to killing time until the next orgasm, turning a portrait of a glamorous lifestyle into a portrait of addiction. Like Ryan Gosling in Drive, Fassbender gives a magnetic performance with minimal dialogue, although Brandon’s charisma soon grows clouded with self-loathing. — Curt Holman
SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS (PG-13) Director Guy Ritchie directs Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in another fast-paced, bromantic take on Arthur Conan Doyle's supersleuth. Noomi Rapace of Sweden's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo plays a mystery woman, and Jared Harris of "Mad Men" takes on the iconic role of Holmes' archnemesis, Moriarty.
THE SITTER (R ) With even less to do after receiving OSS (out-of-school suspension for you former high school goody-goodies), lovable slacker Noah (Jonah Hill) begrudgingly takes a babysitting gig for the buxom Mrs. Pedulla’s three asshole children. Rather than miss a party scheduled for the night he has to babysit, Noah brings the kids along for what turns out to be an eventful night.
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
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 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.
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.
YOUNG ADULT 4 stars (R ) Charlize Theron plays a former high school Heather who, as a miserable author of Young Adult books in her late 30s, resolves to return to her hometown and steal her teen-year boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) from his wife and new baby. Theron gives a splendidly unappealing, vicious performance as the kind of person who peaked in high school and never realized that the real world operates by different rules, with Patton Oswalt giving an amusing supporting role as a grown-up “loser” who becomes her best friend. Juno director and screenwriter Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody craft a splendidly caustic comedy with genuinely witty dialogue. — Holman
I don't mind this too much: The key to embracing diversity is to be aware…
@question man You seem to be in favor of MARTA winning the contract to operate…
what the hell is going on with lucy? is she fucked, or what?
WHAT ABOUT LUCY
@InAtl "But in the end, asking for a tax break to build more parking turns…