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Movie Stars

FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox’’ is a stop-motion delight with the voice of George Clooney for the title character. FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox’’ is a stop-motion delight with the voice of George Clooney for the title character. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
January 1, 2010

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Previously released
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel The same ingredients that made the 2007 original a hit are back: live-action humans, computer animated Tamias striatus, and junk Top 40 musical numbers sung in painful dentist-drill harmonies. Little kids will love it, but you’ll need a hazmat suit. (86 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Armored Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and Columbus Short star in a heist flick set inside and around a pair of armored trucks. The kind of unpretentious, character-based B-thriller no one bothers to make anymore, the film further establishes the American-born Hungarian director Nimród Antal as a no-frills craftsman to be reckoned with. (88 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Avatar James Cameron’s long-game gamble pays off - for the most part. The film creates a planet called Pandora, a race of tall, blue cat-people called the Na’Vi, and gives them both a dazzlingly colorful rain forest reality - part Rousseau, part George Lucas on inhalants. The 60 percent of the film that comes from the computer is tantalizingly realistic; the roughly 40 percent that’s live action is less convincing. With Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Zoe Saldana. (162 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Blind Side Sandra Bullock plays a Memphis woman who takes in an enormous, athletic African-American. He thrives. She thrives. The film is hard to resist. But it’s another Hollywood movie about a black male rescued from God knows what either by nice white people or sports. Here it’s both. How good we feel is directly proportional to how blind we’re willing to be. (125 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Broken Embraces The new film from Pedro Almodovar is both complicated and ridiculously romantic, jumping back and forth between 2008, where a blind mystery writer (Lluis Homar) plots his next move, and the early 1990s, when the writer was a sighted filmmaker in love with his leading lady (Penélope Cruz). The movie is shaped like a heart and structured like a pretzel. It’s narratively anticlimactic but a visual thrill. In Spanish, with subtitles. (125 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Brothers When a US Marine (Tobey Maguire) is presumed killed in action, his ex-con brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps up to help with his widow (Natalie Portman) and daughters. The movie jerks between scenes of military torture on one side and scenes of domestic frolic on the other, then becomes an emotional potboiler. And there’s something distasteful in the way director Jim Sheridan relishes turning that trauma into a thriller. (110 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

A Christmas Carol Robert Zemeckis’s second try at 3-D motion-capture holiday storytelling (after 2004’s dire “The Polar Express’’) is a marked improvement: A darkly detailed marvel of creative visualization that does well by Dickens and right by audiences. Jim Carrey (or his digital facsimile) gives a sharp, reined-in performance as Scrooge, and while the film sometimes panders, it just as often soars. Too scary for the little guys, though. (96 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs This 3-D animated romp is more than an extrapola tion of the 1978 children’s book about a town where food falls from the sky. It’s a glossy spoof of a disaster movie that looks nothing like the original but creates a vibrant - if derivative - world all its own. Bill Hader voices a nerdy inventor, and James Caan is remarkably appealing as the voice of his gruff, misunderstanding dad. (81 min., PG) (Joanna Weiss)

La Danse The great, tireless documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman spent a recent season with the Paris Opera Ballet and merged with the dancers, instructors, administrators, and choreographers. The result is a unique kind of magic: a film about the work in art that is itself a work of art. In French, with subtitles. (153 min., unrated) (Wesley Morris)

Did You Hear About the Morgans? Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a divorcing New York couple hiding in Wyoming from a killer. The jokes are witless and the stars unconscionably bored. Every time Grant speaks, it feels like a funeral. (96 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

An Education A charming, intelligent coming-of-age tale set in early-’60s London. Carey Mulligan is hugely appealing as a levelheaded teenage girl who gets involved with a mysterious older man (Peter Sarsgaard). Nick Hornby adapted the script, Lone Scherfig directed, but the movie belongs to its star. (95 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Fantastic Mr. Fox A dry stop-motion delight. Director Wes Anderson adapts Roald Dahl’s 1970 kids’ book to his usual obsessions (irresponsible dads, confused children). George Clooney voices the hero, raiding henhouses in a midlife crisis. A fairy tale for adults that’s gracious enough to let everyone play along. With the voices of Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. (87 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

The Hurt Locker This war film focuses on the work of an Army bomb squad and one particularly gifted soldier (Jeremy Renner), who seems to have no fear of roadside bombs. We see and feel how when he disarms a bomb, it’s almost no different from watching a conductor seduce an orchestra or a chef produce a meal. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Invictus A strong, sober-sided, largely satisfying entry in a rarely-seen genre: the Civic Statuary movie. Morgan Freeman takes a break from playing God to take on Nelson Mandela, bringing his fragmented country together via the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Matt Damon is fine, if opaque, as the team captain. It’s not one of Clint Eastwood’s very greatest films, but it works just fine. (134 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

It’s Complicated Officially, this is a Meryl Streep movie. As a well-to-do baker and businesswoman having an affair with her married ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), Streep deploys all her best moves. But Baldwin’s gusto comes as a shock. He doesn’t steal the movie from her so much as counterpunch with charisma. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers. (122 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Me and Orson Welles From director Richard Linklater, of all people, a richly pleasurable bit of fabulated pop history about a young man (Zac Efron) who becomes part of Orson Welles’s legendary 1937 Broadway “Julius Caesar.’’ Efron is adequate but lacks the needed edge (he doesn’t do irony); the reason to see the movie is for Christian McKay’s towering Welles. (114 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Messenger A forcefully acted and peculiar emotional drama about two soldiers (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) who inform the next of kin of soldiers killed in service. The movie, which Oren Moverman directed and co-wrote with Alessandro Camon, devotes itself more to the notifiers than the notifications, which in them selves are powerful, and opens into a strange, fraught universe of the men’s downtime. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Nine Rob Marshall’s musical about an uninspired Italian movie director is full of all the mistakes Marshall made with “Chicago.’’ The editing murders all the logic of the choreography. The camera shoots too many sequences from dubious positions. The numbers themselves are locked away from the rest of the narrative action. With, among others, Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, and Judi Dench. (118 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

Ninja Assassin Cobbled together from the instructions of assorted Hong Kong gangster bloodbaths and whatever the French superproducer Luc Besson did last, this long, thanklessly repetitive slice-kick-and-shoot-’em-up has nothing to offer but the aggravating awareness that Jet Li and Jason Statham have done it better. This time our star is a moderately charismatic young martial artist named Rain. (99 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Planet 51 A digitally animated family film about an astronaut (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock’’ Johnson) visiting a planet where he’s the alien. Fast, shiny, short, and cheerful; also obnoxious, unoriginal, and potty-mouthed. Young children and adults with a high pain threshold will enjoy the movie during its brief pause on the way to your On Demand menu. (88 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push’’ by Sapphire Is America, in fact, ready for a movie about a poor, fat black girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who can’t read and is pregnant, for the second time, with her absent father’s baby? Who cares? It’s here, and it’s very much alive. In its own determined way, this is a work of immense, astonishing joy. It believes that in this girl’s wide, brown face and bleak little life there’s a reason to live. Mo’Nique brings down the house as her mother. (110 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Princess and the Frog In the year of America’s first black president, it makes sense that Disney would introduce its first black animated princess. The movie has been vividly hand drawn and harmlessly racialized. But the story, about an aspiring chef and a prince who are turned into frogs, needs renovating, too. The chef swears she doesn’t believe in fairy tales but finds herself going through the motions of one anyway. The voices are by, among others, Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, and Oprah Winfrey. (97 min., G) (Wesley Morris)

The Road Writer Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic fable has been brought to the screen by Australia’s John Hillcoat (“The Proposition’’) with bleakness and caution. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee play a father and son crossing the barren wasteland of what used to be America. The movie’s darker than a happy-face sleigh ride like “2012’’ but arguably not dark enough. (119 min., R) (Ty Burr)

A Serious Man The Coen brothers remake the Book of Job in 1967 suburban Minneapolis. It’s Jewish Bergman and one of their very best films - a pitch-black Old Testament farce in which God is either absent, absent-minded, or mad as hell. Love it or hate it, it’ll haunt you for a long time. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the hapless hero. (105 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Sherlock Holmes The latest big-screen version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective is a sly, noisy ride: “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ for smart people. Robert Downey Jr. brings his brain, his wits, and his gift for underplaying even as he understands he’s been hired by director Guy Ritchie to play Sherlock Holmes, action hero. With Jude Law (excellent) and Rachel McAdams (less so). (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

A Single Man Colin Firth has been our stalwart Hollywood Brit for so long you may have forgotten he can act. Based on the landmark 1964 novel, this casts the star as a closeted gay man mourning the death of his lover - it’s about the grief that dare not speak its name. Fashion designer Tom Ford directs sensitively but without much subtlety; Firth brings the latter. (99 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon The second installment in Hollywood’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s mega-selling vampire romance series is an anemic comedown after the full-blooded swoon of last year’s “Twilight.’’ Director Chris Weitz is stuck with a sequel that’s a morning-after mope-fest, but Taylor Lautner is relaxed and likable as Native American wolfboy Jacob Black. (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

2012 “Apocalypse Really Soon’’ or “Airport 2012.’’ Director Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow’’) imagines global apocalypse as a state-of-the-art multiplex circus whose special effects stagger the senses and play like a video game, and whose human drama aims for the cosmic and lands in the Big Silly. John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Amanda Peet are among the scrambling humans. (157 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Up in the Air From Jason Reitman, a warm, smoothly made movie about a man (George Clooney) who spends most of his time firing people. The movie concerns his attempt to settle down. At its very best, it invents new for old Hollywood sophistication. The sequined cocktail parties and crack banter are now happening in the Admirals Club lounge. With Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, and Anna Kendrick, who’ll rightly be labeled a discovery. (109 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Young Victoria A sweet, stodgy historical romance about the difficulties of being a queen and a young woman, not necessarily in that order. Emily Blunt conveys the ardor and ambition of a teenage royal but she can’t convincingly do naivete. The scenes between her and Rupert Friend as Prince Albert are the movie’s strong suit. (104 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

An archive of movie reviews can be found at www.boston.com/movies. Theaters are subject to change.

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