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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—Painter-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel adapts the international bestseller in which French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby described falling victim to a rare condition known as "locked-in syndrome." Able to move only his left eye, Jean-Do learns to communicate by blinking and thereby writes his acclaimed memoir. Rather than moral uplift, Schnabel's version emphasizes first the sensory strangeness of Bauby's experience and then the difficult process of adjustment; the lengthy sequences of his learning to communicate will strike different viewers as fascinating or tiresome.



Distinguished by Mathieu Almaric's lead performance and Janusz Kaminski's luminous photography, the film is an estimable effort that nevertheless doesn't wholly overcome the uncinematic nature of its source material. Rated PG-13.  —GC

FIRST SUNDAY—Two inept criminals (Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan) cook up a scheme to rob a church. Things don't go quite as planned. Rated PG-13.

 

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THE ORPHANAGE—Director Juan Antonio Bayona's feature debut is derivative in both style and narrative (as are most horror films), borrowing from Henry James' The Innocents, The Devil's Backbone by Guillermo del Toro (who co-produces and "presents" this film), The Others and even Peter Pan. This film is a haunted-house story about Laura (Belén Rueda), a mother who purchases her childhood orphanage in hopes of converting it into a home for sick children. When her HIV-infected adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) goes missing, Laura must unearth the house's secrets and combat concerns over her sanity. Bayona effectively crafts an eerie, unnerving mood using genre standards—dark corridors, creaky noises, creepy undead kids, etc.—to amplify such core childhood fears as abandonment, loneliness, illness and ostracism. Still, a labyrinthine plot and cloying climax might have been more debilitating were it not for Rueda's bravura performance. Rated R. —NM

THE PIRATES WHO DON'T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIE TALES MOVIE—This animated flick concerns vegetables who want to put on a play about pirates. This could be Waiting for Guffman, except for the part about the pirates. If you're old enough to read this, you're outside the target market. Rated G.

Current Releases

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS—How is it exactly that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are transplanted from their lifelong forest home to the big city already equipped with an awareness of Christmas, the ability to operate sundry household gadgets and a knowledge of the lyrics to songs by Daniel Powter and Pussycat Dolls? Rated PG. —NM

ATONEMENT—As the annual awards-season serving of British Drawing Room Drama, Joe Wright's burnished, gorgeous literary adaptation of Ian McEwan's acclaimed novel is a superb exemplar of the technical craft of filmmaking overshadowing the importance of a sound, seamless narrative underpinning. Besides some fine performances from James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, Wright's creative camerawork and sublime attention to detail keep the film afloat through a complex storyline that eventually slides into banality and a slapdash attempt to dissect the oft porous barrier separating fiction and reality, which exists in both the hands of an artist and the minds of the audience. Rated R. —NM

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD—With a gritty urban energy that recalls his own Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Prince of the City, veteran director Sidney Lumet traces the dreadful consequences of a misbegotten crime mounted by two suburban New York brothers, world-class screw-ups played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Though Kelly Masterson's ambitious script relies too heavily on fashionable time-chopping, the film is unique among recent crime dramas for achieving the force of tragedy. Rated R. —GC

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR—Topnotch Hollywood moviemaking, Mike Nichols' geopolitical comedy tells the true story of a dissolute Texas congressman who, in the 1980s, takes on as a personal crusade aiding the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation. Aaron Sorkin's funny, fast-paced script provides a wonderful platform for Tom Hanks as the bibulous Wilson, Julia Roberts as his sultry right-wing benefactress and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his man in the CIA. Rated R. —GC

ENCHANTED—Amy Adams gives an energetic performance as a cartoon fairy tale princess sent to the real world, but the film doesn't really explore the possibilities of its premise. And how many times can James Marsden not get the girl? Rated PG. —ZS

THE GOLDEN COMPASS—This adaptation of Philip Pullman's "anti-Narnia" novel, about a young girl (Dakota Blue Richards) who battles an evil adult conspiracy in an alternate universe, rushes through the book's storyline. Nonetheless, director Chris Weitz delivers many entertaining and exciting moments, but his effort to cram the story into a single film means the book's thrilling and heartbreaking ending is cut for something more upbeat. Rated PG-13. —ZS

THE GREAT DEBATERS—For his sophomore directing effort, Denzel Washington tracks the triumph of the 1935 all-black debate team from Texas' Wiley College over Jim Crow-era segregation. Washington's direction lags far behind his usual fine work in front of the camera, here as debate coach, professor and legendary poet Melvin B. Tolson. The earnest, formulaic script conveniently assigns to Wiley the "correct" side of every debate: It is not hard to sound inspired when you are arguing in favor of welfare, school integration, civil disobedience and economic equality. Rated PG-13. —NM

I AM LEGEND—Will Smith does solid work in this polished, tense, big-budget remake of the '70s Charlton Heston-starrer The Omega Man, about a man left alone in a city—except for hordes of night-feeding zombies—after a global plague. Although anticipated by 28 Days Later and Vanilla Sky, the views of a depopulated Manhattan are spectacular and suitably eerie. While Smith has few human costars, he gets nice support from a German shepherd. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13. —GC

JUNO—Imbued with a rapid-fire, Gen-Y argot, Diablo Cody's script not only tackles touchy life lessons without sanctimony but also finds hilarity as a so-called "teenage comedy" without the crutch of defiled desserts or an endless string of profane Apatowisms. Of course, it helps when your dialogue is being delivered by Ellen Page, who, at age 20, realizes the potential only hinted at in 2005's Hard Candy. As the self-styled "smartest person in the room," Juno must come to grips with the film's overarching theme that maturity is not merely a reluctant acceptance of responsibility, but instead the reclassification of cool. Rated PG-13. —NM

THE KITE RUNNER—Khaled Hosseini's mega-bestseller about friendship, guilt and modern Afghanistan gets a sensitive, skillful screen translation in Marc Forster's handsome drama. Though filmed with Hollywood scale and budget, the film stays true to its source, and Forster works wonders with his cast, especially the young actors. Rated PG-13. —GC

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS—Everyone loves a treasure hunt, and Nicholas Cage leads a landmark-heavy jaunt stretching from the Eiffel Tower to Mount Rushmore, breezing through some swift piffle about John Wilkes Booth's diary and Cibola, the legendary pre-Columbian city of gold. I'm all for the PG action-adventure movie; instead of ghettoizing the taste of little kids into "child-friendly" dreck, let's let them dream of growing up to be a kick-ass Library of Congress archivist. Rated PG. —LB

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN—Set in 1980 along the desolate Tex-Mex border, the Coen Brothers' fastidiously faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's literary crime novel follows a world-weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) and a cold-blooded killer (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar-bound knockout turn) as they pursue a hapless cowboy (Josh Brolin) who's stumbled across millions in drug money. Faultlessly mounted, with terrific performances and a formal sheen worthy of Hitchcock, the movie only stumbles in its final section, where McCarthy's apocalyptic allegorizing overwhelms dramatic sense. Rated R. —GC

ONE MISSED CALL—In the latest variation of The Ring, this Japan-derived horror flick concerns some unfortunates who receives the details of their impending deaths via voicemail. Don't answer that call. Rated R.

P.S I LOVE YOU—Hillary Swank stars as a young widow who discovers her late husband has left her a message with 10 tips for happier living. That bastard. Rated PG-13.

SWEENEY TODD—Tim Burton's hundred-mil appreciation of Stephen's Sondheim's deeply bent operetta has a brilliant cast and ravishing silent film-inspired production design. It also boasts copious bloodletting and a ghoulish sense of humor. Too Grand Guignol for the average Broadway theater goer, but with way too much singing for the average "R for graphic bloody violence" multiplex-goer, it's a disappointing holiday treat. Rated R. —LB

TAARE ZAMIN PAR (EVERY CHILD IS SPECIAL)—An academic disaster, 8-year old Ishaan (Darsheel Safary) is packed off by his desperate parents to boarding school, a nightmare for his sensitive soul and dyslexic brain. His savior appears just before the interval, in the person of Aamir Khan (Lagaan) a lively and empathetic art teacher. Darsheel and his chipped-toothed overbite steal the film, an exercise in special pleading to lossen up rigid Indian schools. Not rated. —LB

THE WATER HORSE: THE LEGEND OF THE DEEP—A boy and his secret monster: In this Scottish E.T., lonely young Angus (Alex Etil from Millions) finds an egg in the nearby loch, which hatches to reveal an absolutely adorable animated reptile. Rated PG.


Due to the possibility of last-minute scheduling changes, we recommend calling ahead to theaters to confirm final showtimes.

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