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In theaters this week

The Hunger Games

To put it in perspective, The Hunger Games falls somewhere between the last couple of terrific Harry Potter movies and all of the terrible Twilights, two other recent teen-lit hits that exploded all over the big screen. The first story in Suzanne Collins' saga doubles as the series' setup: In a post-apocalyptic America, the government mandates that two kids from each of 12 districts fight to the death in a televised showdown. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful coal miner's daughter who takes her younger sister's place in the brutal battle. But first there's training, backstories, and personal issues to get out of the way. By the time the movie brings on the games, you're ready for blood. It's easy to get caught up in Collins' narratively deep world, and director Gary Ross keeps the tone surreal, somber, and suspenseful. The Hunger Games drags a bit in the second half, as Katniss struggles for survival in the Appalachian woods, but there's more life here than in any of those bloodless vampire movies. Rated PG-13. (Michael Gallucci)

The Artist (PG-13) — You won't find a lovelier valentine to the movies than Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white and near-silent tribute to the silent screen. In 1927 Hollywood, matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is on top of the movie world. But then talking pictures begin to revolutionize the industry, and George brushes them off, setting in motion his slow but steady downfall. The story is straight out of A Star Is Born, but the inspiration comes from 100 years of cinema. (Gallucci)

The Forgiveness of Blood (NR) — Welcome to modern-day Albania, where a man still delivers fresh bread by horse-drawn cart every day but uses his cell phone to text his customers to let them know he's coming, and where a murder brings the police — but also brings a blood feud between families, the response codified in Albanian traditional law, which calls for deadly retaliation. Sixteen-year-old Nik is coming of age in this land of contemporary tech and old grudges. Director Joshua Marston proves adept at opening a window into a little-known world of real-life trouble and making it feel true. (Lee Gardner)

Friends With Kids (R) — Jason (Adam Scott) and platonic BFF Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) skip the whole marriage and commitment thing and decide to have a baby. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, you know it isn't going to be as easy as that. But Friends With Kids also offers some clear-eyed intrigue derived from the effects of their friends' stress — the kind of stress that comes from being married with children — and from Jason and Julie's attempt to ultimately not wind up like them. Still, the movie can't escape its formulaic essence, despite several valiant attempts. (Gardner)

In Darkness (R) — In Darkness could easily traipse down the path leading toward Hollywood cheese, but it forges its own route, blazing a trail that's altogether heartbreaking, truthful, and life-affirming as it tells the story of Jews in Lvov, Poland, during World War II. When we first meet Leopold Socha, he's a petty thief who stashes his loot in the sewers of Lvov. He meets a group of Jews taking shelter in the sewers, and he offers them guidance in exchange for money. But soon he's offering the group food, and despite the danger posed to his family, he struggles to ensure their safety. In Darkness avoids putting us through unnecessary pain; rather, it holds onto hope, inspiring without indulging in melodrama. (Erin Gleeson)

John Carter (PG-13) — With characters and a story based on a 95-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and inspiration borrowed from Star Wars, Gladiator, and Avatar, among others, John Carter is a big, loud, and overlong sci-fi epic that aims for genre mythos but settles for super-caffeinated 3D spectacle. The title character (played by Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch) is a 19th-century cavalry captain who, thanks to a celestial medallion, ends up on Mars, where he gets caught up in a war between towering, four-armed CGI aliens and a race of people who look like they raided Flash Gordon's wardrobe. John Carter is a visual delight. But it's ultimately an empty experience. (Gallucci)

The Lorax (G) — Dr. Seuss traditionalists might have a few problems with this new adaptation — not least of which its romantic subplot — but there's plenty to like in this tale of the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an enterprising dude who markets a multi-purpose yet purpose-free product made from the leaves of a special tree. Soon, the Once-ler's greed drives him to cut down every tree in sight with his mass-production machines. The Lorax (Danny DeVito), the little furry guardian of the forest, is none too pleased. Not a bad way to learn how to protect the environment and distrust corporations. (Vince Grzegorek)

Safe House (R) — Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent accused of trading secrets. Ryan Reynolds is a baby-faced CIA newbie who whiles away the time at a rarely used safe house in South Africa, pining for a tougher assignment. Then Tobin is brought in for questioning, followed by gunshots, fights, and assassins. It's an action-packed ride, but it would be nice if it slowed down for a minute. (Grzegorek)

Thin Ice (R) — When insurance salesman Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) schemes to bilk a dotty old man (Alan Arkin) to cover his own bad investments — and his schemes go badly awry in every way possible, including entangling him in a capital crime with a weedy loose-cannon ex-con (Billy Crudup) — the resemblance to Fargo is impossible to ignore. But Thin Ice isn't just a cynical knockoff; the story unfolds like a flow chart of every possible noir-plot disaster and twist in the book. But there's no Marge Gunderson to root for and a lot fewer laughs. (Gardner)

21 Jump Street (R) — Based on the late-'80s TV show that launched Johnny Depp's career, this reload centers around newbie cops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, police academy pals assigned to go undercover to find out who's supplying kids with a synthetic drug. The movie clicks not so much because of its two leads, but thanks to its great supporting talent, including Ice Cube and Rob Riggle. The finale unravels on prom night, picking up speed after a late-inning cameo that almost justifies the price of admission. (Kyle Swenson)

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