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Film Capsules 

Opening in Theaters

La Danse — The Paris Opera Ballet (France/U.S., 2009) This documentary offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Paris Opera Ballet. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 3.

The Moon and Sixpence (U.S., 1942) An adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham novel inspired by the life of French painter Paul Gauguin. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31.

The Wolf at the Door (Denmark/France, 1986) This film starring Donald Sutherland and Max von Sydow dramatizes painter Paul Gauguin's return to Paris after an extended stay in Tahiti. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel It's hard to believe that 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks grossed more than $200 million at the box office. Featuring My Name Is Earl's Jason Lee as chipmunk pal Dave Seville, the film catapulted the furry fellows to such fame that we're now stuck with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. As the film opens, the Chipmunks are playing a concert in Paris, and Alvin is showing off, hanging from the rafters while delivering a guitar solo. When he slips and falls, he triggers a chain reaction that sends Dave flying. Dave goes to the hospital, leaving the chipmunks in the care of his unreliable, videogame-obsessed cousin Toby (Zachary Levi), who enrolls the chipmunks in high school. There, however, the chipmunks have to contend with jocks who aren't too happy to find their popularity threatened. Alvin tries to placate them by joining the football squad (and alienating his chipmunk pals). Subplots with the Chipettes (voiced by Christina Applegate, Anna Faris and Amy Poehler) and their former manager, the mean-spirited Ian Hawke (David Cross), complicate things even further. While Alvin and his pals are undeniably cute and cuddly (even in their CGI forms), this film's storyline is likely to bore both adults and children. (Jeff Niesel)

Avatar It's been a dozen years since king of the world James Cameron won a boatload of Oscars for Titanic. He apparently spent the downtime thinking about how to revolutionize movies with Avatar, his bloated and exhausting sci-fi epic about a tribe of tall, tailed and blue-hued creatures called Na'vi. It's also one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The film is set in 2154 on the forest planet of Pandora, where wheelchair-bound marine Jake Scully (Terminator Salvation's Sam Worthington) is recruited for an ongoing project that fuses human and Na'vi DNA, resulting in "avatars" that look like Na'vi but retain human thoughts. It's all very scientific, confusing and geeky. With a new body capable of sprinting as fast as any animal on Earth, Jake's mission is to infiltrate the Na'vi so the military can mine the precious minerals their homes are built on (again, it's all very scientific, confusing and geeky). It doesn't take long for Jake to fall for one of the Na'vi (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek's Uhura) and rethink his assignment. Avatar is pure sci-fi hokum with one-dimensional characters, heavy-handed narration and an unsurprising love story. But you've never seen a movie like this before. (Michael Gallucci)

The Blind Side The Blind Side belongs to "white-man's burden" movies like Dangerous Minds or The Soloist, in which benevolent whites heroically rescue underprivileged black people. Accordingly, there are moments in this movie, based on the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, that are cringingly uncomfortable, like when Sandra Bullock — as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent Southern woman who has opened her home to Oher — sashays into the kid's rough Memphis neighborhood in tight skirt and heels to give a drug dealer a talking-to, warning him that she's packing heat. If this were fiction, it'd be as phony as Astroturf. But like those other movies, it's a true story, told with enough sensitivity to almost overcome the troubling sense of noblesse oblige. Bullock acts her heart out as the feisty Leigh Anne. Her performance makes a character that might have been repellent — privileged, pushy evangelical — rather endearing. (Pamela Zoslov)

Brothers Just before he's to be shipped to Afghanistan, Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) picks up his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) from prison. Tommy seems to be on a path of self-destruction that would take an earth-shattering event to right, and that event comes when Sam's helicopter goes down and he's presumed dead. Back home, Tommy is shaken straight and takes up handiwork around his brother's house and, eventually, playtime with Sam's kids. Meanwhile, Sam and a fellow soldier are being tortured in a prisoner camp in the caves of Afghanistan. Sam is put to the test with months of malnutrition and mental torment, and when his rescue comes, his menacing, gaunt expression and steely eyes tell us (and his grateful family back home) that something is amiss. Sam can't readjust to his old life, especially his daughters, and things spiral downward in raw, primal fashion. (Justin Strout)

A Christmas Carol Using the same performance-capture animation technique employed in 2004's Polar Express and 2007's Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol is another family friendly holiday feature by the veteran director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. Zemeckis doesn't mess with Charles Dickens' book much, quoting directly from it in the opening sequence, which finds Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) busting out a "bah humbug" when his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) arrives to wish him a "merry Christmas." Of course, Scrooge is in for a shock when he goes home and an apparition of his old boss Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) arrives to warn him that he's going to be visited by three ghosts before the night is over. Though his recent attempts to show off his dramatic acting abilities have fallen short, Carrey is in good form here. He occasionally indulges in exaggerated facial gestures and slapsticky antics, but that's going to keep young viewers interested. That and the fabulous digital 3-D effects that make it look like snowflakes are falling in front of your face. (Niesel)

Did You Hear About the Morgans? This romantic comedy has such a flimsy premise, it's almost not worth explaining. But the story goes something like this: Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) is a lawyer who cheated on his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) while on a business trip. She found out and now they're separated. Only he's trying to win her back. He calls and leaves sweet, apologetic messages and sends an assortment of gifts. Frustrated by the lack of response, he shows up one night when she's giving a presentation at a fundraiser. He talks her into going to dinner with him. All is progressing nicely until they witness a murder and have to be whisked away to a Wyoming ranch for safety. Before you can say New in Town, these city slickers are out riding horses and shooting rifles in the attempt to quickly adjust to life without their cell phones. Oh, and in the process, they attempt to get their relationship back on track. It's quite predictable, and it doesn't help that Grant and Parker don't have any real chemistry. (Niesel)

Everybody's Fine This melancholy movie based on Giuseppe Tornatore's Stanno tutti bene finds Robert De Niro playing Frank, a widower retired after 30 years manufacturing coatings for telephone wires. While Frank prepares for a reunion with his grown children, they each call to say they can't make it. Impulsively, Frank boards a train to pay surprise visits to his children scattered across the country. Onboard, he shows off a photo of his successful brood: David, the artist; Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the ad executive; Robert (Sam Rockwell), the orchestra conductor; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore), the Vegas dancer. On his first stop, New York, Frank finds David missing from his rundown apartment. He heads to Chicago, where Amy conceals the truth about her marriage. In the Northwest, Frank discovers Robert isn't a conductor but a percussionist. Rosie, too, is keeping secrets. Phone conversations, set against a landscape of telephone lines echoing Frank's career, reveal that David's in trouble, and the siblings have agreed not to tell Dad. There are poignant scenes, as when a lost David "appears" at his ailing father's bedside. But mostly the movie clicks along on a predictable track, punctuated by sappy pop songs. 1/2 (Zoslov)

Fantastic Mr. Fox Based on a Roald Dahl story, this dark farmland fable about a group of foxes that wages war against weapon-packing farmers centers on Mr. Fox (George Clooney), who makes a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) to stop stealing birds for a living and becomes a newspaper columnist. After two years (which is actually 12 in fox years), he's bored with the lifestyle and the fact that nobody reads his column. So he buys a new tree for his family and gets back in the chicken-killing game for one or two (or three) last scores. When things don't work out like Fox plans and he puts a bunch of friends (including a rabbit, badger and an opossum) in danger, he must use his natural leadership skills to save them. There's no mistaking director Wes Anderson's touch in Fantastic Mr. Fox: The dialogue, the way the actors read the dialogue and the movie's pacing bear his trademarks. And the old-school stop-motion animation is an exhilarating break from today's CGI crop. But a great-looking movie means nothing if there isn't a story attached to it. Anderson's film not only expands on Dahl's book, it's really funny. 1/2 (Gallucci)

Invictus Another late-career triumph for director Clint Eastwood, this stirring, convulsively moving account of the early days of Nelson Mandela's presidency and how South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup victory helped unite the country is the antithesis of a standard-issue Hollywood message movie. Superbly adapted by Anthony Peckham from John Carlin's book, Eastwood's majestic film is delicately nuanced and full of vivid, telling details that help convey not only the measure of two men (Morgan Freeman's Mandela and Matt Damon's Afrikaner rugby captain Francois Pienaar), but also of a nation on the precipice of seismic changes — both culturally and politically. Clocking in a briskly paced 136 minutes, this is that rare movie epic that carries its size, weight and ambition with incomparable ease, remarkable grace and unstinting dignity. (Milan Paurich)

It's Complicated Meryl Streep is Jane, divorced for 10 years, which she's spent rebuilding her life, opening a bakery and planning an addition to her beautiful house. Her nest now empty, Jane confides to her obligatory girlfriend circle (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth) that she hasn't dated in years. On a New York trip for her son's graduation, she has drunken sex with her once-loathed ex, philandering Jake (Alec Baldwin), now married to Agness (Lake Bell), a petulant, fertility-obsessed shrew who insists Jake help raise her bratty tot. Jane and Jake start an affair, and Jake falls "back in love," pining for the family he left behind. Jane glows, then frets, feeling naughty and excited, until she realizes that "other woman" might not be a suitable role, especially when a real suitor, architect Adam (Steve Martin), is waiting in the wings. Superb casting and a solid script make the movie a considerable improvement over writer-director Nancy Meyers' previous efforts. 1/2 (Zoslov)

Nine This musical adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2 is set in 1965 Rome, where "maestro" Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis with an Italian accent) is struggling to get his latest movie started. The press is hounding him, his producer is itching to begin filming and his star (Nicole Kidman) won't show up until she sees a script, which Guido hasn't written yet. Coming off a string of flops, he's sick, tired and stressed-out. So he anonymously checks in to a secluded hotel for rest. But soon the press, the paparazzi, his producer, his wife (Marion Cotillard, so good as Johnny Depp's girlfriend in Public Enemies earlier this year) and his mother (Sophia Loren) show up. So do the various women who've paraded through his life. The movie sizzles during the stylish set pieces (mostly fantasy sequences) featuring half-dressed, gyrating women. The stars throw themselves into the material. Kidman, Penelope Cruz (as a mistress), Kate Hudson (a reporter) and Judi Dench (Guido's long-suffering costume designer) don't have great pipes, but their energy during the musical numbers powers the film. (Gallucci)

Old Dogs Veteran actors Robin Williams and John Travolta show no shame in hamming it up incessantly in this insipid Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) comedy about two pals whose friendship is tested when Dan (Williams) is recruited to babysit two kids he didn't realize were his. The slapstick humor gets some easy laughs but usually doesn't involve anything more than a swift kick in the crotch. The flimsy plot: Dan's ex (Kelly Preston) has to serve a two-week prison term for protesting an environmentally irresponsible company and enlists Dan to take care of her 7-year-old twins, revealing that they're actually his and she never bothered to tell him. But Dan and Charlie (Travolta) are trying to take their sports agency to the next level and are in the middle of signing the "biggest deal ever" with a Japanese company. Oh yeah, and Charlie has an old dog that hangs around the office, peeing on everything because it's so old. It's no surprise that by the end of the movie, we realize Dan and Charlie are like two old dogs, loyal to the core, even though they sometimes bark at each other. (Niesel)

Precious Don't let the Oprah and Tyler Perry imprimatur scare you off. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire confounds expectations (prejudices?) at every turn. A remarkably accomplished sophomore outing by director Lee Daniels, Precious tells the story of morbidly obese 16-year-old Harlem teenager Claireece "Precious" Jones (knockout newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) forced to deal with a second unwanted pregnancy after her first baby was born with Down's Syndrome. Compounding Claireece's dire predicament is an abusive mother (sitcom diva Mo'Nique in a fearless, take-no-prisoners performance that seems destined to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) battling formidable demons of her own. Despite the unrelenting bleakness and gut-wrenching despair of its no-exit milieu and dead-end characters, Precious is leavened with flights of magic realism as captivating as they are emotionally cathartic. (Paurich)

The Princess and the Frog A return to classic Disney animation, The Princess and the Frog follows the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young woman trying to fulfill her father's fantasy of opening a restaurant in New Orleans. Tiana's plans get derailed when she meets a frog who claims to be a prince in search of a bride. To get the frog to become a prince again, they must travel deep into the swamp and consult the Queen of the Bayou (Jenifer Lewis), who instructs them on how to defeat the villainous voodoo king Dr. Facilier (Keith David). The hand-drawn animation suits the story perfectly, and if it sounds like this throwback approach will be lost on young viewers more accustomed to CGI graphics and digital 3D technology, that isn't the case. Young kids will appreciate the Randy Newman soundtrack and the slapstick. (Niesel)

Sherlock Holmes Guy Ritchie directs a Holmes that casts Robert Downey Jr. as the cerebral Victorian sleuth, re-imagined as a surly, bare-knuckle-brawling bounder. Setting aside the heresy against the sacred Holmes canon, casting Downey was this misbegotten movie's first mistake. The next error was rendering insignificant Holmes' friend and chronicler, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who spends most of his screen time complaining about Holmes' violin playing, pistol shooting and experimenting on Watson's bulldog (the movie's most charming actor). The film serves up a mixed stew of Holmes bits, featuring the evil Dr. Moriarty and Holmes' female nemesis, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, dreadful). Overlong and a little unappetizing, this Holmes is unlikely to endear itself either to Holmesians or action-movie fans. Nevertheless, Ritchie is busily at work on a sequel. 1/2 (Zoslov)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Ten minutes into this sequel to 2008's Twilight, Bella (Kristen Stewart) celebrates her 18th birthday at the home of boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattison) and his vampire family, where she gets a paper cut that causes one of the bloodsuckers to lose control. Worried that Bella won't be so lucky next time, Edward and company leave town. This sends Bella into a depression that lifts somewhat thanks a combination of dangerous behavior and spending more time with her Native American friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who just happens to be a werewolf. A better film than its predecessor, New Moon is an entertaining romantic fantasy with a stronger visual look and better action scenes, while still keeping the focus on the central love triangle. Stewart's acting has gotten better, and while Pattison has a smaller role this time, Lautner more than ably picks up the slack. The problem with focusing so much on Bella's dalliance with Jacob is that when the story brings Edward and the vampires back, the conclusion feels rushed. Also, with all its loose ends and assumptions that the audience knows what came before, New Moon doesn't stand on its own very well. (Robert Ignizio)

Up in the Air Intelligently adapted by Reitman and Sheldon Turner from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a freelance "corporate downsizer" (a.k.a. hatchet man) who flies around the globe firing pink- slipped employees for their chickenshit employers. Proud of his footloose and fancy-free ways (he spends 322 days of the year on the road) and lack of emotional attachments, Ryan is flying right into the path of an oncoming storm — a crisis of conscience. He just doesn't know it yet. The remarkable supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga as an equally career-obsessed Chicago business executive who's instrumental in derailing Ryan's flight plans (literally and figuratively), and the wonderful Anna Kendrick (Camp, Rocket Science) as Ryan's eager-beaver second-in-command who learns a life lesson or two of her own along the way. As splendidly written and brilliantly directed as Up in the Air is, the movie probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well with a different leading actor. Clooney, however, delivers a career performance here, one that definitively pegs him as the premier American screen actor of his generation. (Paurich)

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