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Capsule reviews of recently released films

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OPENING FRIDAY

THE DARK KNIGHT 4 stars. (PG-13) Reopening in conventional theaters as well as IMAX, director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins features such sharp conflicts, gritty locations and breathless action scenes that the flamboyant hero and villain costumes seem almost superfluous. -- Curt Holman

INKHEART See review.

OUTLANDER 3 stars. (R) See review.

WERE THE WORLD MINE (Not rated) A lonely teenager uses a magical potion to turn much of his hometown gay in this lighthearted musical.

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS (R) Werewolves and vampires continue a long-standing, bloody feud in the third installment of the Underworld series.

DULY NOTED

ATLANTA JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL Founded in 2000, this festival of film by Jewish filmmakers and/or about the Jewish experience features nearly 50 narrative and documentary features and shorts that represent 20 nations. Through Jan. 25. At Lefont Sandy Springs, 5920 Roswell Road, and other venues. $10 per screening. 404-806-9913. www.ajff.org.

JUST LIKE HOME 3 stars. (Not rated) See review.

Continuing

AUSTRALIA 2 stars. (PG-13) An English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) and an Australian cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) become reluctant partners for a cattle drive across the outback at the eve of World War II. Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann indulges his taste for cartoonish hypberbole for the film's hyperactive, grating first 45 minutes, before settling down into a more conventional, tolerable Old School sprawling epic romance. He still lays on the aboriginal mysticism and Wizard of Oz references pretty thick, but at least exposes to racial inequities in Australia's history with more candor than Gone With the Wind did for the South. -- Curt Holman

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON 4 stars. (PG-13) Remarkable special effects show Brad Pitt age backwards from an elderly infant to a middle-aged hunk in this adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Fight Club director David Fincher crafts fascinating and haunting images, and Tilda Swinton shines in the centerpiece romance, set at a wintry Russian hotel. Screenwriter Eric Roth borrows too heavily from his Forrest Gump script, however, particularly in the title characterís lifelong relationship with an inconstant dancer (Cate Blanchett). -- Holman

DEFIANCE 4 stars. (R) In Western Poland during World War II, the Bielski brothers (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) lead an armed resistance to Nazi invaders while forming a woodland sanctuary for their fellow Jews. The script hits the Biblical parallels with a heavy hand, but Craig and Schreiber bring chemistry to the brothers' sibling rivalry, and the film almost resembles a downbeat Robin Hood story. For a longer review of this film, see p. 25. -- Holman

DOUBT 3 stars. (PG-13) A strict nun (Meryl Streep) suspects a progressive young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of an inappropriate relationship with a student in 1964. John Patrick Shanley adapts and directs the film version of his acclaimed play, which nevertheless still feels like material that belongs on the stage: Shanley's attempts to visually dramatize the story make the film feel like an Omen movie, while Streep's broad performance feels more attuned to comedy. It's still an engrossing depiction of the limitations of blind faith and the value of doubt, anchored by the work of Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis. -- Holman

GRAN TORINO 3 stars. (R) For possibly his last screen role, Clint Eastwood plays a pistol-packing, bigoted Korean war vet who becomes reluctantly involved with his Hmong neighbors. Gran Turino's ideas are about as obvious as a bad Stephen King adaptation, but thereís something irresistible about the filmís middle section, when Eastwood bonds with a young man (Bee Vang) over manual labor. Gran Turino walks a fine line between critiquing vigilante tactics and endorsing them, but Eastwoodís command of the screen ultimately prevails over the filmís clunky qualities. -- Holman

NOTORIOUS 2 stars. (R) Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. (played by likeable newcomer Jamal 'Gravy' Woolard) rises from the violence of 1980s Brooklyn drug dealing to the violence of the 1990s hip-hop scene. The film captures some of Biggieís hip-hop excitement without replicating the charisma such figures as Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), and the details of the East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry prove disappointingly sketch. Antonique Smith and Naturi Naughton offer sultry support as Faith Evans and Lil' Kim, respectively. -- Holman

THE READER 4 stars. (R) A German law student (David Kross) discovers that his older-woman fling (Kate Winslet) from his teenage years was a former guard at Auschwitz. The Hours' Stephen Daldry directs one of the seasonís richest and most challenging films, in which the central relationship unfolds as a powerful, two-pronged character study as well as providing sturdy metaphors for a nationís guilt, responsibility and forgiveness. Playing the same character in different decades, Kross and Ralph Fiennes show how short relationships can reverberate across a personís life, but Kate Winslet owns the film with her career-best leading performance. -- Holman

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD 2 stars. (R) A young, miserably married couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) seek to escape the suburban rat race of 1950s America in this adaptation of Richard Yates' acclaimed novel. Seldom has such an intelligent, impeccably-mounted production seemed so out of sync with the cultural zeitgeist: DiCaprio and Winslet dig deeply in their performances, but its hard to feel sorry for such superficial, prosperous characters at a time of foreclosures and layoffs. Director Sam Mendes (Winslet's husband) returns to themes he explored in his Oscar-winner American Beauty, but humorlessly hammers ideas handled with more wit and subtlety on "Mad Men." -- Holman

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 3 stars. (R) Police suspect a young man (Dev Patel) of cheating his way to the brink of victory on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" although he's motivated by reconnecting to his long-lost sweetheart (Freida Pinto). Trainspotting director Danny Boyle transplants his trademark narrative velocity to sprawling Mumbai for a harrowing, Dickensian tale of children in the Indian underworld. Slumdog Millionaire builds to such a thrilling, uplifting climax that it's hard to resist the manipulative nature of its first hour. -- Holman

THE WRESTLER 4 stars. (R) Mickey Rourke justly earns his heralded comeback with his humble, dignified performance as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a washed-up 1980s pro wrestler wondering if his life will have a second act. Director Darren Aronofsky makes the most of Rourke's ravaged features and pumped-up physique by capturing the showbiz-style beauty treatments of wrestlers and the horrible punishment they can inflict on each other (one harrowing match involves a staple gun). The script harks back to old-fashioned melodramas -- Marisa Tomei plays an aging stripper with a heart of gold, Randy considers whether he should participate in a big match -- but in the last moments, Aronofsky overturns cliches like a wrestler hitting you upside the head with a folding chair. -- Holman

VALKYRIE 2 stars. (PG-13) Tom Cruise dons a much-maligned eye-patch to play wounded German Col. Claus von Stauffenberg who led a coup and assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler in the waning months of World War II. Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer creates an effective mood of paranoia as the conspirators (including Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy) seek allies for their treasonous plan. Despite some heist-style thrills -- the film coul be called Das Mission Impossible -- the characters remain too one-dimensional for audiences to invest much emotion in their fates. -- Holman

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