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Capsule reviews of recently released films



CIAO 2 stars. (R) See review here.

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC Bored with a corporate job, a young woman tries to buy happiness in this adaptation of books by Sophie Kinsella.

FRIDAY THE 13TH Creepy woods, copulating teens, and cold-blooded murders populate the latest installment of the Jason franchise.

THE INTERNATIONAL 2 stars. (R) See review here.


THE ROOM See review here.


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. -- Curt Holman

CHE 2 stars. (R) Benicio del Toro stars as Argentinian-born Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in director Steven Soderberghís epic-length biographical examination. Based on Guevaraís own journals, Che takes place in two parts, the first detailing the successful Cuban revolution, the second Guevaraís failed efforts in Bolivia. Soderbergh and del Toto deserve credit for their documentary-style approach, but the emotionally remote material and four-and-half-hour running time may not provide ample reward for the demands it makes on the audience. -- Holman

CORALINE 4 stars. (PG) When spunky tween Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and her family move into a remote boarding house, she discovers a deceptively appealing ìother worldî full of magical wonders. Henry Selick, director of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, helms another film of stop-motion animated splendors reminiscent of such fantastical coming-of-age stories as Alice in Wonderland and Pan's Labyrinth. Definitely try to see it in 3-D, which fits the stop-motion format like a hand in glove, but be warned that the wild images may be too creepy for little kids. -- 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. -- 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. Glory and The Last Samurai director Edward Zwick helms the most exciting yet thematically unambiguous of the current wave of Holocaust films, marked more by thrilling combat scenes and beautifully photographed scenes of harsh winters. -- Holman

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. The late Heath Ledger's creepy, charismatic turn -- 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 film's middle section, when Eastwood bonds with a young man (Bee Vang) over manual labor. -- Holman

LAST CHANCE HARVEY 2 stars. (PG-13) While visiting London for his estranged daughter's wedding, Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) finds a shot at love with single airline employee Kate Walker (Emma Thompson). Admirably, director Joel Hopkins gives plenty of breathing room to the two leads, who happen to be two of the finest actors of their respective generations. -- 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

OUTLANDER 3 stars. (R) Vikings vs. aliens! A human from another planet (Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ) crashes his spaceship in Norway circa the Iron Age, and must enlist the suspicious mead-swillers against a glowing, whip-tailed beastie called a Morwen. Director Howard McCain deserves his own Hollywood action franchise for helming a film that's just silly enough to be fun, while taking it just seriously enough to be exciting and kinda cool. -- 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 nation's guilt, responsibility and forgiveness. -- 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. -- 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. -- 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 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

WALTZ WITH BASHIR 4 stars. (R) Ari Folman, a filmmaker and veteran of the Lebanon War of the early 1980s, interviews his former comrades-in-arms to examine his puzzling absence of memories about the conflict. The animated documentary alternates between realistically rendered conversations and embellished war-time re-creations, some of which suggest a hallucinatory mix of American Vietnam movie and 1960s underground comics. The audience can't help but associate the Lebanese conflict with the recent fighting in Gaza, suggesting that even those who remember the mistakes of history may be doomed to repeat them. An Oscar nominee (and Golden Globe winner) for Best Foreign Language Film. -- Holman

WENDY AND LUCY 3 stars. (R) Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger's widow) plays Wendy, a drifting young woman traveling cross-country with a loveable mutt named Lucy. When Wendyís car breaks down in a small town, her lack of funds and bad decisions push her more deeply into desperation in a timely portrayal of living in America with no financial cushion. Director Kelly Reichardt translates the spirit and subject matter of Italian neo-realist films like The Bicycle Thief while still giving the film a unique voice. -- Holman

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