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Film Capsules

In Theaters

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, 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 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)

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) on a business trip. She found out and now they're separated. 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)

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. 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 — culturally and politically. ****(Milan 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. ***(Niesel)

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. Better than its predecessor, New Moon is an entertaining romantic fantasy with a stronger visual look and better action scenes, while keeping the focus on the central love triangle. Stewart's acting has gotten better, and while Pattison has a smaller role this time, Lautner ably picks up the slack. *** (Robert Ignizio)

Up in the Air Adapted 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 ways 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 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 delivers a career performance here, one that pegs him as the premier American screen actor of his generation. ***(Paurich)

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