OK for all ages
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
(Animated, G, 88 minutes)
The furry singing sensations may have finally run completely aground. Though the franchise has never been what you’d call high art, there was something of an inspired silliness to the live-action/CGI mash-up that began in 2007 with “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” But that streak may have peaked with 2009’s “The Squeakquel.” Giving voice to the critters is some top tier comic talent, including Justin Long, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate and more. But their presence basically goes for naught, with identifying traits or emotional range lost in the helium squeak.
Rating: 1.5 stars
Info for Parents: Rated G
OK for 10 and older
We Bought a Zoo
(Drama, PG, 124 minutes)
This is a holiday movie worth rooting for. Directed by the cinema’s last great romantic, Cameron Crowe, it features cute tykes, young romance and a grownup grieving for a lost love, adorable animals and the comically crotchety Thomas Haden Church. Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, widower and father of two who decides to buy a little zoo out in the country. “We Bought a Zoo,” with adult themes and dissonant bursts of profanity, kid-friendly romp, and stumbles when it reaches for emotional highs and lows.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for language and thematic elements
‘The Adventures of Tintin’
Watching “The Adventures of Tintin” gives you the same thrill you felt when you saw “Toy Story” for the first time: Here is a next-gen animated film that builds on everything that has come before to create something new and exciting. In his first foray into animation, director Steven Spielberg uses the technology to achieve something that could be described as cartoonish photo-realism — the images look like impossibly beautiful hand-drawn photographs — and then frees his camera from all earthly constraints. And the 3-D! Spielberg is the third big-name director (after Wim Wenders and Martin Scorsese) to give the gimmick a try this year, and the results are so extraordinary, they make you wonder if 3-D is a good idea, after all.
The character of Tintin (played by Jamie Bell), an intrepid reporter who looks like a boy but actually is a man, is a beloved icon around the world but not that well-known in the U.S. The story here is a bit hard to follow, which makes the film feel more than a little frivolous. But there isn’t a moment in the movie when you’re not staring at the screen in wonder. “The Adventures of Tintin” will seem frenetic and exhausting to some viewers, but the movie’s relentless pace is a big part of its charm.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for mock violence
The big screen revival of The Muppets, cleverly titled “The Muppets,” is a generally charming exercise in nostalgia. The musical comedy whimsically and often cleverly revisits the characters, their shtick and and the TV show and movies that made them most famous. British TV director James Bobin and world’s biggest Muppet fan Jason Segel have concocted a wistful walk down memory lane. The Muppets are getting back together for one last show, a telethon to save their tatty old theater and their old movie studio from a rapacious Texas oilman named Tex Richman, played without the requisite glee by Oscar winner Chris Cooper. The songs are amusing enough, and Amy Adams and Segel make a cute duet. But you have to wonder, if kids will get it, and if the film itself is little more than a tribute band.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some mild rude humor
(Comedy, PG, 130 minutes) Revered as a master for decades and functioning at the top of his game as he approaches 70, Martin Scorsese would seem to have nothing else to prove. So it’s thrilling to see him make a bold, creative leap with “Hugo,” which is not only an unusual family film from him but also his first movie in 3-D. Scorsese doesn’t just tinker with this newfangled technology, he embraces it fully. Based on the Brian Selznick children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” ‘’Hugo” takes place at a train station in 1930s Paris, where the title character, a wide-eyed orphan played by Asa Butterfield, secretly lives in the walls and keeps all the clocks running on time. Chloe Grace Moretz is radiant as the inquisitive girl who helps him unlock the secrets of his past, which have something to do with the mean old man who runs the train station toy shop (Ben Kingsley). The film takes a little while to find its narrative footing, but eventually morphs from a children’s adventure into a lesson in the need for film preservation.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.
‘The Iron Lady’
(Biopic, PG-13, 105 minutes)
The same problems that plagued “La Vie en Rose,” starring Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, exist in “The Iron Lady,” a biopic about Margaret Thatcher starring Meryl Streep as the former British prime minister. While both films feature strong performances from strong actresses playing strong, real-life women, the scripts are weakened by going strictly by the numbers. Sure, Streep reliably nails her impression of Thatcher — that swoop of big ’80s hair, the measured voice, the steely demeanor. Her impeccable ear for accents and detailed mimicry of mannerisms is well-documented at this point — who better to play this role? And there’s fire beneath the reserved exterior: The way she dresses down her deputy during a crowded cabinet meeting, for example, is just withering. But the film from Phyllida Lloyd (who directed Streep in the giddy ABBA musical “Mamma Mia!”), based on a script by Abi Morgan (“Shame”), reduces this life to a greatest-hits collection of historic moments. It’s a trap into which so many biopics tend to fall in trying to encompass everything.
Rating: 2 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity.
(Drama, PG-13, 146 minutes)
Men on opposing sides of war find their shared humanity in their love of animals in “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s sentimental epic about a country thoroughbred who travels from the fields of Devonshire to the trenches of the Somme in World War I. The film is a tale told on a vast canvas, with a wide array of characters — each of whom develops a connection to “Joey,” one of the prettiest equines ever to grace the silver screen. But that crowded hodge-podge of characters fritters away the potential poignancy as we’re taken away from the story’s heart and soul — a boy and his horse. This “War Horse” does well by war and justice to the horse. It’s the people who are shortchanged.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence
Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol
(Action, PG-13, 132 minutes)
They’ve done without the number this time, but anyone who cares knows that “Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol” is really “Mission Impossible 4,” the fourth time Tom Cruise’s intrepid Ethan Hunt has taken on the evildoers of the world. Brad Bird makes his live-action debut after directing three exceptional animated films: “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles” and “Iron Giant.” Bird has done a stylish and involving job here, turning in an entertaining production that’s got considerable visual flair, especially in its action-heavy Imax sections. There are only 27 minutes of IMAX footage in the film, but every one of those minutes counts, which is one reason why Paramount chose to open this film in IMAX theaters five days before its general release.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is about to lose Watson (Jude Law), his perfect foil and bantering partner, to matrimony. But botching the stag party and almost ruining the wedding itself won’t be enough of a sendoff. It is “our last adventure, Watson. I intend to make the most of it.” That entails derailing the honeymoon. Downey is more Chaplinesque, more whimsical and more English in this sequel, a two-fisted howitzer-barreled blast that manages to be lighter, funnier and yet more violent than the first Downey-Ritchie Holmes film.
Ritchie takes his Sam Peckinpah slow-motion violence fetish to artful new extremes and treats us to more scenes in which Holmes’ peerless powers of concentration and perception give him an almost supernatural ability to play through the variables in a coming fight in his mind, before actually martial-arts-ing his way past legions of evil henchman. Downey and Law click like a polished comedy team, with Law more than holding his own with Downey’s hilarious excesses. But with Holmes nemesis, Professor Moriarty, played by the unimposing Jared Harris (“Mad Men,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), you can’t help but wonder if the evil genius was more menacing off camera.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material
New Year’s Eve
(Comedy, Romance, PG-13, 117 minutes)
This is the second in a remarkably shallow series of holiday-themed, celebrity-stuffed confections, following “Valentine’s Day.” Garry Marshall again directs a script by Katherine Fugate that weaves together a dozen or so plotlines that crisscross a holiday prone to sentimentalizing. If there is some kind of world record for schmaltz, this may have set it. Included here are first kisses, midnight rendezvous, dying fathers, newborn babies, husbands at war and trapped strangers. It’s narcotic mawkishness, with notes played on heartstrings like a 12-string guitar. Though it’s pure, rosy fantasy on screen, this is cynical, paint-by-the-numbers entertainment, sold with a gaggle of stars spread across its movie poster like a telethon lineup. Among them: Hilary Swank as a producer of the Times Square ball drop, Jon Bon Jovi as a rock star, Katherine Heigl as a catering chef, Abigail Breslin as Sarah Jessica Parker’s rebelling teenage daughter, Zac Efron as an ultra-confident courier, Jessica Biel as Seth Meyers’ pregnant wife and Halle Berry as the nurse of a dying Robert De Niro. Maybe the really good stuff will come once they get to “Columbus Day,” or maybe, just maybe, “Ash Wednesday.”
Rating: 1.5 stars
Info for Parents: PG-13 for language, including some sexual references.
‘The Devil Inside’
(Horror, R, 147 minutes)
The things young Isabella Rossi sees on her fateful trip to Rome! She sees bodies contort into pretzels and climb walls and fling themselves across rooms, breaking restraints as they do. She sees blood and hears all manner of blood-curdling cursing in languages familiar and foreign. The un-emotive Fernanda Andrade plays a young woman whose mother killed three members of the Catholic clergy 20 years before in an American exorcism. She visits Mom (Suzan Crowley, very creepy) alone, in her hospital room. And Mom, switching accents, rolling her eyes, showing off her collection of cross-cuts on her arms and lips, rattles Isabella (not that Andrade lets us see this). It’s a profoundly foolish script filmed with a shaky cam, a movie that goes to great pains to explain how many cameras there are and where they’re placed in a room, only to drop that conceit and show us unexplained subjective shots.
Rating: 1 star
Info for Parents: Rated R for sexual references, disturbing violent content, language and grisly images
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(Drama, R, 152 minutes)
For the first hour of David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” you cringe at its grave horrors and wonder why, exactly, Fincher bothered to make it.But then comes the first scene in which Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara appear on the screen together — and just like that, all is forgiven. The dynamic between Craig and Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is so spontaneous and sensational, it instantly elevates the movie.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for vulgar language, nudity, explicit sex, rape, violence, gore, adult themes
(Art House/Comedy/Drama, R, 94 minutes.)
Gorgeous but damaged, conceited yet self-loathing, Charlize Theron dares you to like her, and the movie itself dares you to stick with an anti-heroine who makes no apologies for her deplorable behavior. It’s an exciting thing to see, this willful rejection of tidy character arcs and happy endings, and it actually makes you wish “Young Adult” had been even further fleshed out and gone on a little longer. This is not something we say about a movie very often. In re-teaming with “Juno” director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody dials down the snark that marked the Oscar-winning script that made her a superstar in her own right. She’s actually created the anti-Juno in a lot of ways while managing to retain much of the directness, the sharply drawn characters and the casual poignancy that are her signatures. Theron’s teen-lit writer Mavis Gary is as verbal as Juno MacGuff was, but rather than finding the perfect, clever quip at all times, she usually manages to say the rudest, most inappropriate thing. This trait is on vivid, horrific display when she returns to her Minnesota small town to pry her high-school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) away from his wife (Elizabeth Reaser) and newborn daughter. Patton Oswalt is excellent as Mavis’ nerdy former classmate and the film’s voice of reason.
Rating: 3 stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for language and some sexual content.
(Comedy, R, 81 minutes)
Jonah Hill, world’s worst babysitter. Must have sounded like such movie magic that director David Gordon Green and his team grabbed the first three brats they found on the street, shoved them in a minivan with Hill and started filming. As broad, dumb comedy goes, it’s not a bad idea to cast Hill as a chubby slacker roped into a hellish night tending to a high-maintenance brood. Yet other than Hill’s admirable work ethic trying to squeeze laughs out of this dismally underdeveloped scenario, the movie has nothing going for it, slogging from one rotten gag to the next. The movie’s also a serious racial offender, parading a gang of black actors around as hoods stealing cars, talking jive or looking for a fight. Hill plays an idler minding three annoying siblings (Max Records, Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez), who tag along with him on a mirthless trek through Manhattan in search of the cocaine he needs to keep his sort-of girlfriend (Ari Graynor) happy. To his credit, Hill tries to make this mess work, without success. Co-starring Sam Rockwell in a wretched role as a psychotic drug dealer.
Rating: 1.5 stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for crude and sexual humor, pervasive language, drug material and some violence.