In theaters now

Capsule descriptions and starred mini-reviews by The Commercial Appeal movie writer John Beifuss.

OPENING TODAY

Dark Streets (R, 83 min.) See review on Page 21.

Ridgeway Four.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (PG-13, 104 min.) See review on Page 23.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Studio on the Square, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Delgo (PG, 95 min.) A computer-animated fantasy film.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Milk (R, 128 min.) See review on Page 18.

Studio on the Square.

Nothing Like the Holidays (PG-13, 99 min.) A Puerto Rican Christmas.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

SPECIAL MOVIES

Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater (PG-13, 135 min.) The conservative radio and TV commentator hosts a dramatized reading of his best-selling novel, transmitted live via satellite from Charleston, S.C.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Paradiso. Tickets: $20. Visit malco.com.

It's a Wonderful Life (Not rated, 130 min.) Frank Capra's inspiring but tough 1946 holiday masterpiece is screened at the Collierville library to give patrons a break from "holiday shopping stress."

1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Halle Room, the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch Jr. Library, 501 Poplar View Parkway, Collierville. Admission: Free. Call 457-2601.

The Lion in Winter (PG, 134 min.) Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine opposite Peter O'Toole as King Henry II in this 1968 drama of 12th-century Christmastime scheming.

7 p.m. Thursday, Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Free with paid museum admission. Visit dixon.org or call 761-5250.

Santa vs. The Snowman: An animated feature about a snowman with issues who becomes Santa's friend; begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 31. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 763-IMAX for general information or 320-6362 for reservations.

Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure: Narrated by Liev Schreiber, National Geographic's film takes audiences on a journey into the relatively unexplored world of the "other dinosaurs," those reptiles that lived beneath the water. The film plays through March 6. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 763-IMAX for general information or 320-6362 for reservations.

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs: Follow researchers and explorers as they piece together the archeological and genetic clues of Egyptian mummies. The IMAX film plays through Nov. 13, 2009. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 763-IMAX for general information or 320-6362 for reservations.

NOW SHOWING

Australia (PG-13, 163 min.) From musical to marsupial; or, "Gone with the 'Roo." Director Baz Luhrmann follows "Moulin Rouge!" with a continent-sized salute to his homeland as a place "over the rainbow" where "dreams really do come true" (the Judy Garland song about that other Oz is a key motif). In a merger of "The African Queen" with "Red River," Hugh Jackman, known only as "the Drover," plays a rough man's man who helps widowed Lady Sarah (Nicole Kidman) drive her cattle to market just in time for the start of World War II. Kitsch and cliché drive the story, but the faces and locations are stunning -- when the movie's over, you feel like you've been somewhere and seen something.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, Studio on the Square, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (PG, 97 min.) If celebrity purebred Tinkerbell sees this live-action Disney release, there could be a putsch in Paris Hilton's purse: This isn't the heel-biting reboot of "Clueless" one might expect but an almost epic canine consciousness-raising comedy-adventure in which a pampered pooch sheds her designer doggiewear and recovers her ethnic identity -- and her ancient bark -- after a dognapping plot leaves her stranded in Mexico. Drew Barrymore provides the voice of Chloe, the title dog, who learns Chihuahuas are "tiny but mighty" -- a theme kids in the audience will embrace.

Stage Cinema 12.

Bolt (PG, 96 min.) "Lassie Come Home" for kids raised on superhero movies and "Hannah Montana," this charming and thoroughly family-friendly computer-animated tale of canine/human loyalty and companionship marks an auspicious first feature for new Walt Disney Animation Studios chief John Lasseter. Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams, the film cannily taps into several irresistible-to-kids fantasies. Bolt himself (voiced by John Travolta) is an American White Shepherd puppy who stars as a superdog on a popular TV series; this double identity allows young viewers to imagine the fun of owning a cuter version of Krypto while it also affirms Charles M. Schulz's assertion that happiness is a warm puppy. Similarly, Bolt's "person," Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus), is a TV star whose obligations are intended to reassure young moviegoers that "normal" life is preferable to celebrity. Bolt himself is lovable, but he essentially plays straight mutt to his beautifully voiced, scene-stealing animal companions: Mittens (Susie Essman), a sardonic alley cat, and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster who travels in a clear plastic exercise bubble.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema, Paradiso (in 3-D), Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D).

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (PG-13) Director Mark Herman's impeccably produced adaptation of a 2006 novel by John Boyne chronicles the inevitably doomed friendship that develops -- across an electrified, barbed-wire fence -- between a lonely 8-year-old boy, Bruno (Asa Butterfield), and a Jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) imprisoned in the concentration camp run by Bruno's SS commandant father (David Thewlis). An earnest, faux-naive parable of brotherhood, the movie functions at times as its own grotesque self-parody; Bruno thinks the camp inmates are "farmers," and he asks his starving pal questions like: "What do you burn in the chimneys?" The inevitable ending is traumatizing.

Ridgeway Four.

Cadillac Records (R, 109 min.) The rise of Chicago's famous Chess Records label is chronicled, with Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Beyoncé as Etta James, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon and Adrien Brody as owner Leonard Chess.

Majestic, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Changeling (R, 142 min.) A 1920s Los Angeles true-crime story worthy of James Ellroy is staged with somber exactitude by director Clint Eastwood, with a muted Angelina Jolie -- iconically presented as a red-lipped saint in a cloche hat -- in a role that Joan Crawford would have swallowed whole: Jolie plays a mother who transforms into a protofeminist symbol of righteousness after being branded a typically "emotional" woman by the police, the psychiatric establishment and even the mayor, who all conspire to cover-up the disappearance of her young son.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Dark Knight (PG-13, 152 min.) A lavishly produced drama about hard moral choices, "The Dark Knight" is "The Godfather" of superhero movies -- or, at least, "The Departed." Director Christopher Nolan's ambitious, superior follow-up to "Batman Begins" makes a grim joke out of the idea that it was inspired by a series of so-called "comic" books. The only laughter in the film is the halting, psychopathic chuckle of the Joker, and our pleasurable reaction to his histrionic, terroristic glee is tempered by our awareness that we are watching the last complete screen performance of the late Heath Ledger, who spends at least one moment in the film in a body bag. Occupied by gangsters, thugs, cops, politicians, lawyers and two opposed, outrageous obsessives ("You complete me," the Joker tells Batman, in a parody of romantic confession), this is an epic crime film that has more in common with the gangster movies, noirs and gritty police thrillers of decades past than with the typical DC or Marvel adaptation of today.

Bartlett 10.

The Duchess (PG-13, 110 min.) Keira Knightley is Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire and great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana, in this tale of Whigs and especially wigs set in the stately manor homes of 18th-century England. Viewers are expected to note the parallels between the Duchess and the late Diana: Like her future niece, the frequently miserable Georgiana apparently was a renowned beauty, an "empress of fashion" and an independent thinker trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience to an ultra-important and ultra-rich stick in the mud (Ralph Fiennes) . Unfortunately, the tightly corseted title noblewoman in director Saul Gibb's story is less interesting than the tightly wound aristocrats who bedevil her.

Bartlett 10.

Eagle Eye (PG-13, 118 min.) Programming the Star-Spangled Banner to be a trigger for violent "regime change" in the U.S. is a diabolically intriguing notion. Unfortunately, by the time "Eagle Eye" and Francis Scott Key's anthem reach their climax, viewers will have lost interest in this paranoid, Steven Spielberg-produced action-drama, which smothers its promising Big Brother-Is-Watching-You premise beneath blankets of narrative implausibility and incoherent shaky-camera action.

Stage Cinema.

The Express (PG, 130 min.) Rob Brown is Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.

Bartlett 10.

The Family That Preys (PG-13, 111 min.) The fourth feature from writer-director Tyler Perry.

Bartlett 10.

Fireproof (PG, 122 min.) Kirk Cameron is a troubled firefighter in this Christian-themed film.

Collierville Towne 16, Cordova Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Four Christmases (PG-13, 82 min.) To earn a more helpful R rating, director Seth Gordon (graduating to the big leagues on the strength of his Donkey Kong documentary, "The King of Kong") should have gone ahead and dropped a couple of F-bombs alongside the references to "street whores," nipples, senior sex and vomit, because -- contrary to the promise of a print ad campaign that depicts adorable Reese Witherspoon and sturdy Vince Vaughn festively wrapped in red ribbon -- this is no holiday gift for the family. (The film even tells any young children in the audience that no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.) Vaughn and Witherspoon play an unmarried, childless couple forced to visit all four of their divorced parents' homes on a single Christmas day.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, Studio on the Square, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Happy-Go-Lucky (R, 118 min.) Sally Hawkins stars as the apparent embodiment of the title adjective: a 30-year-old contemporary North London schoolteacher, nicknamed "Poppy," who responds to every situation with unfailing, chattering cheerfulness ("It makes me laugh," she says, bizarrely, about a back pain). Some viewers find Poppy -- a daffy and perhaps neurotic tsunami of personality, encouragement and goodwill -- annoying rather than charming, and they wonder how writer-director Mike Leigh could follow "Vera Drake" -- a dark tale about a postwar abortionist -- with what seems to be an episodic lark. But Poppy is not a rebuttal to Leigh's previous heroine; she's her soulmate. Both are open, fearless, unselfish and compassionate women, trying to craft the best life possible out of the potentially dreary material of existence.

Ridgeway Four.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley (PG-13, 86 min.) A new kid in school (Haley Bennett) must cope with the supernatural as well as with high-school cliques and a crush-worthy hunk (Chace Crawford, of "Gossip Girl").

Majestic, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G, 112 min.) Zac Efron and his fellow Wildcats stage a musical.

Stage Cinema 12, Collierville Towne 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Lakeview Terrace (PG-13, 111 min.) Former "art film" specialist Neil LaBute apparently wanted to get back on the commercial horse after his disastrous remake of "The Wicker Man"; the result is this efficient, button-pushing thriller in which disturbed cop Samuel L. Jackson rolls out the unwelcome wagon for his new neighbors, a mixed-marriage couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. A polished, self-conscious heir to such unapologetic grindhouse race-baiters as 1977's "Fight for Your Life," the movie asks viewers to examine their own attitudes about racial issues while they're also steeling their nerves for the next shock.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

The Longshots (PG, 86 min.) Keke Palmer is an 11-year-old girl on a peewee football team.

Bartlett 10.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG, 89 min.) When the New York zoo refugees crash-land in the African veldt, Zuba the lion (voiced by Bernie Mac) is disappointed to discover that his long-lost son, Alex (Ben Stiller), has grown to be a dancer, not a fighter. (In case you didn't understand this is a story about coming out, Alex spends much of the film in a Carmen Miranda tutti-frutti hat.) Like its 2005 predecessor, also directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, this is among the Looney Tuniest of recent computer-animated features -- the anatomy-distorting slapstick, wacky wordplay and surreal throwaway gags are nonstop. The wonderfully stylized returning characters include Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and a scene-stealing platoon of penguins.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Max Payne (PG-13, 100 min.) Mark Wahlberg is a DEA agent in this video game adaptation.

Bartlett 10.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (PG-13, 112 min.) Like its predecessors (1999's "The Mummy" and 2001's "The Mummy Returns"), this noisy Brendan Fraser fantasy adventure owes more to Indiana Jones than to Boris Karloff, while failing to be a credit to either inspiration. Rob Cohen ("Dragonheart," "The Fast and the Furious") replaces Stephen Sommers as director and Maria Bello replaces Rachel Weisz as Fraser's wife, but the crazy-quilt comic-book formula remains the same, as explorer Rick O'Connell (Fraser) -- now saddled with a grown son who appears to be as old as he is (in fact, actor Luke Ford is barely 12 years younger than Fraser) -- finds himself battling a 2,000-year-old shape-shifting emperor (Jet Li) and his army of living terracotta warriors. Kids should love it.

Bartlett 10.

Nights in Rodanthe (PG-13, 97 min.) Richard Gere and Diane Lane in a romantic drama.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Nobel Son (R, 110 min.) Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the "Harry Potter" films) is a philandering Nobel Prize-winning chemist beset by kidnapers.

Ridgeway Four.

Punisher: War Zone (R, 107 min.) "Oh God, now I've got brains splattered all over me." Those are the final words heard in this movie, and the cop who utters them likely will be the only person on record to accuse this ultraviolent sequel of an excess of brains. "War Zone" replaces Thomas Jane -- the star of 2004's "The Punisher" -- with the even lesser-known Ray Stevenson and the awful first film's delusions of quality with a tasteless, no-holds-barred blood mania that has become a hallmark of distributor Lionsgate, the modern exploitation company also responsible for "Saw." This time, the Punisher, a "crazed vigilante," battles a maniac gangster named Jigsaw (Dominic West), whose reconstructed face (which includes "strategically placed alloy plates... and just a little bit of horsehide") has more stitches than the Quilts of Gee's Bend. Directed with verve by former World Karate and Kickboxing champion Lexi Alexander, this is a real throwback to the grindhouse, with a body count to rival the Black Plague and a shameless embrace of such cliché lines as "See you in hell."

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Quantum of Solace (PG-13, 107 min.) Opening immediately after the events of 2006's OO7 reboot, "Casino Royale," director Marc Franklin's film reintroduces James Bond (Daniel Craig) as "a cold bastard," driven by "inconsolable rage" as he tries to destroy the multi-national crime cartel that caused the death of his girlfriend. The action and globetrotting are almost nonstop; an early rooftop chase is influenced more by the legacy of Bourne than Bond, but a later murder offers a witty if gruesome nod to "Goldfinger" -- and a clever visual metaphor for the idea that dependence on oil could mean the death of the free world. The villain (Mathieu Almaric) is a faux environmentalist seeking to exploit the planet's most precious resources.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Quarantine (R, 90 min.) The latest faux-documentary, "trembly-cam" (thanks, New York Times) horror movie chronicles the increasingly desperate fight for survival of a TV reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) trapped in an apartment building where the rabies-infected residents are turning into homicidal maniacs.

Bartlett 10.

Role Models (R, 99 min.) Reprobates Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd mentor kids.

Stage Cinema, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Saw V (R, 95 min.) Despite numerous flashbacks that rewrite the elaborate series backstory, this sequel from debuting director David Hackl is a cut above its distasteful and pretentious predecessors. The storytelling is less muddled than usual, and the graphic set-pieces -- including an opening inspired by Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" -- deliver the gory goods.

Majestic, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

The Secret Life of Bees (PG-13, 110 min.) Director Gina Prince-Bythewood's 1960s tale of forgiveness, sisterly solidarity and a child's need for love is set in the South. Boy, is it ever: When widower Paul Bettany wants to punish his 14-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning), he makes her kneel on a pile of hard, uncooked grits, poured straight from the box. No wonder the girl and her housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) seek refuge in the almost magically life-affirming household of three cultured and eccentric sisters, played by Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys and symbolic queen bee Queen Latifah, who dispenses honeyed words along with the apian nectar produced in her hives.

Bartlett 10, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Soul Men (R, 103 min.) A dream cast and a wonderful premise are squandered in this conflicted road comedy, a flawed salute to the legacy of Stax that now, sadly, also represents a tribute to the memory of two of the film's stars, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes). Mac and Samuel L. Jackson are perfectly cast as a pair of forgotten old soul singers who head to Harlem for a memorial concert honoring their late frontman (John Legend); the road-trip format enables director Malcolm D. Lee to pull several classic songs from the Memphis soul catalog and to shoot some scenes on Beale Street and at The Peabody. Unfortunately, the inspirational, PG-13-style themes about reconciliation and forgiveness don't jibe with the film's crude sexual humor, proctology jokes and nonstop profanity; the misbegotten result is a "family film" that's unfit for kids.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

Transporter 3 (PG-13, 100 min.) Jason Statham returns as super-driver Frank Martin, who this time is blackmailed into transporting a kidnapped and freckle-spattered Ukrainian redhead (Natalya Rudakova) across Europe. ("I want to feel sex one more time before I die," she tells Frank, in her broken English.) The plot makes absolutely no sense, and the stunts are so absurd -- Frank outraces a car on a bicycle; Frank drives off a bridge onto a speeding train; Frank floats his auto from the bottom of a lake by inflating a pair of garment bags with air from the car's tires -- that the only appropriate reaction is boredom.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Twilight (PG-13, 122 min.) A possible boon to proponents of high-school abstinence pledges as well as a canny expression of the sexual fears and yearnings of the post-Miley Cyrus, pre-sorority rush demographic, this adaptation of the first of Stephenie Meyer's phenomenally popular novels documents the love of the new girl in school, pretty Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, for the even more beautiful Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a 17-going-on-forever "vegetarian" vampire (he drinks only animal blood) with pale skin, red lips, sculpted features and moussed hair. Because Edward cannot allow his lust to give way to bloodlust, he is the embodiment of heroic chastity, sweet anticipation and hopeless sexual tension; when he gets his first close look at Bella in biology class, he covers his mouth with his hand -- the vampire equivalent of an excited adolescent hiding his lap with a schoolbook in a "Porky's" film. The movie is not too exciting, but it's effective, thanks in part to its lush Oregon forest locations and the empathy of director Catherine Hardwicke, a specialist in conflicted rebel youth.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema 12, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Raleigh Springs Cinema, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

WALL-E (G, 103 min.) WALL-E the robot may be battered and obsolete, but "WALL-E" the movie is a marvel of state-of-the-art technology -- perhaps the most brilliantly designed, beautifully executed and technically accomplished feature yet from Pixar Animation Studios.

Bartlett 10.

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