Movie Capsules: Now Showing

Get ready for the feel-good animation of the season in 'Santa vs. the Snowman,' elves included.

Get ready for the feel-good animation of the season in "Santa vs. the Snowman," elves included.

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

OPENING TODAY

Armored (PG-13, 88 min.) Matt Dillon plans a heist.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic, Collierville Towne 16, DeSoto Cinema 16, Cordova Cinema, Paradiso, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16, Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Brothers (R, 110 min.) Tobey Maguire is an Afghanistan vet, Natalie Portman is his wife, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Tobey's bro.

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

Get ready for the feel-good animation of the season in 'Santa vs. the Snowman,' elves included.

Get ready for the feel-good animation of the season in "Santa vs. the Snowman," elves included.

Everybody's Fine (PG-13, 95 min.) See review on Page 16.

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

Gentlemen Broncos (PG-13, 90 min.) "Napoleon Dynamite"/"Nacho Libre" director Jared Hess returns with a comedy with a terrible title about a teen nerd who discovers a famous sci-fi novelist has stolen his story idea.

Studio on the Square.

Transylmania (R, 95 min.) In the tradition of such "biting" 1980s comedies as "Once Bitten" and "Transylvania 6-5000" comes this spoofy response to the current vampire craze.

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

SPECIAL MOVIES

The Alps: The latest IMAX film follows climber John Harlin III in his attempt to climb the Eiger in the Swiss Alps. Runs through Nov. 12, 2010. Tickets $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times. alpsfilm.com

IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 320-6362 for tickets and reservations.

Downside Up (Not rated, 56 min.) The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Urban Art Commission sponsor this screening of a 2002 documentary that chronicles the birth of America's largest showcase for recent art, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 1999 in an abandoned factory and revitalized blighted North Adams, Mass. A discussion about the impact of the arts in Memphis will follow, featuring Center City Commission urban planner Lorie Chapman and Elizabeth Alley of the Urban Art Commission.

2 p.m. Sunday, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Admission: $5, or free for Brooks members. Visit brooksmuseum.org.

Santa vs. the Snowman: Through Dec. 31. Meet Santa, the Snowman and all the elves and reindeer at the North Pole in this story of holiday spirit and friendship. Tickets $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children, under 3 free.

Crew Training IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Tickets and reservations: 320-6362.

Still Bill (Not rated, 77 min.) Directors Alex Vlack and Damani Baker present an intimate portrait of Bill Withers, the soul singer from Slab Fork, W. Va., who turned his back on the music industry after recording such permanent-rotation hits as "Use Me," "Lean on Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine." This special screening is sponsored by On Location: Memphis, a cinema support-and-appreciation organization.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Studio on the Square. Tickets: $8. Visit onlocation.org.

Under the Sea: This new IMAX adventure transports you to some of the most exotic and isolated undersea locations on Earth. Runs through March 5, 2010. Tickets: $8, $7.25 senior citizens, $6.25 children ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. Call for show times.

Crew Training International IMAX Theater at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central. Call 320-6362 for reservations and tickets.

NOW SHOWING

The Blind Side (PG-13, 126 min.) Sarah Palin isn't the only gun-toting, ex-cheerleader, conservative Christian sports mom back in the news. We've also got Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the no-nonsense, git-'r-done Memphian whose rescue of inner-city gentle giant and future football star Michael Oher provides the real-life inspiration for director John Lee Hancock's tearless tearjerker (steel magnolia Leigh Anne leaves the room whenever she's about to cry). Played with quiet, hulking dignity by Quinton Aaron, Michael is presented as a passive, almost infantile figure (his only apparent friend is his adoptive brother, the Tuohy's wise-cracking young son), as well as an attractive ideal for white audiences: a kid from the 'hood who is not only not a threat to the suburbs but actually a protector of white culture, roused to anger only in defense of Leigh Anne's honor while his real mother (native Memphian Adriane Lenox) languishes in Hurt Village with her crack pipe. On the positive tip, the movie -- which functions primarily as a star vehicle for Bullock -- presents a welcome sympathetic portrait of the type of "traditional values" family rarely seen onscreen. With Tim McGraw as Leigh Anne's husband, Grizzlies broadcast analyst Sean Tuohy, and Atlanta as Memphis.

Ridgeway Four, 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.

Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (R, 117 min.) A long-delayed sequel to the 1999 DVD cult hit.

Ridgeway Four, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

A Christmas Carol (PG, 96 min.) The "motion capture" process, in which an actor's performance is translated into digital animation, enables Jim Carrey to "become" all three ghosts as well as Ebenezer Scrooge in director Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Charles Dickens' often-told (too often-told, in fact) holiday tale about the miser who becomes a philanthropist after a night of supernatural (and sometimes bony) finger-wagging. The action-slapstick set pieces are jarringly modern, but most of the film is admirably dark and spooky and faithful to its source; however, even the gimmicky spectacle of 3D isn't enough to justify yet another version of this familiar yarn. The film seems more opportunistic than necessary.

Forest Hill 8, Stage Cinema (in 3-D), Majestic, Collierville Towne 16 (in 3-D), DeSoto Cinema 16 (in 3-D), Cordova Cinema (in 3-D), Pardiso (in 3-D), Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema (in 3-D), CinePlanet 16 (in 3-D), Summer Quartet Drive-In.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (PG, 90 min.) Part Jerry Bruckheimer, part Betty Crocker, this Sony Pictures Animation feature begins as a jokey, slapstick, computer-generated cartoon for kids and expands into a clever and even thrilling disaster-movie spoof that should delight fans of all ages -- it's "Apocalypse Chow," with super-sized extra toppings of everything. Borrowing the title and premise and little else from a 1978 children's picture book by Judi and Ron Barrett, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a field day imagining the blizzards of ice cream, the tornadoes of spaghetti and the Vesuvial fountains of nacho cheese cooked up by a nerdy young inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) who seeds the clouds with foodstuff; "What if we've bitten off more than we can chew?" someone asks, in a foodie update of the famous warning against meddling in things man was not meant to know that was heard in "The Invisible Man" and almost every other vintage science-fiction film. "Cloudy" could be interpreted as a commentary on the potential perils of genetically engineered "Frankenfood," but it doesn't sweat the message. If it lacks the grandeur of "Wall-E," it's also utterly unpretentious; unlike the Pixar films, it's an unheralded surprise.

Stage Cinema.

Couples Retreat (PG-13, 114 min.) Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in embarrassing hijinks.

Stage Cinema.

An Education (PG-13, 95 min.) Set in 1969 London, this impeccably mounted and acted BBC Films production from director Lone Scherfig is the type of sturdy character study and "movie of quality" that habituées of the modern "art" house expect but too infrequently experience. Adapted by popular British novelist Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber's coming-of-age memoir, the movie chronicles the initially flattering and exciting but inevitably troubling courtship/seduction of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a pretty and extremely bright but naive 16-year-old virgin, by David (Peter Sarsgaard), a seemingly sophisticated charmer almost twice her age who seems to offer a shortcut to the life of existential novels, foreign films and jazz nightclubs that Jenny longs to inhabit. The stay-in-school message is surprisingly conventional, but its delivery is entirely pleasurable.

Ridgeway Four.

Fame (PG, 107 min.) An update of the 1980 musical about a New York performing arts high school.

Bartlett 10.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG, 87 min.) "How can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in his teeth?" That profound question of identity and purpose, asked by a raffish red predator with the voice of George Clooney, haunts this work of stop-motion wit and wonder from director Wes Anderson, a celebration of "wild animals with true natures and beautiful talents" (artists and children?) adapted from a 1970 book by Roald Dahl. The handcrafted, old-fashioned, seemingly magical process of stop-motion animation is perfectly suited to the eccentric Anderson, who has delivered his most enjoyable film since "The Royal Tenenbaums" in 2001: a so-called children's movie in which the increasingly destructive battle between well-financed farmers and clever woodland creatures becomes a commentary on the cost of war in our real world.

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

The Fourth Kind (PG-13, 98) Beyond the third kind: Milla Jovovich has a spooky alien encounter.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Majestic.

G-Force (PG, 88 min.) Have you ever wondered what a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced talking-animal movie would be like? Me, neither. But here's the answer: The Disney/Bruckheimer collaboration "G-Force," in which the car chases, explosions, transforming robot battles and "Mission: Impossible" suspense sequences are as intense as in an "adult" movie, except instead of Tom Cruise and Will Smith, the heroes are members of an elite squad of commando guinea pigs and insects, plus one star-nosed mole (nerdily voiced by Nicolas Cage). I would have been happier if the "black" guinea pig (Tracy Morgan) didn't get all the stereotypical comic-relief lines ("Pimp my ride," "That was off the huh-zook"), and if the female guinea pig (Penélope Cruz) wasn't obsessed with romantic mind games; even so, longtime special effects supervisor-turned-debuting director Hoyt Yeatman has delivered a fairly amusing spoof of James Bond/comic-book superteam conventions. With Memphis' Chris Ellis as "the director of the FBI."

Bartlett 10.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PG-13, 120 min.) The cartoon inspired by the Hasbro "action figures" inspired this chuckleheaded but coherently staged action movie that overcomes the burden of its reported $170 million budget to be surprisingly fun. With its massive sets, lack of "Transformers"-style bathroom humor, comic-book heroes ("Heavy Duty" and "Snake-Eyes," to name two), male and female eye candy (when Rachel Nichols suits up for action, you notice that large breasts have been premolded onto her body armor), ninja duels and scenery-chewing villains (the juiciest is a mad doctor with a horribly burned face), the film harks back to the pulpy spirit of "Doc Savage" adventures and Roger Moore-era James Bond movies. The result is director Stephen Sommers' first likable film since "The Mummy" in 1999.

Bartlett 10.

The Hangover (R, 100 min.) Or: Dude, Where's My Bachelor? Sometimes tasteless, frequently hilarious, this "Superbad" with grown-ups (the dentist played by Ed Helms even resembles an adult "McLovin") chronicles several hours of irresponsible, occasionally criminal male conduct, as three best buds (Helms, Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha) and a tagalong demented future brother-in-law (Zach Galifianakis) road-trip to Vegas for an overnight bachelor party. The talented cast and the mystery structure of the plot keep the film fresh and funny; but as the title suggests, you might regret your good time the next day, as you contemplate the at best ambivalent, at worst hostile relationship to women that motivates the narrative: This is another film in which men's infantile behavior is celebrated as a necessary, sanity-preserving reaction against what's presented as the choking if essential civilizing influence of women.

Bartlett 10.

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (PG-13, 113 min. ) Taraji P. Henson meets Madea.

Bartlett 10.

Inglourious Basterds (R, 151 min.) The cameo by Rod Taylor and the references to Yvette Mimieux (the stars of 1960's "The Time Machine") are the tip-offs: This is Quentin Tarantino's celebration of cinema as time machine -- a device that not only can erase the years (where can you see the young and beautiful Marilyn Monroe walk and talk but in a movie?) but, on an imaginative level, can change the past, as in this World War II fantasy in which the tragic flammability of old nitrate film stock provides the spark for what is presented as a righteous, Nazi-exterminating holocaust. (Says supreme cinephile Tarantino: If our film heritage must perish in flames, as has happened so often through the decades, at least yet the fires serve a purpose -- let the movies mean as much to the world as they have meant to me.) Talky and gory, outrageous and exhilarating, and awash in movie references, this "kosher porn" revenge film (to use co-star Eli Roth's term) stars Brad Pitt as the leader of the bloodthirsty title commandos, who adopt "Apache" tactics to not just kill but terrorize Nazis: They use monstrous violence against a Reich that rules with monstrous violence. Is this approach -- by Tarantino and by the "Basterds" -- defensible or merely grotesque? Perhaps anticipating the reaction of some critics, Tarantino has himself (or at least a dummy cast in his likeness) scalped in an early scene; among those with more memorable roles are Diane Kruger as a glamorous German actress; Christoph Waltz as an urbane SS officer; and Mélanie Laurent as a cinema owner with a secret.

Bartlett 10, Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema.

The Invention of Lying (PG-13, 105 min.) Ricky Gervais is the only man who knows how to fib in a world of truth-tellers.

Bartlett 10.

Julie & Julia (PG-13, 124 min.) An old-fashioned star vehicle of the highest order, director Nora Ephron's fact-based saga about the dubious drama of (a) cooking and (b) blogging would be flat as a soufflé without egg whites if not for the charm of its lead actresses, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, who are in almost every scene, although never together. Streep is the warbly, big-boned Julia Child in the 1950s, before she became TV's "French Chef"; Adams is Julie Powell in 2002, who earned an online following by chronicling her attempt to cook all 524 recipes in Child's famous cookbook in 365 days. Jumping back and forth in time to follow the progress of its culinary heroines as they "reinvent" themselves through food, the movie lacks conventional drama and conflict -- and is none the worse for those absences. In fact, Ephron stumbles only when she tries to make her recipe nutritious as well as delicious; story elements involving McCarthyism and marital stress are as unnecessary as the promise of vitamins on a box of Frosted Flakes.

Bartlett 10.

Law Abiding Citizen (R, 122 min.) Its title heavy with irony if light one hyphen, director F. Gary Gray's implausible and morally confused revenge thriller casts Gerard Butler as a grieving yet bloodthirsty antihero who might have been produced by gene-splicing the Charles Bronson of "Death Wish" with Jigsaw, the mastermind of the "Saw" franchise: His first victim, the murderer of his wife and child, is injected with paralyzing serum "from the liver of a Caribbean puffer fish," then dissected with a scalpel (for the eyelids), a circular saw (for the extremities) and an X-Acto knife (for the -- well, never mind). "It's gonna be biblical," promises the self-righteous Butler about his vengeance, although moviegoers familiar with the Good Book may wonder how they missed the chapter in which the Philistines were smote with a booby-trapped cell phone. Jamie Foxx co-stars as a career-first assistant district attorney who represents the flawed justice system that the film half-heartedly defends.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Collierville Towne 16, Hollywood 20 Cinema, Studio on the Square.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (R, 93 min.) George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey are soldiers training to be psychic "Jedi warriors" for the U.S. military in this fact-based comedy from director Grant Heslov (writer of "Good Night, and Good Luck"), based on the book by Jon Ronson. Ewan McGregor (a former Jedi himself!) is Ronson's stand-in, a journalist who discovers proof of the secret government program. Not the acerbic, Strangelovian satire one might expect but a pleasant, good-natured film that adopts the happy hippy vibe of Bridges' far-out Vietnam veteran, who cheerfully douses an Army base with LSD.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

Ninja Assassin (R, 99 min.) Although the ultrabloody nonstop mayhem is too frequently staged and edited with the chaos of a Jason Bourne action sequence rather than the violence-as- performance art elegance of a Shaw Brothers kung-fu epic, this is an exuberantly absurd 'B' movie that never tries to be to be anything but a slick update of the cheap martial arts thrillers distributed by Cannon Films in the 1980s. (To make this connection explicit, Sho Kosugi, star of 1981's "Enter the Ninja" and its followups, appears as a fighting-clan master.) The South Korean pop singer who calls himself Rain is the title hit man, whose depredations lead to an action free-for-all that would have been ballyhooed during the good old days of exploitation advertising as "Ninjas vs. Commandos!" The director is James McTeigue, whose "V for Vendetta" promised a more purposeful if not more entertaining followup.

Forest Hill 8, Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, 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.

Old Dogs (PG, 88 min.) If you thought "Wild Hogs" was a riot, and apparently many of you did (the 2007 movie earned $170 million at the U.S. box office), you may be amused as well by the golf balls to the crotch, the karaoke jokes, the comical use of the "Chariots of Fire" theme, the bachelors-try-to-cook-food humor and the other comedy innovations found in this second slice of middle-age crazy from director Walt Becker and star John Travolta, joined this time by Robin Williams, who is manic enough by himself to make up for the loss of Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy. Travolta and Williams are aging bachelors and sports marketing business partners thrown for a loop when an old one-night-stand (Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life wife) shows up with Williams' previously unknown children, young twins played by Ella Bleu Travolta (yes, John and Kelly's daughter) and Conner Rayburn. The results are utterly predictable and only fitfully amusing.

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.

Paranormal Activity (R, 86 min.) With the help of the marketing geniuses at Paramount, director Oren Peli's spooky, creepy, genuinely dread-inducing film -- shot in one location in a week for about $15,000 -- has become an Internet and box-office phenomenon, and the most fan-hyped horror hit since the similarly camcorded and micro-budgeted "The Blair Witch Project." As in "Blair Witch," the movie is presented as a "found" work of art: a documentary constructed from the artless videos recorded by a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who believe that a ghost may be haunting their split-level San Diego starter home, an Everyplace of 21st-century generic drabness, with sectional sofa, black leather couch, big-screen TV and -- maybe -- one demon. An exercise in anticipation and anxiety with few visual shocks (the scariest moments involve creaking doors and literal bumps in the night), the movie requires the collaboration of the viewer, and an investment of imagination; it's a campfire ghost story, with the light flickering from the screen instead of from a pile of burning kindling. "Maybe we shouldn't have the camera?" Katie asks, raising the interesting if undeveloped notion that the plugged-in generation's endless self-regard and intentional surrender of privacy invites discontent, disruption and even disaster.

Palace Cinema, Hollywood 20 Cinema, CinePlanet 16.

Pirate Radio (R, 116 min.) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh (as a government prude) head an ensemble cast in this would-be Ealing Studios-style comedy from writer-director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") about a rogue radio station operating out of a party ship in the North Sea that brings nonstop rock and roll to UK teenagers in 1966, when pop music was played on the BBC for only a few hours per week. Tom Sturridge is the teen newcomer whose coming-of-age experiences aboard the boat keep the story on course, even when we'd rather let it drift into the Sargasso Sea of tomfoolery. The movie overstates the Establishment-vs.-youth culture impact of Britain's real-life offshore radio stations, but you may not mind as long as Curtis cranks up the hits by the Kinks, the Who and the Troggs.

Ridgeway Four.

Planet 51 (PG, 97 min.) This is a trite compendium of everything that's wrong with non-Pixar computer-animated feature films. The voice actors (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jessica Biel) mostly were chosen for their name recognition, not their mellifluousness; the "jokes" -- presented in the relentless, absurdist fashion of a "Family Guy" episode -- seem pulled from a checklist of stale pop-culture references (the Macarena, Facebook, "2001," etc.); the soundtrack is burdened with blah covers of pop/rock songs; and so on. The message of tolerance is welcome but obvious: People aren't "alien" just because they look strange, as an American astronaut discovers when he lands on an Earth-like planet of green outer-space beings. The cartooning is nice and fluid, but otherwise this is a wretched feature debut for Spain's Ilion Animation Studios.

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.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (R, 110 min.) Set in Harlem in 1987, director Lee Daniels' often grotesque and harrowing story of ghetto perseverance has been both wildly overpraised and unfairly maligned since its debut this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it earned the top awards in drama, the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. Thrust into the mainstream by the endorsements of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who signed on as "executive producers" after the project was finished, the film creates remarkable sympathy and understanding for its title character (played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), who is certainly one of the more unique heroines in movie history: an obese, basically illiterate, welfare-dependent, sexually abused 16-year-old junior high student with a Down syndrome daughter and another child on the way; both pregnancies were caused by her father. At times, the movie feels like a particularly intense "ABC After School Special," as an angelic teacher with the unlikely name of Blu Rain (Paula Patton) helps Precious free herself from her monstrous mother (sure-bet Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Mo'Nique) and pull herself from desperation to the brink of self-sufficiency. Fortunately, Sapphire's story and the film's performances are powerful enough to compensate for Daniels' occasional tastelessness and his unnecessary camera tricks.

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

The Stepfather (PG-13, 102 min.) Dylan Walsh does his best, but trying to top Terry O'Quinn's witty performance in the original 1987 cult-classic version of "The Stepfather" would be like trying to replace Anthony Perkins in a "Psycho" sequel. The premise -- a kid suspects mom's new boyfriend is a family-slaying serial killer -- is sure-fire, but director Nelson McCormick substitutes an Oedipus complex for sexual menace by swapping the teenage daughter heroine of the earlier film for a hunky military school bad boy (Penn Badgley), then compounds the mistake with a bad pop/rock soundtrack, a silly action climax and the last resort of desperate horror filmmakers, a fake cat scare.

Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, CinePlanet 16.

2012 (PG-13, 158 min.) The bad news: The world as we know it has come to an end. The good news: Mommy's new boyfriend was squashed in the gears of a giant high-tech ark, so Daddy's back in the picture! These events are presented as being of more or less equal significance in the latest preposterous, overlong exercise in gleeful world-smashing spectacle from post-Irwin Allen master of disaster Roland Emmerich. Inspired by pseudoscientific claims that the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, the film is a sort of disaster-genre greatest hits collection, gathering tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes and other special-effects traumas into that paradoxical form of entertainment that allows viewers to escape their real-life woes by imagining something far, far worse. This is the type of movie in which a huge ark, loaded with humanity "to ensure the continuity of the species," doesn't just crash into random noncelebrity obstructions as it floats on a newly formed ocean but into Air Force One and Mount Everest, in immediate succession. With John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson as a backwoods radio prophet and Danny Glover as the president of the United States.

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.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (PG-13, 130 min.) Kristen Stewart's Bella Swan (her name is still the best thing in the series) is torn between her love for self-exiled prettyboy bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and her attraction to Native American werehunk Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) in this wheelspinning sequel, in which the virginal Bella's tedious moping (she longs to be "bitten," get it?) takes center stage until a poorly delivered telephone message (what a lame dramatic device!) implausibly sends everyone to Italy to confront the vampire lawmaking coven, the Vulturi. The most amusing moments are those in which director Chris Weitz indulges the desires of author Stephenie Meyer's primarily female fan base, as when he has Jacob gratuitously remove his shirt to mop Bella's blood or depicts Edward crossing a street in smoldering slow-motion.

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.

Whiteout (R, 101 min.) The misleading trailer suggests "Nancy Drew vs. the Thing," but this graphic-novel adaptation is more "CSI: Antarctica" -- a straight if occasionally gruesome murder mystery, boosted by the novelty of its subzero South Pole setting. At least director Dominic Sena has sense enough to include an early scene of Kate Beckinsale in her underwear before smothering his star -- cast as a tough U.S. marshal! -- in parkas and snow pants.

Bartlett 10.

Zombieland (R, 88 min.) According to movie tradition, a bullet to the brain can drop a zombie; the typically less lethal presence of Bill Murray, however, is all that is needed to stop "Zombieland" dead in its tracks. Director Ruben Fleischer's slapstick splatterfest begins on an up if bloody note, as brainy virgin Jesse Eisenberg (basically repeating his role from "Adventureland"), gunslinger Woody Harrelson and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin unite to bust undead caps as they travel through a postplague America overrun by the ravenous living dead. But when Murray shows up as himself halfway through the film, for an interlude that must have seemed like cheeky fun on the page but is smug and winky on the screen, consistency is tossed aside for the sake of an elaborate in-joke with a cruel punchline that exposes the film as a hollow exercise in cheap laughs and sensationalism.

Bartlett 10.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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