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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Kevin Bacon, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz and Matt Craven
This prequel is an X-Men origin story set during the ’60s when young mutants, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and concentration-camp survivor Erik (Fassbender), discover and develop their powers, along with their rivalry. The Cuban Missile crisis allows mutants to work secretly with the US government in a high-stakes game of chicken between both humans and those gifted with special powers. Kevin Bacon appears as an evil Nazi doctor, spending his postwar career prowling the seas in a high-tech submarine. Banding together with mutant companions that the film takes pains to introduce, Xavier founds a group destined to become the X-Men. Bolstered by lively action and excellent character development, the flagging franchise gets a much-needed shot in the arm.
(3 stars out of 4) 

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LITTLE FOCKERS
Directed by Paul Weitz 
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, 
Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, 
Teri Polo, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel, 
Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand
Resorting to crude humor at every turn, the latest De Niro-Stiller match-up tops the list of this year’s least watchable films. Alba appears as an erectile dysfunction drug rep, unaccountably attracted to male nurse Greg Focker (Stiller), whom she attempts to hire. For the fifth birthday of their twins, Greg and Pam Focker (Polo), along with the couple’s parents (De Niro, Danner, Hoffman and Streisand), gather at the estate of Greg’s wealthy friend Kevin (Wilson). There’s little plot beyond Kevin’s attempts to romance Pam away from Greg, and Jack Byrnes’ (De Niro) efforts to out-mind game his son-in-law. Bomb 

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS 
Directed by Rob Letterman 
Starring Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Chris O’Dowd and Billy Connolly
Jack Black literally becomes big man on campus when his character, Lemuel Gulliver, travels to the Bermuda Triangle and is swept onto the isle of Liliput. Gulliver finds himself in an alternate reality populated by mouse-sized people after he accepts a story assignment from the woman he pines for, comely travel editor Darcy Silverman (Peet). Wanting to impress Liliput’s King Theodore (Connolly), Gulliver inflates his importance back home. Next, the interloper attempts to help a commoner (Segel) win Princess Mary’s (Blunt) heart. Before long, Gulliver’s lies and schemes spin out of control, placing Liliput’s future in peril. A handsome production despite an oft-shirtless Black, the film’s humor is frequently cloying and occasionally distasteful in this nearly unrecognizable adaptation of the Jonathan Swift classic. (2 stars out of 4)

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SAW 3D
Directed by Kevin Greutert and starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Sean Patrick Flanery, Naomi Snieckus and Gina Holden
In the seventh installment set to be “Saw’s” final bow, Jigsaw’s (Bell) survivors come together to examine the differences to their lives having lived through his torturous contraptions. The survivors can’t know that once again Jigsaw will reach beyond the grave to place them in traps more diabolical than ever. Dismayed over falling ticket sales to “SAW VI,” Lionsgate and franchise producers James Wan and Leigh Whannell nearly doubled the budget to film No. 7 in 3D, a strategy intended to up the shock factor. The MPAA agreed, assigning the film an NC-17 rating. Six cuts later, “Saw 3D” got the R-rating needed so younger teens can attend if accompanied by a friend 18 
or older. (2.5 stars out of 4)

PUNCHING THE CLOWN
Directed by Gregori Viens and starring Henry Phillips, Ellen Ratner, Audrey Siegel and Conrad Angel Corral
In a comedy loosely based upon his own experiences, Henry Phillips plays Henry, a singer/songwriter living out of his car and performing satirical songs wherever and whenever he can. Henry hits a new low after performing an obscene song at a Christian fundraiser. With nothing to lose, he heads for Hollywood, where Henry is well-received by audiences, then screws up his record deal by asking a producer where he buys his bagels. Chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine, Henry’s ride to near fame is hilarious and closer to the truth than it ought to be. (3 stars out of 4)

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CLASH OF THE TITANS
Directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Alexa Davalos, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson
In an epic loosely incorporating Greek mythology, Perseus (Worthington), who has grown up in the human world, learns he is the offspring of a god. Most disturbing is the revelation that only Perseus can prevent Hades (Fiennes) from seizing Zeus’ (Neeson) throne and taking control of mankind’s fate. Aided by a small fighting force, Perseus travels to a far off island where he confronts a cruel king (Flemyng), a marauding giant scorpion, half-snake Medusa and the Kraken. Added in postproduction, the 3D effects are too little too late, although the adventure, winningly stylish in 2D, provides ample enjoyment for the whole clan. 
(3 stars out of 5)
WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO
Directed by Tyler Perry and starring Janet Jackson, Michael Jai White, Tasha Smith, Tyler Perry and Louis Gossett
In the sequel to Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married,” the same four couples reunite for their annual vacation — a retreat intended to improve their marriages while strengthening their bonds of friendship. One recently remarried woman is stunned by the arrival of her ex and his determination to win her back. As usual for a Tyler Perry drama, each character’s flaws are exposed in turn as the couples struggle with trust issues, career changes and familial responsibilities. 
(2 stars out of 5)
THE LAST SONG
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson and starring Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Coleman, Liam Hemsworth, Hallock Beals, Kelly Preston, Nick Lashaway, Carly Chaikin and Nick Searcy
It isn’t easy to make Miley Cyrus unappealing, but the popular singer/actress is ill-served in the role of Ronnie, a troubled teen who is sent, along with Ronnie’s younger brother (Coleman), to stay with their estranged father (Kinnear) by their mom (Preston).
 
Musically talented like her father, city-girl Ronnie refuses to play the piano or sing, preferring to sulk about summering in Dad’s seaside town. Then Ronnie falls for local dreamboat Will (Hemsworth), a spoiled rich boy with baggage of his own, and she begins to realize that no family is perfect. Written by tear-meister Nicholas Sparks, the film’s success or failure rests on the shoulders of Miley’s youthful fanbase.
(2 stars out of 5)

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THE BOUNTY HUNTER
Directed by Andy Tennant and starring Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baranski, Jason Sudeikis, and Cathy Moriarty
Aniston and Butler each take another stab at the romantic comedy genre but, predictably, both their pairing and the movie come up short on romance and laughs. Aniston appears as Nicole, an investigative reporter whose unpaid parking tickets and failure to appear in court get her case assigned to Milo (Butler), a motivated bounty hunter who also happens to be Nicole’s ex-husband. The film attempts to make sexy fun from Milo handcuffing Nicole to the bed, but these scenes only make you miss the wittier episodes of “Friends.” Soon Nicole gives Milo the slip, but she’s glad he finds her because Nicole’s murder investigation has landed her on the killer’s hit list. The pair’s nonstop bickering is meant to indicate the extent of their love connection, but their silly issues seem lifted from an episode of “Judge Judy.”
(2 stars out of 4) 

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID
Directed by Thor Freudenthal and starring Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn, Devon Bostick and Chloe Grace Moretz Seventh-grader Greg Heffle (Gordon, third from right) chronicles his wisecracking adventures in middle school. Having yet to hit his growth spurt, young Greg is subjected to wedgies and swirlies from morons and bullies who also force him to lie on the cafeteria floor next to a festering piece of cheese. In an effort to survive his never-ending ordeal, Greg devises a series of schemes, all of which go awry. Rated PG, here’s one movie (based on Jeff Kinney’s Web-comic from 2004) tweens can actually see, though parents should know — it’s brutal. 
(3 stars out of 4)  

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WHEN CAPT. SAM CAHILL’S (MAGUIRE) HELICOPTER IS SHOT DOWN IN Afghanistan, Cahill is presumed dead. His ne’er do well brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) dedicates himself to helping Sam’s grief-stricken wife Grace (Portman) and his two young nieces deal with their loss. No one is more surprised than Tommy when caring for his brother’s family finally allows Tommy to emerge from Sam’s long shadow. Then Sam is miraculously found alive, having survived horrific imprisonment by the enemy. His homecoming leads to wrenching revelations in this faithful remake of an acclaimed 2004 Danish drama.


Directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Sam Shepard, Patrick Flueger and Clifton Collins Jr.

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Directed by Sam Raimi. The third installment will likely be the last one to feature the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst/James Franco trio, but the series sends them out with a bang. Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man, battles trouble at every turn. He’s attacked, and nearly turned to the dark side by a mysterious black goo that transforms a coworker into the spiteful Venom. Spidey’s web becomes crowded when he’s also assailed by the nefarious Sandman. Special effects are top notch, throughout a complex storyline running more than two hours. Minor tangles arise from the film’s overburdened final act that attempts to weave the film’s many loose strands into a working web.

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***1/2

“Pirates of the Caribbean”

Directed by Gore Verbinski. To rescue their friend from the clutches of undead Davy Jones, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) recruit formidable Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to the cause. Soon Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is reinstated among the living, where he makes idle promises to everyone during a series of longwinded meetings. The joke stalls as the film balloons to more than three hours long. Bill Nighy returns as part–sea creature Davy Jones, while the impressive cast grows. Chow Yun-Fat sharpens the swashbuckling action, and Keith Richards shares a real rock star’s moves. Depp needs all the help he can get since there may be a fourth installment.

*** “BUG”

Directed by William Friedkin. Agnes (Ashley Judd), a lonely cocktail waitress living at a seedy motel, gets more than she bargained for from her spontaneous affair with Gulf War veteran Peter (Michael Shannon). Agnes has no idea that Peter suffers from severe psychosis, but she is bowled over by their smokin’ sexual chemistry. As her feelings for her attentive lover intensify, Agnes becomes susceptible to Peter’s insistence that both he and her motel room are infested by aggressive insects. Down on her luck and suffering from low self-esteem, Agnes’ need to feel wanted makes her vulnerable to Peter’s delusions. Though not what you’d expect from “Exorcist” director Friedkin, “Bug” is nevertheless a good creepy-crawly surprise.

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*** “Georgia Rule”

Directed by Garry Marshall. With Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman. You gotta love the idea of Fonda as god-fearing Georgia, determined to straighten out her rebellious teen granddaughter Rachel (Lohan). To cope with Georgia’s stiff rules, Rachel unburdens her troubles to war veteran Simon (Dermot Mulroney). Unbalanced by the behavior of her nutsy mom (Huffman) and creepy stepdad (Cary Elwes), Rachel fascinates a handsome young Mormon (Garrett Hedlund) trying to follow a righteous path. With plenty of melodrama from director Marshall, this one goes a little bit sitcom and boasts a whole lotta pretty women.

**1/2 “The Ex”

Directed by Jesse Peretz. With Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin. Who wouldn’t shell out nine bucks to see “Scrubs” star Braff duke it out with “Arrested Development’s” Bateman as a wheelchair-bound chick magnet? Add a dash of Peet, fresh from her own flagging sitcom, as high-powered attorney Sofia, disconcerted by the prospect of becoming a stay-at-home-mom. Necessity prompts Sofia’s undisciplined hubby, Tom (Braff), to accept the “real job” offered by her father (Grodin). Considering the plot’s parenthood/in-law jitters, the film’s humor could go edgier, but this ensemble shakes what it bakes.

*** “28 Weeks Later”

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. With Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack. Set 28 weeks after “28 Days,” the zombie sequel takes no prisoners and spares no political commentary concerning war and occupying forces. Having starved out hordes of London zombies, Britain calls upon the U.S. military to aid the city’s repopulation effort. However, while guarding the uninfected, the Americans overreact to pockets of the remaining undead, killing the healthy as part of their cleansing efforts. This turn of events prompts a handful of survivors to flee both foreign protectors and undead countrymen. Spiteful, satiric and bloody, bloody, bloody.

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***1/2

DISTURBIA

Directed by D.J. Caruso. With Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sarah Roemer. Under house arrest for assaulting a teacher, high school student Kale (Shia LaBeouf) spends his days spying on the bathing beauty next door but soon becomes increasingly suspicious of Turner (David Morse), a mysterious neighbor. Women seem to enter his home, but never exit. Hampered by an ankle bracelet and his hothead rep with police, Kale enlists help from a friend and the pretty neighbor to get to the bottom of Turner’s activities. Echoing "Rear Window," the suspenseful film makes fine use of its young hero’s naïveté.

** 1/2

PERFECT STRANGER

Directed by James Foley. With Halle Berry, Bruce Willis and Giovanni Ribisi. A beautiful journalist, trained in exposing the subjects of her tabloid stories, Rowena (Halle Berry) goes undercover to catch her best friend’s murderer. He is Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a predatory CEO posing as a faithful husband while prowling the Web for his next sexual conquest. Aided by a computer geek (Giovanni Ribisi), Rowena lands a temp job at Hill’s company, but Hill is not easily fooled. Willis revels playing against type, while Berry mines her character’s strengths and weaknesses. Ribisi finds his quirky niche rounding out this suspense thriller.

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BREACH

***1/2  Directed by Billy Ray, With Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Dennis Haysbert. Based on the true story documented in Lawrence Schiller’s “Master Spy: The Life of Robert P. Hanssen.” Ryan Phillippe portrays Eric O’Neill, an FBI recruit  mentored by senior agent Hanssen (Cooper). When O’Neill discovers that Hanssen is probably a traitor, the agency asks the pupil to gather evidence against his teacher. Laura Linney adds her edgy quality in a supporting role as a career agent, while the film follows the domestic drama resulting from Eric’s dangerous mission with his wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas). The realistic depiction of life in the agency is a gratifying change.

MUSIC AND LYRICS

**1/2  Directed by Marc Lawrence. With Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Cast as washed-up ’80s pop star, Alex Fletcher, Hugh Grant does a commendable job portraying a singer-songwriter reaching for a comeback. Barrymore is cast as Sophie, caretaker to Fletcher’s plants when the composer discovers her flair for song lyrics. Fresh from a painful affair with a novelist who made Sophie an unflattering central character in his latest tome, Sophie hesitates to let herself fall for another self-centered demi-celebrity. Notable onscreen chemistry between the leads overcomes many a romantic cliché in this Valentine’s Day offering.

 

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The Pursuit of Happyness

*** Directed by Gabriele Muccino. With Will Smith, Thandie Newton and Jaden Smith. The real-life struggles of Chris Gardner, a homeless, single parent during his unpaid internship at Dean Witter in the Bay Area circa 1980 should be a powerful story. Smith enjoys the opportunity to work with his 8-year-old son Jaden, an experienced television actor, as they portray Gardner and son. The movie, which threatens to choke off our empathy with its iron grip, chronicles the difficulty Gardner had hiding his anger and fear while struggling to find food and shelter for his child and impress the Dean Witter management. Yet, “Happyness” is a heavy watch that leaves viewers searching for signs of joy.

The Dead Girl

*** Directed by Karen Moncrieff. With Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy and Marcia Gay Harden. A young hooker (Murphy) is found murdered and mutilated. This multistory film is comprised of five vignettes exploring events affecting others associated with the dead girl. However, the film is slow in revealing the who, why and how. We meet the woman who finds the body (Collette), the murdered girl’s mother (Hayden) and even the unhappy middle-aged wife of a sex offender. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff frames her characters as angry, fearful and uncertain. Though some may find her work inspirational, others will simply find it unpleasant.

The Messengers

* 1/2   Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. With Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and Kristen Stewart. When Roy and Denise (McDermott and Miller) purchase a rundown sunflower farm, the family throws itself into a renovation effort. When a drifter (John Corbett) arrives, Roy inexplicably sinks into dark, unpredictable moods. Young Ben sees apparitions that are affecting his dad, but can the little boy’s affinity for the paranormal rescue his family? Nice touch casting Corbett against type, but haunted, isolated country houses have been done until the ghosts come home.

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*** Shooter

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. With Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena and Rhona Mitra. Adapted from "Point of Impact," the first book in a trilogy by Jonathan Lemkin, this conspiracy thriller stars Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger, a retired sniper pressed into service to protect the president from an assassination plot. Instead, Swagger is framed as the shooter, compelling him to flee the law along with the underground organization responsible for framing him. Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") returns to the topic of corrupt officials and reluctant heroes with a potentially powerful film franchise.

** 1/2

Directed by Mike Binder. With Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith. Years after 9/11, Charlie remains unable to cope with the loss of his wife and children. Drifting through each day, Charlie begins to regain focus after bumping into his old pal and dental school roommate, Alan (Cheadle). The pair rekindle their friendship as Alan sets aside his tendencies to feel sorry for himself in favor of helping Charlie. Slowly, the floodgates open, allowing Charlie to grieve. Liv Tyler plays a therapist, a role that adds depth to this story fueled by the healing power of friendship.

**1/2

Directed by Sunu Gonera. With Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac and Kimberly Elise. Squeezing every ounce of uplift and then some from this true story, "Pride" comes dangerously close to a fall. In the early 1970s, African-American swimmer Jim Ellis (Howard) attempts to redeem his checkered past by molding a group of disaffected youths into a winning swim team. Besieged by his disbelieving boss (Bernie Mac), a turf-conscious drug dealer (Gary Anthony Sturgis) and an unyielding senator (Elise), Ellis needs all of his pride and determination to sustain his effort. Schmaltz aside, any film casting Tom Arnold as a racial bigot can’t be all bad.

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* Premonition

Directed by Mennan Yapo. With Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Amber Valletta and Peter Stormare. Housewife Linda Hanson (Bullock) suddenly finds herself living each day out of chronological order. One morning she awakens to find her husband is dead; the next morning, he’s alive and everything is fine. Can she unlock the clues to his unexpected death and prevent it? Will viewers tolerate the film’s shaky, sneaky resolution? Will Bullock’s career continue to nose dive? Such forecasts are difficult, but are more likely to occur when little effort is made to look ahead.

*1/2 I Think I Love My Wife

Directed by Chris Rock. With Rock, Kerry Washington and Gina Torres. Rock writes, directs and stars in a misguided movie that is seriously unfunny, unless you’re looking for unintended laughs. Rock portrays Richard, a banker nervous around women and therefore easily controlled by his career-minded wife (Torres), and his potential mistress (Washington). During the day Richard attends couple’s counseling; at night he’s catching the shuttle to DC and exchanging gunfire with a young hottie’s ex-beau. Loosely based on Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon,” Rock’s attempt to relieve his movie boredom is equivalent to two-timing his audience.

**1/2 Dead Silence

Directed by James Wan. With Ryan Kwanten, Judith Roberts and Donnie Wahlberg. Leigh Whannel and James Wan, writer and director of the “Saw” films, try a more cerebral horror. Jamie (Kwanten), a young widower suspected of killing his wife, is drawn to his hometown, Raven Fair, by a ventriloquist’s doll he received just prior to her death. Now a virtual ghost, Raven Fair is rumored to be the haunting ground of ventriloquist Mary Shaw (Roberts). As Jamie attempts to prove the connection between his wife’s murder and the angry ghost, his every move is shadowed by a cocky, wisecracking detective (Wahlberg). 

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