Movies

Opening Thursday

Bedtime Stories

Adam Sandler stars in this fantasy about a hotel handyman who tells stories to his niece and nephews that magically begin to come true.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton star in this adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward.

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a bitter Korean War veteran who sets out to reform a young neighbor who tries to steal his classic car.

Marley & Me

A young reporter (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Jennifer Aniston) adopt a dog that teaches them about life, in a movie based on the best-selling book by former Inquirer columnist John Grogan.

The Reader

A law student in postwar Germany discovers that the older woman he once had an affair with is on trial for war crimes. Starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet.

The Spirit

A man turns himself into a superhero and battles a deadly villain, the Octopus, in this adaptation of Will Eisner's graphic novels.

Valkyrie

Based on the true story of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), who joined other German officers in trying to assassinate Hitler.

Excellent (****)

Reviewed by critics Carrie Rickey (C.R.), Steven Rea (S.R.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.

Slumdog Millionaire

A street kid-turned-gofer gets on the Indian version of

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

and keeps answering the questions correctly, amazingly. 2 hr.

R

(violence, profanity, adult themes) -

S.R.

Very Good (***1/2)

I've Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott Thomas is extraordinary as a woman just released from prison, struggling to work her way back into society, and haunted by the guilt of her crime. A story that's stark and redemptive, from French writer and first-time director Philippe Claudel. 1 hr. 55

PG-13

(sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) -

S.R.

Let the Right One In

A fine, frightening Swedish noir about a misfit boy befriended by a 12-year-old vampire. With periods of voyeuristic gore and an undercurrent of anxiety and dread, this is up there with the bloodsucking classics. 1 hr. 54

R

(violence, gore, adult themes) -

S.R.

Rachel Getting Married

According to the rules, tragedy ends in death, comedy in marriage. But Jonathan Demme's superb ensemble drama starring Anne Hathaway as the troubled sibling home for the wedding of her sister (the astonishing Rosemarie DeWitt) is decidedly not a comedy. Rather, it's the heartrending story of a troubled girl tearing apart the family tapestry and, with her sibling's help, learning to piece together its common threads. With Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, and the extraordinary Debra Winger. 1 hr. 54

R

(sexuality, profanity, emotional violence) -

C.R.

Also on Screens

The Day the Earth Stood Still **1/2

Entertaining update of the 1951 sci-fi classic works along the lines of a lightbulb joke. How many astrobiologists does it take to save the Earth? One, but only if the Earth really wants to change. Jennifer Connelly is the astrobiologist and Keanu Reeves the alien life form who learns to appreciate humans. 1 hr. 43

PG-13

(graphic surgery, sci-fi explosions and threats, violence) -

C.R.

Four Christmases *1/2

Wan comedy about spending the holidays with his redneck dad, her cougar mom, his red-hot hippie mama, and her much-married father. Despite a promising opening, it squanders the comic talents of supersized Vince Vaughn and petite Reese Witherspoon. 1 hr. 22

PG-13

(sexual humor, language, slapstick violence)

- C.R.

Seven Pounds **

One part jigsaw puzzle, one part

The Giving Tree

, and both parts marinated in melancholy. In this narratively fragmented film from Gabriele Muccino, one that struggles under the weight of its own melodramatic messianism, Will Smith is a penitent who prescribes his own penance. With Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson. 1 hr. 53

PG-13

(thematic material and discreet sexuality) -

C.R.

The Tale of Despereaux **1/2

An elaborate computer-animated adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's Newbury Medal-winning children's novel, about a tiny, intrepid mouse, a shifty rat, and a kingdom of soup worshippers sent into mourning. Long stretches of fairy-tale pastiche in a yarn about individuality, courage, grief and forgiveness. 1 hr. 34

G

(mildly scary images) -

S.R.

Twilight ***

A pheromone-soaked high school romance rife with heavy-duty Dracula stuff, Catherine Hardwicke's savvy adaptation of the Stephenie Meyer best-seller turns vampirism into a metaphor for teen lust. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star - full of desire, and full of dread at what might happen if he sinks his fangs into her. 2 hr.

PG-13

(scares, adult themes) -

S.R.

Yes Man **1/2

Jim Carrey as a killjoy who gets a life when he stops saying no and starts saying yes. A pleasant diversion costarring Zooey Deschanel and directed by Peyton Reed. 1 hr. 44

PG-13

(sexual humor, brief nudity) -

C.R.

Theater

Reviewed by critics Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.), Howard Shapiro (H.S.) and Toby Zinman (T.Z.).

New This Week

The Great Divorce

(Lantern Theater Company) Anthony Lawton's interpretation of the C.S. Lewis fable returns. Opens Friday.

Continuing

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother

(Philadelphia Theatre Company)

The Vagina Monologues

meets

Chicken Soup

for comedian Judy Gold's soul. Ends today.

- W.R.

A Chorus Line

(Forrest Theatre) The quintessential American musical. Through Jan. 4.

Cherry Bomb

(1812 Productions) Jennifer Childs and James Sugg make a funny, poignant musical about the true story of the Cherry Sisters, the worst act in vaudeville. Through Jan. 4.

- W.R.

Cinderella

(People's Light & Theatre) Don't let the name fool you. This clever Jazz Age panto adaptation is the polar opposite of that frilly, princessy Disney confection. Through Jan. 4.

- W.R.

The Government Inspector

(Lantern Theater Company) This amusing 19th-century Gogol farce has a superb cast and lots of doors, but it's a one-joke, two-act play, with a punch line you can see coming a mile away. Through next Sunday.

- T.Z.

Hairspray

(Walnut Street Theatre) Big hair, big message, big beat with a big cast with big voices and big production numbers: big fun in the theater. Through Jan. 4.

- T.Z.

It's a Wonderful Life

(Prince Music Theater) This is the beloved holiday movie reinvented, as a live radio play. The story's a classic, the cast is classy, and the production's attention to detail enriches it all. Ends today.

- H.S.

James and the Giant Peach

(Arden Theatre) Spiffy sound and video effects by Jorge Cousineau are more impressive than the adaptation of Roald Dahl's book, which comes across on stage as static in the first half, more active in the second. Through Feb. 8.

- H.S.

The Music Man

(New Candlelight Theatre) This production goes all-out for the classic small-town musical tale of huckster Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian. Ends today.

- W.R.

Oliver

(Media Theatre) A serviceable production of the musical misses a chance to say something new, and instead considers itself part of the furniture. Through Jan. 4.

- W.R.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

(Delaware Theatre Company) Steve Martin's take on Einstein and Picasso meeting in a Paris bar in 1904. Ends today.

Schmucks (Wilma Theater) Stupefyingly unfunny and maudlin to boot, this play about Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce has nothing to recommend it except an appearance by the ghost of Harpo Marx. And even that's too long. Through Jan. 4.

- T.Z.

She Loves You

(Society Hill Playhouse) This Beatles tribute takes you half the way there, which for nostalgic day-trippers just might be enough to make it worthwhile. Open-ended run.

- W.R.

Talk Radio

(Revised) (New City Stage Company) Paul Felder savages - in a good way - the role of radio host Barry Champlain. Too bad everyone else looks like a cartoon. Through Jan. 11.

- W.R.

A Tuna Christmas

(Walnut Street Theatre) Funny and surprisingly touching, this show returns us to Tuna, Texas, for Part 2 of the Tuna trilogy. John Zak and Benjamin Lloyd virtuosically play 24 characters, all of whom are having a bizarre and difficult Christmas. Through Jan. 4.

- T.Z.

Video

The House Bunny **

The

Legally Blonde

screenwriters' half-funny tale of a Playboy playmate who becomes house mother to a college sorority of misfit girls. Starring the divine Anna Faris.

PG-13

(sexual innuendo, profanity, coarse humor) -

C.R.