Movies

Opening This Week

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See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

The Young Victoria See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

Visual Acoustics Architectural photographer Julius Shulman is the focus of this documentary.

Excellent (****)

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

Fantastic Mr. Fox The fur flies in Wes Anderson's stop-motion animation gem about an erudite predator and his burrowing brood. With the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray, this adaptation of a Roald Dahl book is the best animated film of the year, and maybe the best film, period. 1 hr. 27 PG (cartoon violence, "cussin," adult themes) - S.R.

Up in the Air As the frequent-flying "career transition counselor" (read: the suave bully you hire when you're scared to fire employees) George Clooney gives the performance of his career. Jason Reitman's movie is perfectly tailored to the star's melancholy twinkle and purring motormouth. With the sublime Vera Farmiga and quirky Anna Kendrick. 1 hr. 48 R (language, sexual content) - C.R.

Very Good (***1/2)

Brothers Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman deliver the best work of their careers in this keenly observed and heartbreaking remake of the 2004 Danish film about a soldier gone to war, and the wife and black-sheep brother he leaves behind. 1 hr. 55 R (violence, scenes of torture, sex, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

An Education Disarming and unexpectedly poignant story set in 1961 of a dreamy, Oxford-bound 16-year-old (enchanting Carey Mulligan) who takes up with a sophisticated older man (Peter Sarsgaard). Pungently realized by filmmaker Lone Scherfig from the memoir by Lynn Barber. 1 hr. 35 PG-13 (discreet sexual content, smoking) - C.R.

Me and Orson Welles Richard Linklater's spirited reimagining of what went on with charismatic madman Orson Welles as he and his Mercury Players mounted their historic production of Julius Caesar in 1930s New York - before Citizen Kane was even a gleam in his eye. Christian McKay, as the young, blustery Welles, is riveting. With Zac Efron and Claire Danes. 1 hr. 54 PG-13 (sex, adult themes) - S.R.

The Princess and the Frog This jazzy, pizazzy, and enchanting Disney animated musical of the old-school, hand-drawn style features a scrappy new-school heroine - one who is both self-made and prince-completed. Anika Noni Rose is the voice of Tiana, a hardworking waitress hoping to save enough tips to buy her own restaurant, and Bruno Campos is a Mediterranean prince who steps into some deep voodoo when he disembarks in 1919 New Orleans. 1 hr. 37 G (some scary ghosts, may be too intense for viewers under 7) - C.R.

Also on Screens

The Blind Side **1/2

Sandra Bullock stars as a Southern woman who takes a destitute teen into her home. Based on a true story, it's part sports saga, all tearjerker. 2 hrs. 08.

PG-13

(violence; drug and sex references) -

D.H.

Disney's A Christmas Carol ** Robert Zemeckis' visually immersive, emotionally uninvolving animation of the Charles Dickens evergreen features "motion capture" performances by Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, and Robin Wright Penn. Lost in the video-game effects and ghostly grotesquerie is the redemptive saga of the man who learns that his stinginess has spiritually deformed him. 1 hr. 36 PG (really creepy effects, unsuitable for those under 10) - C.R.

Invictus *** Rousing sports inspirational starring Morgan Freeman as newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela, who seizes upon the gladiatorial game of rugby to unify angry blacks and scared whites in his nation after the fall of apartheid. With Matt Damon. 2 hrs. 14 PG-13 (profanity) - C.R.

Old Dogs **1/2 Predictable plot - workaholics John Travolta and Robin Williams are tapped to be caregivers for 7-year-old twins - and unpredictable turns in this brisk, family-friendly comedy as broad as the waistlines of its stars. 1 hr. 28 PG (bathroom humor, below-the-belt jokes) - C.R.

Serious Moonlight ** The film that asks the question: Can duct tape mend a broken marriage? A shrill film starring Tim Hutton as the straying spouse and Meg Ryan as the wife who wants to fix things. With Kristen Bell and Justin Long. 1 hr. 24 R (profanity, sexual candor, slaptick violence) - C.R.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon *** Swoony love triangle plus swoopy camera work equals this abstinence-makes-the-heart-grow-

fonder adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's young-adult romance novel. With angst-princess Kirsten Stewart, passion prince Robert Pattinson, and studmuffin Taylor Lautner. 2 hrs. 10 PG-13 (girl in peril, threats of terror, vampire and werewolf violence) - C.R.

Theater

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

New This Week

Holiday Show With the Swing Club Band

(Theatre Horizon) Seasonal swing for hepcats! Previews today and Thursday, opens Friday.

Continuing

Chekhov Lizardbrain

(Pig Iron Theatre Company) It's back, briefly, in all its intriguing, Obie-winning complexity. Ends today.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (Bckseet Productions) The humbuggiest comedy of all is about the jolly old fat guy who's got a thing for reindeer, not to mention children and elves. The bucks and does tell us all about it. Through Dec. 23. - T.Z.

The :nv:s:ble Play (Philadelphia Theatre Workshop) A good cast in an amusing new play by Alex Dremann about editors in a publishing house having existential crises. Ends today. - T.Z.

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play (Delaware Theatre Company) The same old story told in a new and not particularly exciting - though well-acted - way. Through next Sunday. - W.R.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (New Candlelight Theatre) The Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber biblical tale of a boy and his brothers, by a charismatic cast that stresses the show's elements by the way it acts through songs. Through next Sunday. - H.S.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Devon Theater) This Northeast Philly theater has its own take on the popular musical, with a lively cast that stresses the show's elements through its music. Ends today. - H.S.

The Light in the Piazza (Philadelphia Theatre Company) This gorgeously sung musical - about a young, damaged woman and her mother traveling in Italy, who discover independence and the power of love - features a fine cast and a very impressive production. Ends today. - T.Z.

Little Shop of Horrors (11th Hour Theatre Company/Theatre Horizon) A joint production of this horticultural-horror musical is, in Center City, less dark and rich than it was in Norristown, but still sparkling fun. Through next Sunday. - H.S.

Oliver! (Walnut Street Theatre) You couldn't ask for a better rendition of this musical based on Dickens' Oliver Twist. Superb cast, Mark Clements' fine staging, Lionel Bart's great songs, and Victorian London's mean streets - it's all here. Through Jan. 10. - H.S.

On Golden Pond (Act II Playhouse) Carla Belver and Tom McCarthy bring perfectly synced performances to this funny play about marriage and family. Ends today. - W.R.

Peter Pan (Arden Theatre Company) Douglas Irvine's new adaptation is sweet, but the real stars of this production are the Arden's set, puppet, and costume design team. Through Jan. 24. - W.R.

Rabbit Hole (Arden Theater) David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer-winning play about a couple dealing with the loss of their 4-year-old son is, like the production, sometimes convincing and sometimes not. Through next Sunday. - T.Z.

Red, White and Tuna (Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio) Unlike the first two hilarious Tuna plays, the quick-change, two-actor, many-character trilogy about the benighted residents of this Texas town concludes on a flat, unfunny note. Through Jan. 3. - T.Z.

The Santaland Diaries (Flashpoint Theatre Company) For the fifth time, Derick Loafmann dons pointy shoes in this funny, sweet staged version of David Sedaris' classic essay about his tenure as a Macy's elf. Through next Sunday. - W.R.

Scapin (Lantern Theatre Company) A holiday frolic, full of funny fun, likely to amuse everybody. Moliere's classic comedy has been adapted for contemporary tastes by the great clown Bill Irwin, and further tweaked by puppeteer Aaron Cromie. A hugely enjoyable evening. Through Jan. 3. - T.Z.

Snow White (People's Light & Theatre) This year's panto doesn't match last year's spectacular success, but still provides everything kids have come to expect. Through Jan. 3. - W.R.

This Is the Week That Is (1812 Productions) This annual satiric look - this year, focusing on the new administration - hits and misses, but the cast is uniformly classy and endearing. Through Jan. 3. - H.S.

When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? (New City Stage Company) Things get messy at the diner. Through Jan. 11.

The Wizard of Oz (Media Theatre) Acting and singing are fine, but the production suffers from uninspired stage effects and a pedestrian look. Through Jan. 10.- H.S.

Video

Inglourious Basterds **

Quentin Tarantino's tonally schizoid Jewish revenge fantasy rewrites World War II history to give Brad Pitt and company a chance to do a lot of jive riffing, while the movie mashes up the combat exploits of the Dirty Dozen, the madcap slapstick of Duck Soup, Sam Fuller swagger, and Hostel gore. 2 hrs. 32

R

(violence, gore, profanity, adult themes) -

S.R.