Movies

Opening This Week

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

A cruise mishap lands the boys on a deserted island paradise.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes rogue with a new team after his spy agency is implicated in a Moscow terror attack.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

Young Adult See Steven Rea's preview on H2.

Excellent (****)

Reviewed by critics Carrie Rickey (C.R.), Steven Rea (S.R.), and Sam Adams (S.A.). W.S. denotes a wire service review.

The Descendants George Clooney

in one of the most satisfying performances of his career - angry, sad, vulnerable, loving, foolish, comically discombobulated - as a Hawaiian lawyer coping with a family crisis and a daunting inheritance. From Alexander Payne, of Sideways and About Schmidt fame. Satisfying on every level. 1 hr. 55 R (profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.

Martha Marcy May Marlene A star-making turn from Elizabeth Olsen as a woman who escapes a creepy commune and tries to put the pieces of her life back together in the lakeside house of her sister and brother-in-law. Unnerving, in a beautiful, accomplished, haunting way. 2 hrs. R (violence, nudity, sex, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.

Very Good (***1/2)

Arthur Christmas

It's Christmas night, and Santa's son needs Pop's operation for an urgent mission of his own in this fun, animated family feature. 1 hr. 40

PG

(mild rude humor) -

W.S.

Happy Feet Two Happy Feet's tap-dancing penguin hero, Mumble, has fathering problems of his own when it turns out his son Erik can't dance or sing. But when melting Antarctic ice threatens the safety of their colony, father and son - along with an obstreperous elephant seal and a self-help-spouting seabird named Sven - cross the continent to save their species, learning a few new steps along the way. 1 hr. 57 PG (rude humor and mild peril) - S.A.

Melancholia Lars von Trier's storm-tossed meditation on depression begins with a comically elaborate wedding reception and ends with a newly discovered planet on a collision course with Earth. Kirsten Dunst is simply remarkable, and the great, eccentric cast includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexander Skarsgård, and Kiefer Sutherland. 2 hrs. 15 R (profanity, sex, nudity, adult themes) - S.R.

Also on Screens

Hugo ***

Martin Scorsese adapts

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

, the Caldecott-winning graphic novel for kids, diving headlong into a magical world of old silent cinema and a bustling 1930s Paris train station where the title character lives - and looks for clues to the mysterious machine his father left in his care. Movie buffs will delight in the homage to early cinema; kids may get a little restless, but it is a spectacle to behold. 2 hrs. 07

PG

(violence, menace, adult themes) -

S.R.

The Muppets *** Jason Segel stars with Amy Adams and a little felt guy named Walter in this rollicking reboot of the late Jim Henson's fur-ball franchise. Goofy song-and-dance numbers, slapstick silliness, winking we-know-this-is-a-

movie cutup asides - and all of it with heart. And with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Animal, too. 1 hr. 38 PG (mildly rude humor, adult themes) - S.R.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I *** Swoony to the point of delirium, the one where the Virgin (Kristen Stewart) marries the Vampire (Robert Pattinson) implicitly links sex and death with undying love. Well-directed by Bill Condon. 1 hr. 57 PG-13 (sexual suggestion, vampire and werewolf violence, surgical candor) - C.R.

Theater

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

New This Week

Laughing All the Way

(Act II Playhouse) Skits, songs, comedy, letters to Santa, special guests - and Tony Braithwaite, too. Previews Tuesday-Thursday, opens Friday.

Private Lives (Lantern Theater Company) Old spouses Amanda and Elyot honeymoon with new spouses. And each other. In previews, opens Wednesday.

Voices of Christmas (Theatre Horizon) An evening of holiday musical storytelling. In previews, opens Friday.

Continuing

A Cappella Humana

(Delaware Theatre Company) This world- premiere modern retelling of the nativity story as a reality show is

full of gospel and traditional music, excellent until it falters at the end with a pummeling heavy hand. Great cast. Through next Sunday. - H.S.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Curio Theatre Company) Dario Fo has farcical fun with Milan's police department. Through Jan. 7.

A Christmas Carol (Hedgerow Theatre) Nagle Jackson's adaptation of the classic is a Hedgerow tradition. Through Dec. 24.

Charlotte's Web (Arden Theatre Company) ) Super-sweet production with no saccharine. Charlotte was right, that's some pig. Through

Jan. 29. - W.R.

Chlamydia for Christmas and Herpes for Hanukkah: More Sex-Ed for the Holidays (Flashpoint Theatre) Deck the halls with boughs of burlesque in this built-for-raunch and generally funny bunch of skits featuring Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams. Through Saturday. - H.S.

A Dickens Christmas (Hedgerow Theatre) Jared Reed is Charles Dickens as his reads his A Christmas Carol. Through Dec. 24.

Gypsy (Bristol Riverside Theatre) Tovah Feldshuh stars as the best worst stage mom ever. Through Jan. 15.

Jersey Boys (Forrest Theatre)

They're back, walking like men. Through Jan. 14.

The King and I (Walnut Street Theatre) Rachel York's golden-age- of-Broadway performance and director and choreographer Marc Robin's innovations combine to make a classic even more so. Through Jan 8. - W.R.

Motherhood (Society Hill Playhouse) Mommy's got her own energetic musical revue, polished for maximum laughs. Lots of fun for moms and more. Extended through Dec. 31. - H.S.

Noël and Gertie (Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio) A play with songs about Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence attempts that old-timey savoir faire, but mostly manages only old-timey. Through Dec. 31. - T.Z.

Ordinary Days (11th Hour Theatre Company) This chamber musical is sentimental, entirely predictable, but an altogether pleasant evening in the theater. Through next Sunday.

- T.Z.

The Santaland Diaries (Flashpoint Theatre) David Sedaris' Crumpet the Elf is back. Through Dec. 18.

This Is the Week That Is (1812 Productions) Our unfunny world has provided plenty of material for this funny company's spoof - just the ticket when the real news gets you down. Through Dec. 31. - T.Z.

Treasure Island (People's Light & Theatre) Here we go again! It's panto season, and the crew is on board - pirates, guy in a dress, solid chase scene - and lots of laughs. Through Jan. 8. - H.S.

Un Viaje: A Christmas Journey (Walking Fish Theatre) An American family celebrates a bicultural holiday. Through Dec. 30.

The Whipping Man (Arden Theatre) This often absorbing, well-acted play about a Confederate soldier who comes home to find no family and only two former slaves has its bumps along the way. Through next Sunday. - H.S.

Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them (New City Stage) Christopher Durang confronts the war on terror. Through Jan. 8.

For more listings, go to philly.com.