Movies

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 Artist Everything old is new again in this deft, delightful black-and-white silent film set in late 1920s Hollywood, as the industry transitions to talking pictures - leaving some of its biggest stars behind. With Jean Dujardin as a screen idol and Bérénice Bejo as the ingenue he mentors and falls for, as her career takes off, and his plummets. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (adult themes) - S.R.

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.

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.

Being Elmo This documentary looks at Kevin Clash, the man from working-class Baltimore who gives life to the lovable Muppet. 1 hr. 16 PG (mild language including a brief drug reference) - C.R.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo David Fincher's beautifully taut, terrifying adaptation of the Stieg Larsson megaseller is faithful to its source, and offers a star-making turn from Rooney Mara as the asocial, bisexual, genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Daniel Craig is Mikael Blomkvist, the bookish investigative journalist who partners with the pierced, punked-out heroine to dig into a decades-old murder case. 2 hrs. 38 R (violence, sexual violence, nudity, sex, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

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

The Adventures of Tintin ***

Wow moviemaking, bringing the comic book exploits of Hergé's boy reporter hero and his colorful gang of friends and foes to life with state-of-the-art motion-capture wizardry. The effect is a little trippy, a lot of fun. With the voices, and physical performances, of Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, and more. 1 hr. 47

PG

(cartoon violence, alcohol, adult themes) -

S.R.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked *1/2 A cruise mishap lands the boys on a deserted island paradise. 1 hr. 27 G - W.S.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol *** IMF agent Ethan Hunt is back, and The Incredibles director Brad Bird has him, in the fourth, and cartooniest title in the Tom Cruise action franchise. But it's cartoony in a good way, and the Burj Khalifa sequence - with Cruise scaling the reflective glass skin of the world's tallest building - is suspenseful, cinematic, a total kick. 2 hrs. 13 PG-13 (violence, action, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ** The sequel's afoot, with Robert Downey Jr. returning as the Victorian era action hero, Jude Law playing his dutiful, doctorly sidekick, Watson, and Jared Harris as the evil mastermind Moriarty. Lots of stop-and-start fight scenes, lots of explosions, lots of pseudo-ratiocinating smartypants talk. 2 hrs. 09 PG-13 (violence, action, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.

War Horse *** Steven Spielberg's unashamedly old-fashioned adaptation of the popular children's novel and hit stage play- a horse- and-his-boy story set against the big, bloody backdrop of the First Wolrd War. Heart-tugging, tear-jerking, hoof-thundering. 2 hrs. 26 PG-13 (battlefield violence and gore, adult themes) - S.R.

We Bought a Zoo **1/2 Matt Damon stars in Cameron Crowe's adaptation of Benjamin Mee's memoir about a widower and single father released from his cage of grief when he moves his family to the country, rebuilds a rundown menagerie, and rebuilds his life. With Scarlett Johansson. 2 hrs. 04 PG (language, grief) – C.R.

Theater

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

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

(Curio Theatre Company) A dated political comedy thoroughly mired in postwar European issues and thus irrelevant to contemporary American audiences - desperately unfunny. Through Jan. 7

. - T.Z.

Charlotte's Web (Arden Theatre Company) ) Super-sweet production with no saccharine. Charlotte was right, that's some pig. Through Jan. 29. - W.R.

Gypsy (Bristol Riverside Theatre) Tovah Feldshuh stars as the best worst stage mom ever, in a downright maniacal characterization that works, with an excellent cast. Through Jan. 15. - H.S.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Gas and Electric Arts) A wise man and a little girl, armed with pickles and a dreidel, battle holiday-hating goblins. Through Saturday.

Jersey Boys (Forrest Theatre) They're back, walking like men - a new national-tour cast that's superb in an audience-wowing show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Through Jan. 14. - H.S.

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.

Laughing All the Way (Act II Playhouse) Tony Braithwaite's variety show brings special guests, skits and improv for a G-rated good time. Ends Saturday. - 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. Ends Saturday. - 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. Ends Saturday. - T.Z.

Private Lives (Lantern Theater Company) Noël Coward's well-worn classic gets an impressive boost in a production that goes straight for the laughs. Ends Saturday. - H.S.

The Sound of Music (Media Theatre) The music's certainly alive in this robustly sung version, but the production is uneven. Cute kids and a sweet-voiced Maria, Elisa Matthews. Through Jan. 15. - H.S.

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. Ends Saturday. - 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) This bilingual kids' holiday show has the attention deficit disorderliness of TV's Sabado Gigante, but is less coherent. Ends Friday. - W.R.

Voices of Christmas (Theatre Horizon) An evening of holiday musical storytelling. Ends Saturday.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (New City Stage) An assault on the "war on terror," this leaden farce is the perfect demonstration of how short the shelf life of political humor is. Through Jan. 8. - T.Z.

Video

Final Destination 5 **

The most gory entry in the film cycle about household items decapitating and pulverizing hot boys and girls has nary a plot nor decorum. But it's in 3-D. Fans will dig it. The rest should steer clear. 1 hr. 32

R

(extreme gore, violence, profanity, flying limbs) -

T.D.