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Avatar is for the eyes, not the brain. Plus: Hang it up, Hugh Grant.

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Previews

Opening Wednesday, Dec. 23, is the sequel we've all been waiting for: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. This time out, the singing rodents get to cavort with the Chipettes. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 89m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Opening Christmas Day is the multi-Golden Globe nominated Up in the Air, starring George Clooney as a consultant who flies around the country to bring layoff news to corporate employees, thereby saving his bosses from discomfort. Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking; Juno), the film costars Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman. Rated R for language and some sexual content. 109m. At the Broadway.

Robert Downey Jr. is Holmes and Jude Law is Watson in the latest take on Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie. Set in 1891, Sherlock is into martial arts while Watson just wants to have fun as they battle to save their country. Rachel McAdams costars as temptress Irene Adler and Mark Strong as the latest adversary, Lord Blackwood. Looks like fun. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material. 128m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and Minor.

Directed by Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated stars Meryl Streep as Jane Adler, who faces a choice between an affair with her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), an attorney now remarried to much younger Agness (Lake Bell), or a relationship with recently divorced architect Adam (Steve Martin). That's a difficult choice? Rated R for some drug content and sexuality. 118m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Reviews

AVATAR: If nothing else, James Cameron has grandiose dreams when it comes to film, and a lot of patience when it comes to following through on those dreams. He apparently wrote a treatment for Avatar back in 1994, and production on the film was supposed to begin in the late ’90s. So here we are almost at the end of 2009 and, technology having caught up with Cameron's aspirations for the film, Avatar finally gets a release in both 2-D and 3-D formats.

Since I saw the 2-D print I can't speak for how the film looks with the 3-D glasses on, but I can say that what I saw was from a technical perspective beautifully accomplished. I was somewhat less impressed with many aspects of the story that the technology was presumably supporting, and with the acting of the human characters, but not so much that I didn't enjoy the total viewing experience.

As writer and director, Cameron has attempted to create, or perhaps recreate, a mythology of a civilization that has lost its connection with its roots and its very soul, and that civilization's encounter with a world where the indigenous people have created a spiritual way of life built around their belief that they are an integral part of every aspect of their planet and can communicate with all its creatures and plant life.

As such, the story can be seen as yet another iteration of any encounter between technologically advanced people and those who rely on a simpler way of life. On another level, the film also delves into the martial tendencies of people who possess technology. Or to put it more directly, the willingness on the part of individuals to destroy those who get in their way, or who have different beliefs.

Such is the case with most of the humans, who, in 2124, have come to the distant Pandora to mine a mineral that is essential to an Earth dying from centuries of plunder. Unfortunately, the indigenous Na'vi live directly above the mother lode.

On the human side, the story centers on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation), a paraplegic ex-Marine who has the good fortune to be the twin (and therefore gene sharer) of a dead brother essential to the Pandora mission.

As humans cannot breathe in Pandora's atmosphere, scientists have created avatars that combine human genes with those of the Na'vi. As an avatar, Jake can now run again, so he is happy to accept a mission from Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, The Men Who Stare at Goats) to infiltrate the Na'vi and send in reports that will allow the military to more effectively remove the barrier to their planned mining.

But when Jake encounters the beautiful Na'vi Nevtiri (Zoe Saldana, 2009 Star Trek), his whole way of thinking is overturned and he gradually turns against his fellow humans. Trouble is, his avatar needs his human body to exist, and the civilian human leadership is weak and the humans have all the weapons.

What allows the viewer to overlook some of the simplistic aspects of the narrative is both the gorgeously created world of Pandora and its inhabitants and the essentially idealistic, even utopian, vision of Cameron's creation.

The final confrontation between humans and Na'vi, who are aided as well by botanist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez), is effective and suspenseful (no doubt even more impressive in 3-D). As it turns out, perhaps an avatar may be more than a computer projection. And didn't anyone think to tell the ignorant, arrogant humans the story of Pandora's box? Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking. 162m. At the Broadway (also 3-D), Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna (3-D).

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? Some studio executive must have thought the premise for this 100 percent unoriginal film was a good idea. Or perhaps the film got the green light because it came attached with two presumably bankable stars in Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker.

In any case, the romantic comedy involving city slickers stuck in a backwater has been trot out any number of times, recently in New in Town with Renée Zellweger as the Miami gal stuck in a frigid small town in Minnesota. In this latest exercise, Grant and Parker are estranged Manhattan couple Paul and Meryl Morgan, he an attorney, she a purveyor of upscale property.

It seems that Paul had a one-night stand, and Meryl can neither forgive nor forget (as we endlessly rediscover, because she never stops talking). When Paul finagles her into a dinner out, they unluckily witness a high-level murder. Since the badass killer recognizes them, they are put into protective company in (gasp) Ray, Wyo., by the F.B.I.

There follows every cliché the writer/director Marc Lawrence (Music and Lyrics) can come up with. The big Eastern city/small isolated Western town divide is mined for the usual jokes, most of the funny ones given to Grant. Even less is made of the Blue State/Red State political gulf, except a few throwaway jokes involving the 14 democrats who live in Ray and the fact that Meryl is a member of PETA and a vegetarian.

There is one bonus that the setting provides: It gives us Sam Elliot and the delightful Mary Steenburgen, who steal every scene they're in as the ranchers who host Paul and Meryl. The script does not require any stretch from either Grant or Parker, and they live down to expectations. They're not terrible, but their characters are boring and predictable. Elizabeth Moss from TV's Mad Men adds some zest as Meryl's real estate assistant. For die-hard genre fans only. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and momentary violence. 103m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

CONTINUING

2012. The world blows up despite John Cusack's fine acting abilities. Rated PG-13. 158m. At the Movies.

THE BLIND SIDE. A homeless African-American youth is taken in by a well-to-do white family who help him realize his football potential. Rated PG-13. 126m. At the Broadway, the Minor, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

BROTHERS. Soldier comes home from hellish Afghanistan war, suspects shenanigans between wife and ne'er-do-well brother. Rated R. 110m. At the Movies.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Disney does Dickens! Rated PG. 96m. At the Movies.

THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Wes Anderson directs this stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel. Rated PG. 87m. At the Movies.

INVICTUS. True story of Nelson Mandela's relationship with the captain of South Africa's national rugby team and their attempts to unite the country. Rated PG. 133m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and The Minor.

OLD DOGS. Robin Williams and John Travolta attempt to teach themselves some new tricks. Rated PG. 88m. At the Movies.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Disney reverts to old-school animation for a fairy tale featuring a princess... and a frog. Retro! Rated G. 95m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Teenage vampires are the cutest vampires. Rated PG-13. 130m. At the Movies.

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