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MOVIES: Now Showing

Recently reviewed films now playing in theaters:

* A Christmas Carol (PG) Writer/director Robert Zemeckis gives the Dickens classic a fresh and vibrant new look while sticking close to the original text in a 3-D animated adventure that is far more intense and solemn than most family audiences might like. 3 stars -- Michael Clark

* An Education (PG-13) Director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby put a classy spin on a "Lolita" scenario in this brilliant, near-flawless drama set in 1960s England where a teen girl falls for a sophisticated man more than twice her age. 4 stars -- MC

* The Damned United (R) Oscar-nominee ("The Queen") Michael Sheen stars as legendary soccer coach Brian Clough in this gritty sports drama that avoids the genre's typically sappy and falsely uplifting cliches. 3 1/2 stars -- MC

* The Fourth Kind (PG-13) This sci-fi/horror thriller mixes fake documentary footage with live-action replicas to interesting effect that looks good but goes nowhere fast. If this sort of thing appeals to you see "Paranormal Activity" instead. 2 stars -- MC

* The Men Who Stare at Goats (R) George Clooney, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges play U.S. Army soldiers who think they can fight warfare and kill farm animals with their minds in this highly uneven, often misfiring black comedy. 21/2 stars -- MC

* Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire (R) Superb acting goes far in making up for a downbeat story and erratic direction in this period urban drama about a troubled Harlem teen girl attempting to break free from her abusive parents. 2 1/2 stars -- MC

* Astro Boy (PG) This endlessly entertaining and whip-smart animated adventure might be a little too somber and intense in spots for toddlers, but anyone over the age of 7 will be immediately hooked and riveted for the duration. 3 stars -- MC

* Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (PG-13) This bloodless and unintentionally camp vampire flick tries to ride in on the coattails of "Twilight" but shoots itself in the foot by looking forward to future sequels and ignoring a cohesive first installment. 1 star -- MC

* A Serious Man (R) This near masterpiece from the Coen Brothers mixes elements of faith and the metaphysical in a '60s period piece serio-comedy populated with mostly no-name actors. 3 stars -- MC

* New York, I Love You (R) This second in a series of world city anthology movies breaks a lot of genre rules and plays out more like a feature film than a collection of unrelated shorts. 3 stars -- MC

* Where the Wild Things Are (PG) Director Spike Jonze's long-anticipated adaptation of the landmark book by Maurice Sendak is too downbeat and cerebral for kids and not involving enough for adults. 2 stars -- MC

* Couples Retreat (PG-13) The once hip, ultra-cool Vince Vaughn and his "Swingers" co-star Jon Favreau play two regular Joes that are duped into taking a tropical vacation with their wives that is a long series of unfunny skits, new-age therapy and bad bathroom humor. 1/2 of a star -- MC