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MOVIES

Capsule reviews are by Kenneth Turan (K.Tu.), Betsy Sharkey (B.S.) and other reviewers. Compiled by Anthony Miller.

Openings

FRIDAY

Dear John A young soldier home on leave falls in love with an idealistic college student during her spring vacation and over the next few years they meet only sporadically and correspond through love letters. With Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Henry Thomas, Scott Porter and Richard Jenkins. Screenplay by Jamie Linden, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Directed by Lasse Hallström. (1:48) PG-13.

District 13: Ultimatum An elite police officer and a reformed vigilante must join forces again using martial arts to bring peace to the neighborhood by any means necessary before a proposed nuclear air-strike wipes it off the map. With Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle. Screenplay by Luc Besson. Directed by Patrick Alessandrin. (1:35) R.

From Paris With Love A low-level CIA operative finds himself the target of a crime ring he’s trying to bust on his first real assignment. With John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak and Richard Durden. Screenplay by Adi Hasak, based on a Story by Luc Besson. Directed by Pierre Morel. (1:35) R.

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Frozen Three snowboarders are stranded on the chairlift before their last run, left dangling high off the ground with no way down. With Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell. Written and directed by Adam Green. (1:34) R.

Critics’ Choices

An Education Invariably funny and inexpressibly moving in the way it looks at a young girl’s journey from innocence to experience, this film does so many things so well, it’s difficult to know where to begin cataloging its virtues. What’s easy is knowing where you’ll end up, which is marveling like everyone else at the performance by Carey Mulligan that is the film’s irreplaceable centerpiece. (K.Tu., Oct. 16) (1:35) NR.

Avatar Think of “Avatar” as “The Jazz Singer” of 3-D filmmaking. Think of it as the most expensive and accomplished Saturday matinee movie ever made. Think of it as the ultimate James Cameron production. Whatever way you choose to look at it, “Avatar’s” shock and awe demand to be seen. You’ve never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else. (K.Tu., Dec. 17) Also in Imax 3D. (2:30) PG-13.

Crazy Heart There’s a powerful symmetry at work here, a parallel between protagonist Bad Blake, a country singer whose entire life has led him to a nadir of disintegration, and star Jeff Bridges, whose exceptional film choices have put him at the height of his powers just in time to make Mr. Blake the capstone role of his career. (K.Tu., Dec. 16) (1:52) R.

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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Heath Ledger’s last project is a film as unusual and idiosyncratic as its one-of-a-kind title. You’d expect no less from Terry Gilliam, and admirers of this singular filmmaker will be happy to know that “Imaginarium” is his most original and accessible work in years. (K.Tu., Dec. 25) (2:02) PG-13.

Invictus Blending entertainment, social message and history lesson, director Clint Eastwood’s latest film focuses on one particular moment in history, when South Africa’s newly elected leader Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, tried something so brazen, so risky, that his closest advisors were not only against it, but they also thought it was political suicide. (K.Tu., Dec. 11) (2:12) PG-13.

Killing Kasztner A compelling documentary on the strange life and death of Rezso Kasztner, a hero to some, a collaborator to others, but undeniably one of the most morally complex figures to come out of the Holocaust into the state of Israel. (K.Tu., Jan. 15) (2:09) NR.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond A troubled woman with a difficult past, humidity that hangs like condemnation in the air and a drawl as thick as honey, if not always as sweet. That’s Tennessee Williams country, and it’s right where we find Bryce Dallas Howard’s Memphis heiress, Fisher Willow, in “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.” Like Fisher, the film is lovely, if flawed. (B.S., Dec. 30) (1:42) PG-13.

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The Messenger It would have been easy for this moving new drama that follows an Army casualty notification team as they tell families a loved one has died in combat to turn into a patriotic melodrama or a hopelessly somber tragedy. It is neither. Instead emotions are used sparingly with the director’s restraint allowing the marvelous central cast -- Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton -- to breathe. (B.S., Nov. 20) (1:45) R.

Precious Nothing quite prepares you for the rough-cut diamond that is “Precious.” A rare blend of pure entertainment and dark social commentary, this shockingly raw, surprisingly irreverent and absolutely unforgettable story of an obese, illiterate, pregnant black Harlem teen named Precious is one that should not be missed. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is impressive as the 16-year-old, but it is the boldness of Mo’Nique’s performance as her soul-destroying nightmare of a mother, that sweeps you away. (B.S., Nov. 6) (1:49) R.

The Princess and the Frog Go ahead and pucker up. Because long before “The Princess and the Frog” is over you’ll want to smooch the charming couple in this foot-stomping, smile-inducing, heart-warming animated twist on the old Brothers Grimm frog-prince fairy tale. Set in jazz age New Orleans, the film is a return to the lush, fluid beauty of hand-drawn animation.(B.S., Nov. 25) (1:35) G.

A Single Man We’re always looking for those performances that define an actor, where we can sit back and simply watch the talent soar. “A Single Man” is that film for Colin Firth, until now probably best known for his work in the “Bridget Jones” films. His portrayal of George, the single man in question, should change all that. Fashion designer Tom Ford has constructed an impressive directing debut out of Christopher Isherwood’s dark novel, with our tragedy beginning on the day George has determined will be his last. (B.S., Dec. 11) (1:39) NR.

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Up In The Air Director/co-writer Jason Reitman makes it look easy. In this comic drama about a road warrior played by George Clooney, he blends entertainment and insight, comedy and poignancy, even drama and reality, things that are difficult by themselves but a whole lot harder in combination. This film does all that and never seems to break a sweat. (K.Tu., Dec. 4) (1:49) R.

The White Ribbon We don’t go to Michael Haneke films for comfort, but to gaze through a glass darkly. That vision -- tense, provocative and unnerving -- is on full display in “The White Ribbon,” which could be considered a culmination of this difficult director’s brilliant career. Set in an ordinary German village on the eve of World War I, the film looks at the children who would survive that war and grow into the generation that would bend to Hitler’s sway. History hovers over “White Ribbon” with the force of impending doom. (B.S., Dec. 30) (2:24) R.

The Young Victoria Starring Emily Blunt as the 18-year-old queen of England circa 1837, the film is a rich pastiche of first love, teen empowerment, fabulous fashion and fate. Together with Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, as we follow them through courtship, coronation and just beyond, they create a couple you’ll want to see again. But until then, “The Young Victoria” is a great place to start. (B.S., Dec. 18) (1:44) PG.

Also in Theaters

2012 This new disaster film insists the world will end with both a bang and a whimper, the bang of undeniably impressive special effects and the whimper of inept writing and characterization. You pays your money, you takes your choice chances. (K.Tu., Nov. 13) (2:38) PG-13.

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3 Idiots Two friends embark on a quest for a lost buddy and encounter a long forgotten bet, a wedding they must crash, and a funeral that gets out of control. In Hindi with English subtitles. With Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and R Madhavan. Written by Abhijat Joshi and Rajkumar Hirani, from the novel by Chetan Bhagat. Directed by Hirani. (2:44) NR.

44 Inch Chest Writer-playwrights Louis Mellis and David Scinto have a way with deconstructing masculine ferociousness -- relishing in revealing the follies of machismo in extremis. Malcolm Venville, in an assured directorial debut, builds suspense with steady effectiveness. Ray Winstone scales the heights and plumbs the depths of jealous husband Colin’s emotions in a role of Shakespearean grandeur. (Kevin Thomas, Jan. 15) (1:35) R.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Perhaps not since “The Godfather Part II” have we seen a sequel that matches the mastery of the film that came before it -- all the pathos, the brio, the epic sweep, the cheese balls. Indeed, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” only builds on the wit, the whimsy and the shredding bass that was 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which turned them into 21st century pop sensations. (B.S., Dec. 23) (1:28) PG.

Armored A crew at an armored transport security firm risk their lives when they embark on a heist against their own company. With Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Milo Ventimiglia, Fred Ward and Columbus Short. Written by James V. Simpson and Chris Parker. Directed by Nimrod Antal. (1:25) PG-13.

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The Blind Side Watching “The Blind Side” is like watching your favorite football team; you’ll cheer when things go well, curse when they don’t, and be reminded that in football, as in life, it’s how you play the game that counts -- though winning doesn’t hurt either. Based on the remarkable true story of Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher, the movie stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy. She’s a spitfire of a mom, and it’s the kind of role Hollywood should have given the actress ages ago. In the end, this is Bullock’s movie. (B.S., Oct. 20) (2:06) PG-13.

The Book of Eli A lean, stark, surprisingly effective headliner in Hollywood’s ongoing apocalyp-alooza, “The Book of Eli” marks a return to form for co-directors Allen and Albert Hughes. A sly Old Testament “Mad Max"-y sort of Western, the film may traffic in familiar landscapes and archetypes, but it allows its cast the space and time to make the characters breathe. “The Book of Eli” works, even if the preservation of Christianity isn’t high on your personal post-apocalypse bucket list. (Michael Phillips, Jan. 15) (1:58) R.

Brothers Director Jim Sheridan sets the table early on for everything that will unfold in “Brothers.” It’s a last supper of sorts for the Cahill family, featuring Tobey Maguire as older brother Sam, a Marine captain returning to Afghanistan, and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), younger by a few years, a roguish reprobate just out of jail. Though Sam’s war experiences will sear and shred the Cahills, family dynamics will actually be the main course with old fights and simmering resentments served alongside rolls and the rest. Unfortunately, the film goes about as badly as the dinner, overcooked or underdone, depending on the scene. (B.S., Dec. 4) (1:50) R.

Coco Before Chanel For someone who was as celebrated internationally as France’s Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the woman who changed the shape of 20th century fashion, not that much is known for sure about her formative years. Though Chanel’s reticence may sound like a barrier to filmmakers, it stimulated co-writer and director Fontaine and star Tautou, who’ve combined to turn “Coco Before Chanel” into a superior filmed biography that brings intelligence, restraint and style to what could have been a more standard treatment. (K.Tu., Sept. 25) In French with English subtitles. (1:50) PG-13.

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Creation Based on “Annie’s Box,” a biography penned by Darwin’s great-great-grandson Randal Keynes using personal letters and diaries of the Darwin family, this film takes an unique and inside look at Darwin, his family and his love for his deeply religious wife. With Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam and Toby Jones. Directed by John Amiel. (1:48) NR.

Daybreakers A decade after a vampire plague has swept the globe, the remaining human population is no more than rapidly dwindling food stock. Any higher intentions are brought crashing down by predictability, wooden characters, giggle-inducing attempts at scares (shrieking bats, anyone?) and cinematography so gloomy it should be checked for serotonin deficiency. This isn’t the film to relieve our collective vampire fatigue. (Michael Ordona, Jan. 8) (1:38) R.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? So here’s a question for the Feds whose witness protection program takes care of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, the couple on the edge of divorce in “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” What about the rest of us? We could have used some protection here too from this cliche-riddled romantic comedy. (B.S., Dec. 18) (1:43) PG-13.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol is Robert Zemeckis’ exasperating re-imagining of the Dickens classic as a 3-D action-thriller zooming through the fever dreams of Scrooge. The “It’s better to give than receive” moral is mostly lost in the special effects and there are Jim Carrey’s theatrics to weather. By the time Zemeckis finishes piling the shiny presents with all their bells and whistles with under the tree, there’s no room left for tears for Tiny Tim. Bah humbug. (B.S., Nov. 6) (1:16) PG.

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Drool Writer-director Nancy Kissam has said that her alternately blithe and darkly comic “Drool,” her first feature, would be “a John Waters-esque campy revenge comedy” only to discover her characters weren’t as vapid as she thought. Even though “Drool” rambles and ultimately slides into overly obvious make-believe, Kissam emerges as a fearless risk-taker of promise. (Kevin Thomas, Jan. 22) (1:25) NR.

Edge of Darkness A veteran Boston homicide detective embarks on a mission to find out about his 24-year-old daughter’s secret life after she is murdered on the steps of his home. With Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic and Shawn Roberts. Written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. Based on the television series written by Troy Kennedy Martin. Directed by Martin Campbell. (1:48) R.

Everybody’s Fine In this remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Stanno Tutti Bene,” a widower embarks on an impromptu road trip to reconnect with each of his grown children. With Robert DeNiro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell. Written and directed by Kirk Jones. (1:35) PG-13.

Extraordinary Measures is a desperate drama of a father racing against time to find a cure for a rare genetic disease that is killing two of his children. So you know going in that the challenge for director Tom Vaughan is how to handle the science and the sentiment--tear-soaked terrain that has proven difficult for filmmakers over the years from “Love Story” to “Lorenzo’s Oil.” Vaughan opts for restraint, giving us a life and death story that feels brisk, business-like and oddly emotionless. (B.S., Jan. 22) (1:46) PG.

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The Fantastic Mr. Fox With George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the most urbane couple in the vulpine world, this adaptation of the much-loved Roald Dahl novel animates not only forest animals but the career of director Wes Anderson. (K.Tu., Nov. 13) (1:28) PG.

Fish Tank A 15-year-old girl’s life turns around when she connects with her party mother’s boyfriend. With Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. Directed by Andrea Arnold. (2:02) NR.

The Fourth Kind The vogue for verité spooks continues with “The Fourth Kind,” but unlike the understated stylistic rigor of “Paranormal Activity,” this alien abduction showpiece about unexplained events in Nome, Alaska, doth protest its bona fides too much. Presented as a cinematic re-creation of traumatic, mysterious occurrences surrounding sleep-deprived patients of psychologist Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich), writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi attempts an Orson Welles-like confluence of “real” and imagined that might have worked had he gotten out of the way more, literally and figuratively. (Robert Abele, Nov. 6) (1:38). PG-13.

It’s Complicated The problem with this romantic comedy about the menopausal crowd starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, is that it’s not nearly complicated enough. The film is the latest from writer/director Nancy Meyers, who has been working through her issues on screen for at least 20 years, starting with “Baby Boom” in 1987 through “Something’s Gotta Give” in 2003. But the vulnerability and smartness, as well as the funny with which she infused those earlier films, are harder to find here. (B.S., Dec. 25) (1:58) R.

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Leap Year begins terribly, and I mean terribly, as its genial performers -- Amy Adams and Matthew Goode -- plug away and do what they can to humanize material that puts the “ick” in “formulaic.” They hate each other at first. Then they don’t. And there you have it: another rom-com without much rom or com. “Leap Year” simply proves what we guessed going in: that Adams can redeem almost anything. (Michael Phillips, Jan. 8) (1:40) PG.

Legion Movies this ludicrous pull back from all-out camp at their own peril. So, while Kevin Durand’s louche archangel Gabriel is a juicy howler, the mini-chamber dramas of faithlessness and bruised hope among the mortals, as concocted by director Scott Stewart and credited co-screenwriter Peter Schink, are snooze-worthy, cliché-ridden afterthoughts. (Robert Abele, Jan. 25) (1:40) R.

The Lovely Bones By turns warmly sentimental, serial-killer sinister and science-fiction fantastical, Alice Sebold’s novel was an unlikely book to achieve world-wide success. In Peter Jackson’s film version, those mismatched elements come back to haunt the story, so to speak, making the final product more hit and miss than unblemished triumph. (K.Tu., Dec. 11) (2:16) PG-13.

Me and Orson Welles A romantic coming-of-age story about a teenage actor who lucks into a role in “Julius Caesar” as reimagined by a young director named Orson Welles in New York City circa 1937. With Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay and Ben Chaplin. Written by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr. Directed by Richard Linklater. (1:49) PG-13.

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The Men Who Stare at Goats A quirky comedic drama starring George Clooney about one of the strangest aspects of the modern American Army, a time when it was felt that the New Age techniques and beliefs could transform military practice. As the intertitle that begins the film puts it, “more of this is true than you would believe.” (K.Tu., Nov. 6) (1:33) R.

The Misfortunates Belgium’s entry in the Oscar Foreign Film category is a humorous tale of debauchery, pathos and growing up that finds hope and resurrection amid the moral depravity and lecherous behavior that a 13-year-old’s father and uncles indulge in daily. Based on the novel by Dimitri Verhulst. Directed by Felix van Groeningen. (1:48) NR.

Nine is one of those films that couldn’t look better on paper. An all-star cast headlined by Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, and Fergie. There are so many Oscar, Tony and Grammy winners involved that the production should have literally glittered with all that gold. But in the end, nothing adds up. Perhaps “Zero” would have been a better title. (B.S., Dec. 18) (1:50) PG-13.

Ninja Assassin A young assassin on the run from the clan that trained him must team with an Europol agent to save both their lives. With Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles and Rick Yune. Screenplay by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski. Directed by James McTeigue. (1:39) R.

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Planet 51 The action in this kids flick takes place on an alternate-universe version of Earth where Shrek-green humanoids live out SoCal-accented happy days. When astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) emerges from his lunar module, the little green people freak out. The premise is OK enough, even if it is like one of those old “Star Trek” episodes in which Kirk and crew would land on a planet whose culture was modeled on the Roman Empire or Chicago’s Gangland. If, as Chuck suggests, the ‘60s are about to take hold on Planet 51, we just hope someone writes a protest song about this movie. (Glenn Whipp, Nov. 20) (1:31) PG.

The Road Despite numerous strong areas, including fine acting by Viggo Mortensen and young Kodi Smit-McPhee as father-and-son survivors of an unnamed apocalypse, what we’ve been given is no more than a reasonable facsimile, an honorable attempt at filming Cormac McCarthy’s unfilmable book. (K.Tu., Nov. 25) (1:50) R.

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year An impossible love story between a geek and college hottie. With Ranbir Kapoor, Shazahn Padamsee, Sharon Prabhakar, and Gauhar Khan. Written by Jaideep Sahni. Directed by Shimit Amin. In Hindi with English subtitles. (2:35) NR.

Saint John of Las Vegas A compulsive gambler trying to go straight discovers there’s more than one way to hit the jackpot in life. With Steve Buscemi, Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, Romany Malco, John Cho and Tim Blake Nelson. Written and directed by Hue Rhodes. (1:25) R.

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A Serious Man Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen have seized the opportunity afforded by the Oscar-winning success of their last film, “No Country for Old Men,” to make their most personal, most intensely Jewish film, a pitch-perfect comedy of despair that, against some odds, turns out to be one of their most universal as well. (K.Tu., Oct. 2) (1:45) R.

Sherlock Holmes Briskly directed by Guy Ritchie and starring an expert Robert Downey, Jr., this 21st-century look at the great Victorian detective has been tripped up by misadventures that leave us wishing for the film that might have been. (K.Tu., Dec. 25) (2:09) PG-13.

The Spy Next Door On the ground or twirling in a stunt harness above it, Jackie Chan brings an air of determined good cheer to even the most metallic of clunkers “The Spy Next Door” operates on familial bonding by way of humiliating pranks, which in better circumstances might go by the name of slapstick. Now and then, the star executes a little something special -- with a stunt bike or a folding chair, for example -- and you think: Chan still has it. Even when the material conspires to take “it” away, he still has it. (Michael Phillips, Jan. 15) (1:32) PG.

To Save a Life Nicely directed by Brian Baugh from a script by Jim Britts, this smartly calibrated film also pulls off something rare by presenting religious commitment as something that’s not only potentially healing and elevating, but also kind of cool. Though the movie takes too long to bring Jake’s life-changing journey full circle and ties up its various strands with some predictable bows, this is a deftly acted, generally absorbing cautionary tale with wider allure than its faith-based label may imply. (Gary Goldstein, Jan. 22) (2 hrs.) PG-13.

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The Tooth Fairy The poster’s the funniest thing about the project: Dwayne Johnson, sporting a pair of fairy wings larger than his forearms, glaring at the camera. Johnson’s a game and antic presence, but saddled with this material -- he comes perilously close to tiring out the audience with all the nervous activity and the mugging. Working in a lower key, Billy Crystal is good for a chuckle or two as an elder fairy statesman. (Michael Phillips, Jan. 22) (1:42) PG.

A Town Called Panic Animated feature stars three plastic toys named Cowboy, Indian and Horse who share a rambling house in a rural town that attracts strange events. Directed by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. (1:15) NR.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Constrained by the plot of the novel, this sequel keeps teen lovers Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson apart for quite a spell, robbing the project of the crazy-in-love energy that made “Twilight,” the first entry in the series, such a guilty pleasure. (K.Tu., Nov. 19) (2:10) PG-13.

When in Rome An ambitious young New Yorker, disillusioned with romance, takes a whirlwind trip to Rome, where she defiantly plucks magic coins from a fountain of love, inexplicably igniting the passion of an odd group of suitors. With Kristen Bell, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and Josh Duhamel. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. (1:31) PG-13.

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Wonderful World What happened to Matthew Broderick? When and why did he go from the very picture of goofy, energetic youthfulness to the downbeat and browbeaten exemplar of unhappiness he has been in pretty much everything since “Election”? In “Wonderful World,” Broderick plays Ben Singer, a performer of children’s music who has retreated from the world. Broderick’s sad-sack misanthropy is often taken as a given and the film never quite explores the hidden corners of his character’s psyche. (Mark Olsen, Jan. 8) (1:35) R.

Youth in Revolt isn’t bad -- the cast is too good for it to be bad -- but archly comic coming-of-age fables are tricky things. Without Michael Cera, “Youth in Revolt” wouldn’t be much of anything. (Michael Phillips, Jan. 8) (1:30) R.

All movies are in release unless noted. Also included: the film’s running time and ratings. MPAA categories: (G) for general audiences; (PG) parental guidance urged because of material possibly unsuitable for children; (PG-13) parents are strongly cautioned to give guidance for attendance of children younger than 13; (R) restricted, younger than 17 admitted only with parent or adult guardian; (NC-17) no one 17 and younger admitted.


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