First Takes |

First Takes

From Associated Press and Internet reports

In this image released by Miramax Pictures, Julianne Moore, right, and Mark Ruffalo are shown in a scene from "Blindness." (AP Photo/Miramax Films, Ken Woroner) ** NO SALES **

‘An American Carol’ ” No summary available. Rated PG-13 for rude and irreverent content, and for language and brief drug material

‘Appaloosa’ ” Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are both on the right side of the law this time, but the chemistry they shared as adversaries in 2005’s “A History of Violence” remains. Good thing, too. Aside from the some striking scenery, their comfortable dynamic is just about all that makes “Appaloosa” worth watching.

Harris, as director, producer, co-writer and star, has come up with an old-school Western that feels, by turns, hokey and boringly episodic. And for a movie that takes place during a time when folks were heading west with bold dreams, “Appaloosa” never really goes anywhere.

Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker, the film finds Harris’ Virgil Cole taking over the lawless New Mexico town of Appaloosa as marshal in 1882. By his side, as always, is his trusted deputy, Everett Hitch (Mortensen), who travels with him from place to place, keeping the peace. Their routine consists of laying down the law, then kicking back on porches and in saloons, laconically trading one-liners. Their reverie is disrupted by a couple of forces: villainous rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, doing a distracting impression of Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood”) and flirty widow Allison French (Renee Zellweger, doing her usual squinty thing), who is new in town.

R for some violence and language. 115 min. Two stars out of four.

‘Blindness’ ” The blind literally lead the blind ” to hell and back ” in this pretentious, preposterous allegory.

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An unnamed disease afflicts the unnamed citizens of an unnamed city, all of which is too precious. The victims are sightless, but they see white instead of black, a sensation one character compares to “swimming in milk.” Once soldiers round them up and quarantine them in a grubby, abandoned mental asylum, their worst primal instincts emerge: urination and defecation in the hallways, theft, assaults and, ultimately, rape.

The physical and moral deterioration calls to mind the situation in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, but director Fernando Meirelles, in adapting a novel by Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago, is clearly trying to suggest that society similarly could collapse anywhere, anytime. Rather than being thought-provoking, though, the whole dreary exercise feels like an overlong beat-down ” as if we’re being scolded just for showing up.

Even Julianne Moore can’t liven up this slog, despite a typically strong performance as the one person who can still see (which is never explained, probably because it’s an arbitrary plot device). She pretends she’s blind, though, to stay with her husband (Mark Ruffalo), who is an eye doctor. Other victims include a little boy, a hooker with a heart of gold (Alice Braga) and an elderly man (Danny Glover), all of whom were the doctor’s patients, and a bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal) at the hotel where the prostitute worked.

R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity. 121 min. One and a half stars out of four.

‘The Duchess’ ” The cinched corsets, the mountains of upswept hair, the richly textured, intricately detailed costumes. Sure, “The Duchess” is a lavish exercise in style over substance, but it’s a well-crafted, superbly acted one.

Keira Knightley brings her usual bright energy and sly charm to the role of Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, and she manages to find the subversive humor within the artistically straightforward direction from Saul Dibb.

Working from the biography by Amanda Foreman, Dibb and fellow screenwriters Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen play up Georgiana’s glamour and the tragically soapy elements of her life, all of which makes for compelling viewing. But they don’t delve deeply enough into the darker parts of her personality, such as her proclivities for drinking and gambling.

You’re sometimes left wondering what truly drives her, beyond a sense of propriety and a love for her children ” all girls, for a while, to the dismay of her distant husband, who yearns for an heir. Ralph Fiennes is chilling as the exceedingly pragmatic Duke of Devonshire, but he’s also a good enough actor to convey some much-needed glimmers of humanity within this seemingly bloodless figure.

PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material. 105 min. Three stars out of four.

‘The Metropolitan Opera: La Damnation de Faust Encore’ ” No summary available.

‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ ” No summary available. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements. 91 min.

‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ ” No summary available. Rated R for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material. 110 min.