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"Christmas with the Kranks" (PG, 1 hour, 34 minutes)

One can only hope that kids 10 and older (though it is OK for them in terms of its mild sexual innuendo and nonprofane dialogue) will find better things to do than waste 94 minutes watching this painful, laborious, nearly laugh-free and visually ugly "comedy." Rarely does a film make Christmas seem as joyless as does "Christmas with the Kranks." Like "Polar Express" (G), it tries to embody the holiday in a totally secular way -- political correctness taken to ridiculous extremes. The film does show drinking and contains a theme about one supporting character's struggle with cancer.

Based on a book by John Grisham ("Skipping Christmas"), the movie never settles on a tone -- family comedy, suburban angst comedy? Luther Krank (Tim Allen) decides that since his daughter (Julie Gonzalo) has joined the Peace Corps, he and wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis, and she should sue the cinematographer) will opt out of their street's fanatically festive Christmas tradition and take a cruise. Their neighbors (led by Dan Aykroyd) react with downright Stalinist fervor, trying to bully and shame the Kranks into keeping Christmas. (One cringes to think how a non-Christian family would feel in such a neighborhood.) There are last-minute switcheroos and it all turns out to be about Luther's redemption. Huh?

"Alexander" (R, 2 hours, 55 minutes.)

Literally vibrating with lavish scenic design and impressive, bloody re-enactments of ancient battles, this epic film still collapses under its own weight. High-schoolers intrigued by ancient history may find "Alexander" engrossing, but they're also likely to snicker at all the unintentionally funny moments and incongruities that pop up: Greek and Macedonian soldiers have Irish and Scottish accents and Anglo-Saxon features, apparently to give them a consistent ethnicity. (The Persians appear more the way ancient artists portrayed them.) Director Oliver Stone has actors (including his Alexander, a newly blond Colin Farrell) deliver the fact-and-philosophy-laden dialogue like spoonfuls of medicine, with long pauses between sentences. Angelina Jolie proves a campy distraction as Alexander's snake-loving, conspiracy-obsessed mother, Olympias. Some interiors look fabulous, others like upscale shopping malls.

The battle scenes are often a highly cinematic blur of slaughter, but they do show bloody impalings, stabbings and plain old hand-to-hand clobbering amid huge fields of dead. Horses and elephants also receive lethal injuries and a bull is sacrificed (off-screen, but audibly) to the gods. Other violence off the field portrays murder and an attempted rape. The film includes strong, though nongraphic, sexual innuendo regarding Alexander's bisexuality (or homosexuality; it's a matter of debate) and the near-incestuous feelings of his mother for him. A nonexplicit sexual situation between Alexander and his tribal bride Roxane (Rosario Dawson) shows toplessness. Among other mature elements are scantily clad and suggestively dancing harem girls, and much drinking.

Stone has chosen to tell his complicated, nearly three-hour tale in a nonlinear way, flashing up and back in time as if a chapter heading like "Babylon, Persia, 323 B.C." is enough to place it all in context. (It isn't.) Anthony Hopkins plays the aged Egyptian Ptolemy, who weaves the film together by dictating his recollections of Alexander, at whose side he fought decades earlier. It's not clear until well into the film who Hopkins is, nor do we realize that the old man (Christopher Plummer) tutoring the young Alexander is Aristotle.Intermediate string overflow Intermediate string overflow Intermediate string overflow Intermediate string overflow Intermediate string overflow Intermediate string overflow

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