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The Cricket
Sean P. Means
Sean is the movie critic and columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul play married alcoholics in "Smashed." Oana Marian | Sony Pictures Classics
Wednesday movie roundup: A pre-Thanksgiving feast

With Thanksgiving, there’s a two-day head start on the movie weekend — and you’re going to need it, because there are six movies opening today.

Best of the bunch is "Life of Pi," Ang Lee’s beautiful rendering of Yann Martel’s novel about an Indian teen (Suraj Sharma) who survives a shipwreck, and must contend with a bengal tiger in his lifeboat. The gorgeous visuals, and David Magee’s lucid adaptation, celebrates Pi’s struggle and the joys of storytelling.

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Another big Oscar contender is "Silver Linings Playbook," an uneven comedy about a recent mental patient (Bradley Cooper) trying to get his life back together — and encountering a cop’s widow (Jennifer Lawrence) who may be more messed up than he is. Lawrence’s performance is riveting, but the movie writer-director David O. Russell builds around it isn’t up to the same standard.

The animated "Rise of the Guardians" is a lively and witty tale, based on William Joyce’s "The Guardians of Childhood" books. It supposes a "Justice League" of folkloric figures — Santa (voice of Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher) and the Sandman — joining forces and enlisting Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) to battle the Boogeyman (voice of Jude Law) and protect children. The movie is a little dark and scary for little children, but for everyone else it’s a treat.

"Red Dawn" is an unnecessary remake of the 1984 Cold War action drama, this time with North Koreans invading the Pacific Northwest instead of the Soviets. It’s up to a Marine (Chris Hemsworth), his high-school quarterback brother (Josh Peck), and some of their friends (including Adrienne Palicki and Josh Hutcherson) to band together into a guerrilla unit. It’s bombastic, ridiculous, and shot with nausea-inducing camerawork.

The art-house slate is dominated by "Smashed," an absorbing drama about alcoholism — centering on a schoolteacher (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who decides to get sober, which puts a strain on her marriage to her still-drinking husband (Aaron Paul). The strong supporting cast (including Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Octavia Spencer) bring some offbeat humor to the story, but it’s Winstead’s fearless performance that propels the drama.

Lastly, there’s "A Royal Affair," a period Danish drama about palace intrigue in the late 1700s, with a young queen (Alicia Vikander), a mad king (), and a German doctor (Mads Mikkelsen) who becomes the king’s advisor and the queen’s lover. The highlight is Mikkelsen’s nuanced performance.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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