KEY: Four Stars: Superior. Three Stars: Good. Two Stars: Average. One Star: Poor

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KEY: Four stars: superior. Three stars: good. Two stars: average. One star: poor. D (drug use), L (language), N (nudity), S (sexual situations, references), V (violence). Ratings by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic, unless otherwise noted.

Picks

"Argo" -- Ultra-white knuckle time as star Ben Affleck directs Oscar's best picture based on the rescue of six U.S. embassy workers hiding in the Canadian ambassador's house during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Surprisingly humorous, too. (R) L, V. 120 minutes. . . . 1/2

"The Call" -- A 911 operator (Halle Berry) gets a call from a young woman (Abigail Breslin) being abducted by an assailant in Brad Anderson's tense, well-executed women-in-jeopardy thriller. (R) L, V. 95 minutes. . . .

"The Croods" -- Amusing 3-D animated comedy about a Neanderthal family headed by Grug (Nicolas Cage) who must learn to take risks or die in an oncoming natural disaster. A kiddie-pitched comedy about facing fears and embracing changes. With Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Cloris Leachman providing voices and personalities. (PG) 92 minutes. . . .

"From Up on Poppy Hill" -- Goro Miyazaki emulates the beautiful hand-drawn animation of his famous filmmaking father (Hayao Miyazaki) in this nostalgic 1963-set drama about a girl (Sarah Bolger) who uses flags to honor her late Korean War hero father. English language version directed by Elmhurst native Gary Rydstrom. At the Century Centre, Chicago. (PG) 91 minutes. . . . 1/2

"Life of Pi" -- Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's wondrous tale of a young Indian (Suraj Sharma) who survives a ship wreck aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. An epic celebrating the power of storytelling in all forms. See it in 3-D and be amazed. (PG) 127 minutes. . . . .

"Quartet" -- Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with the plot-challenged, but still delightful comedy about denizens in a British retirement home for professional musicians. Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly play members who put on a fundraiser concert. (NR) for general audiences. 97 minutes. . . .

"The Sapphires" -- Fact-inspired musical drama about four aboriginal Aussie singers and their white manager who land a choice performing gig in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1968. Nostalgic, muscular and highly engaging film directed by Wayne Blair, starring Chris O'Dowd and the amazing Jessica Mauboy. At the Century Centre, Chicago. (PG-13) L, S, V. 99 minutes. . . .

"Silver Linings Playbook" -- David O. Russell directs a surprisingly charming, daringly comic, humanistic look at two mentally ill people (Bradley Cooper and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) who meet and instantly trade Matthew Quick's biting, amusing banter. (R) L, N, S. 122 minutes. . . .

"Warm Bodies" -- Jonathan Levine's surprisingly sweet romantic fantasy about a cute zombie (Nicholas Hoult) with a crush on a pretty human (Teresa Palmer) he doesn't want to eat. Nice combo of horror and classic fairy tale. (PG-13) L, V. 97 minutes. . . .

Passables

"Admission" -- Tepid dramedy that's not very funny or really dramatic. An uptight Princeton University admissions officer (Tina Fey) discovers she might be the birth mother of a bright student (Nat Wolff) whose grades won't get him into her school. Paul Rudd stars as his teacher and her potential romantic interest. With Lily Tomlin as Tina's super feminist mom. (PG-13) L, S. 107 minutes. . .

"Death by China" -- Peter Navarro's journalistically unbalanced doc fires its bullet points across America's bow to warn that our increasing financial dependence upon dictatorial China can only lead to our own destruction. (We owe China $3 trillion.) Solid information gets tossed in with screaming rhetoric and Martin Sheen's urgent narration. At the Muvico Theaters Rosemont 18. (NR) 79 minutes. . . 1/2

"Family Weekend" -- A high school rope-skipping champion (Olesya Rulin) drugs and ties up her uninvolved parents (Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Modine) until they become the caring people they used to be. …