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BOBBY


Fact and fiction intertwine in writer-director-co-star Emilio Estevez's take on what might have been going on in guests' and workers' lives at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles during the hours preceding the June 1968 assassination of Bobby Kennedy. A superb cast -- Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, many more -- work in both separate and connecting scenarios, while RFK is seen mostly on TV screens. Expertly presented and very moving. (ES) Rated R





BORAT


The funniest film of the year (of the decade?) is also the most politically incorrect. And that's what makes it so funny. Sacha Baron Cohen brings his Kazakhstani TV journalist character, Borat, to the screen in a faux documentary road trip across America. The shtick is that Borat never comes out of character, and meets up with a lot of unsuspecting Americans who aren't brought in on the joke. He's an imbecilic, racist misogynist who has no idea he's doing anything wrong. A special nude sequence will leave you howling. (ES) Rated R





BUGS


Real-life footage of bugs (mainly a preying mantis and a caterpillar) tells the story of their life in the rain forest. The IMAX screen closes in on the insects with a childlike intensity, but the directors have spiced things up with occasional effects -- such as Mantis Vision. Judi Dench, the film's narrator, brings a Shakespearean relish to discussions of what it feels like to eat your opponent's head. The music is over the top, lending the short film the feel of a live cartoon. The ending is schmaltzy, but redeems the bugs with a treatment that transcends simplistic "circle of life" stuff. (MD) Imax, Not Rated





Casino Royale


James Bond is reborn, and the new one -- Daniel Craig -- may be poised to take over the "most popular" crown from Sean Connery. This adaptation of Ian Fleming's first novel presents the Bond that Fleming wrote about -- a grim, determined agent who doesn't bother with any one-liners. He's there to get the job done -- in this case, beating a villain out of his money at a poker game and, of course, driving fast, bedding beautiful women and constantly escaping death. This kick-ass movie gives the franchise a needed shot in the arm, and it gives viewers a reason to hold on tight while watching. (ES) Rated PG-13





DECK THE HALLS


Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito fight it out to be Mr. Christmas, the dude on the block with the best Christmas decorations. We liked this idea better when it was the middle section of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Rated PG





D & eacute;j & agrave; Vu


In some ways, this story of time-travel sleuthing is Tony Scott's most challenging film since True Romance. For all its quasi-intellectualism and philosophical preening, though, D & eacute;j & agrave; Vu caves to formula ceaselessly. Once Hero Carlin (Denzel) and Damsel Claire (Paula Patton) finally make contact -- across the vast expanse of time -- after only knowing each other an hour, tops, they kiss. This is moments after Claire was convinced Carlin had been trying to douse her in diesel and burn her alive. But the make-out scene is necessary. Following the Bruckheimeran Method for action plot development, you have to have some emotional release before the climactic battle, even if it's just a kiss from out of absolutely nowhere. (LB) Rated PG-13








THE DEPARTED


Martin Scorsese returns to form in this gritty remake of a 2002 Hong Kong film. Set in contemporary Boston, the story's premise is that the cops have a rat (Leonardo DiCaprio) in mobster Jack Nicholson's Irish gang, and Nicholson has one (Matt Damon) infiltrating the cops. Suspicions within both camps run rampant, and raw violence is never very far from center-screen. Solid acting from all, tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and an eclectic rock soundtrack. (ES) Rated R





Happy Feet


Robin Williams is so much funnier when you can't see his face. Here he plays several different penguins in this tale of flightless birds who choose mates by their ability to sing. Tough luck for Mumble (Elijah Wood), who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket but sure can tap a mean game. (At IMAX, AMC and Regal) Rated PG





The Nativity Story


This one's hoping to be The Parturition of the Christ. Screenwriter Mike Rich, who's devout, has remained Gospel-faithful while envisioning a Nativity sequence less event driven than character-driven. We see Mary and Joseph as human beings caught up in the extraordinary: their arranged betrothal, the Annunciation, Joseph's dream, the sand-blown journey to Bethlehem, the three Magi, and one very paranoid Herod. (Thankfully, director Catherine Hardwicke didn't ask Mel Gibson to help film the Massacre of the Innocents.) The cast includes Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Mary, Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) as Elizabeth, and Alexander





THE QUEEN


The story of how Queen Elizabeth II dealt with the death of Princess Di, The Queen lives and breathes almost solely on the power of Helen Mirren's performance. Which is good, because the central question is a doozy. Elizabeth waited a week to speak publicly about her estranged daughter-in-law, much to the sorrow and anger of the average Briton; director Stephen Frears' film centers on whether the queen's actions were the result of precedent, propriety, or simply the queen's pride. (LB)





SANTA CLAUSE 3


There's more fine print in Tim Allen's little Santa contract, and this one says ... well, we're not sure what it says. It certainly doesn't make any sense. Somehow, "the escape clause" means Santa and his (never before seen) nemesis Jack Frost (Martin Short) get to go back in time or something. Rated G





Stranger Than Fiction


A good, fun premise (novelist is writing a story about a character who happens to be real, and decides she ought to kill him off), some great acting (Will Ferrell's best) and very good direction from Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, the crappy but visually gorgeous Stay) ultimately devolves into a pedantic, quasi-philosophical think piece whose climax hinges on an ethical no-brainer that is nonetheless given 20 minutes of sappy hand-wringing to arrive at an obvious conclusion. Give it an "A" for effort, but this bad boy needed way more work at the screenwriting stage. (LB) Rated PG-13.





TENACIOUS D: THE PICK OF DESTINY


So much better than we expected given the trailer, Pick of Destiny is a daffy, occasionally erudite lampoon of the grandeur and geekdom that underlies most all fantasy metal. Unfortunately, the same freeform expressionism that makes the high points seem brilliantly off the cuff also seems to convince Black and Gass that they ought to indulge their penchant for fart jokes and psychedelia as far as it will go. There are some hilarious moments and some horrifyingly unfunny ones. More good than bad though. (LB) Rated R





Turistas


Silly Americans. Don't you know that going backpacking in a foreign country is a bad idea? Haven't you seen An American Werewolf in London or Hostel? As must happen in these films, a number of kids (in various relationships and degrees of undress) from "not around here" get drunk in Brazil, think they're all hot, then run for their lives when they realize the locals want to kill them. Rated R





Van Wilder 2:


The Rise of the Taj


The hero's sidekick from the first Van Wilder, Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn) trades one college for another as he climbs up the rungs of higher (and higher and higher) education. Not having Ryan Reynolds as Van, however, does not bode well for this franchise -- unless Penn can carry the movie on his own. Rated R

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