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APOCALYPTO


Mel Gibson's abhorrent behavior can't take away the fact that he knows how to make an epic film. This is set in a Mayan forest where a peaceful tribe is attacked by ruthless marauders who take prisoners. One man tries to find his way back, through all kinds of obstacles. The film is reverent toward nature, superbly photographed and scored, and brimming with decapitations. It also, oddly, has bright flashes of humor. Completely enthralling for a fast-paced 140 minutes. (ES) Rated R





BLOOD DIAMOND


This is really two films. There's the sober and horrifyingly proximate view of the conflict diamond situation. You have warlords and government officials, land rich but cash-strapped. You have the common folk -- like Mende fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) -- who are raped, mutilated, tortured and enslaved to mine the diamonds. On the other hand, you have all the running and ducking and shooting and hiding of good, brainless action-- all the explosions, supernatural combat skills, dizzying coincidence, improbable bullet geometries and narrow, inexplicable escapes that make it, well, an action movie. Blood Diamond is disjointed but effective and occasionally poignant. (LB) 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








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





THE FOUNTAIN


Director Darren Aronofsky freaked out audiences with the dazzle of Requiem for a Dream a few years ago. Now he's in a more soothing state of mind, but his movie is still way out there. Covering 1,000 years, it's the story of a conquistador serving his queen, a surgeon trying to save his wife, and a futuristic mystic being visited by a strange woman. All of those characters are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, in different times and places. Challenging, fantastical, and quite a trip. (ES) Rated PG-13





HAPPY FEET


This story of a penguin who is ostracized because he can't sing (like all the other penguins), and blamed for the loss of his colony's fish supply, Happy Feet is an alternately daffy and affecting tale of the struggle for individual identity in a rigid social context. Well-written and gorgeously rendered, Mumble (Elijah Wood), who can't sing but can tap dance magnificently, must fight the superstition and closed-mindedness that have not only made him an outcast but caused his people to turn a blind eye toward their fish woes. (LB) 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





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





THE HOLIDAY


The chick-flick auteuress responsible for What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give gets the glossy leading ladies she's always wanted: Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslett. Left loveless for the holidays, these two decide to swap stylish homes (one in L.A., the other across the pond) and before you know it, they're engaged in picturesque romancing with the likes of Jude Law and Jack Black. Rated PG-13





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





UNACCOMPANIED MINORS


This is a Brat Pack movie made with genuine, real-life little brats. Or maybe it's trying to be Home Alone, Only With a Bunch of Other Kids in a Big Airport. Either way, the originality rating is low and the sell-out factor is high, with grouchy Lewis Black and effeminate Wilmer Valderrama overseeing parent-less kids stranded in a terminal on Christmas Eve. When the second joke on your trailer is a kid doing a four-second belch, you know the next 1,173 jokes will go downhill like Black on an out-of-control sled (which is Joke No. 897). Rated PG





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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