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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





CHARLOTTE'S WEB


The new live-action version of the classic E.B. White book features great CGI work as far as the cast of talking animals goes, but much the same thing has been seen before in Babe. The story of a barn spider (voice of Julia Roberts) who is determined to save the life of a runt pig who's heading for slaughter will appeal to young kids. But the casting of the creepy and annoying Dakota Fanning (as a live-action character) will bother some adults. The bittersweet story concerns life and death on the farm, but there's plenty of slapstick to keep kiddies occupied. (ES) Rated G





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. (LB) 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





ERAGON


Since Peter Jackson has no fantasies in the works, filmgoers will have to content themselves with Eragon. This fantasy story with a plot that could have come from a videogame stars an unknown newcomer (Edward Speleers) opposite Jeremy Irons. The last time Irons was in a fantasy, it was called Dungeons & amp; Dragons and it was embarrassing. They are joined by John Malkovich, who is most famous for being himself, and Djimon Hounsou, who is heroic enough to forego the presence of the others. (MD) Rated PG





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 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. (MD) Rated PG-13





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 Siddig (Deep Space Nine) as the archangel Gabriel. (MB) Rated PG





THE POLAR EXPRESS


The popular Chris Van Allsburg book gets the Robert Zemeckis treatment and a dazzling animated style that makes it look like a living Van Allsburg drawing. Never mind that train to Hogwarts. The one that pulls up at a young boy's house on Christmas Eve is headed for the North Pole and a certain jolly fat man. And it seems that the other young passengers have one thing in common: They're all wearing pajamas. Tom Hanks voices the conductor and four other parts, including the boy. Charming, wistful, with a nice dose of adventure. (ES) At the IMAX in Riverfront Park. Rated G





THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS


Will Smith makes it hard for critics to write unkind things about him by starring in this family drama with his real-life son Jaden. As a father who goes to great lengths to keep his son from hardship after the family is forced to survive on an unpaid internship, Smith has the based-on-real-life material to make Oprah cry. (She's already endorsed the movie.) Will it feature a feel-good capitalist fantasy ending, or something more sincere? Might not matter to Smith, who will have a multi-million dollar portrait of his son no matter how the movie turns out. Rated (MD) PG-13





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. (LB) Rated G





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). (MB) Rated PG

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