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by The Inlander & r & Babel


Director Alejandro Gonz & aacute;lez I & ntilde; & aacute;rritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga make beautiful, joyless films. The third and likely final collaboration between the two concludes a really good trilogy (also including Amores Perros and 21 Grams) about guilt, blame and loss with a just OK meditation on the similar way people grieve and blame all over the globe. From sexually reactive Japanese teens to an affluent, unhappy American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, both very good), this film proves we're all connected and we're all sad. Good call. (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





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





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





Fast Food Nation


A fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's 2004 nonfiction book on the dirty little secrets of the fast food industry. The book exposed readers to filthy kitchens, on-the-job sexual harassment, the plight of undocumented workers and the deplorable conditions of meat-packing plants and abattoirs. Whether director Richard Linklater's large ensemble cast can more widely broadcast that message without sacrificing grit remains to be seen. Rated R





FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS


The photo of six Marines planting an American flag on Iwo Jima became iconic from the moment it ran on the covers of newspapers across the States. Clint Eastwood's film of the book looks at the troubled lives of three of those men during and after the days when they were labeled heroes and forced by the military to shill for war bonds. Horrific war scenes mix with introspective emotional sequences, resulting in a story that's both patriotic and damning. This is a major triumph for Eastwood, one of America's best filmmakers. (ES) Rated R





Flushed Away


Nick Park had no hand in this film, meaning it's missing the spear point of Aardman Studio's three Oscar wins (two for Wallace & amp; Gromit shorts, one for last year's W & amp;G feature debut, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit). As you might expect, then, the comic irreverence of Aardman's best work is blunted here and dulled, but not entirely worn down. Despite that, and a plot and main character so purile as to be almost unwatchable initially, Flushed Away works if you sit tight. Make it past the first 15 minutes, and you'll find yourself laughing through the final 70. (LB) Rated PG





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





Let's Go to Prison


How many "drop the soap" jokes can fit into a single motion picture? Dax Shepard, from Punk'd, attempts to find out in this comedy based on a book by an ex-con. Rated R





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)





THE PRESTIGE


Fans of The Illusionist need not worry that this is just more early 20th-century magician business. This one gives you two magicians for the price of one, and fierce competition between them gets very much out of control. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as the master performers, with gadget builder Michael Caine and a surprisingly restrained Scarlett Johansson as a love interest. Twists and turns galore, under the twisting, turning direction of Christopher Nolan (Memento), are accompanied by a quiet, mannered performance by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. (ES) Rated PG-13





The Queen


Helen Mirren stars as Elizabeth II in a dramedy about the beloved figurehead and her less than beloved family. Does British tabloids one better by coupling snark, satire and general salaciousness with considerable Oscar buzz. Rated 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. Rated G





Saw III


We've always believed that the first Saw was built out of a love for David Fincher's Se7en and an idea for a punny tag line ("See Saw" nearly made us puke). So what direction does the third installment take when the first was essentially directionless? More blood; more wanky, carpe-diem pseudo-philosophy; and a prot & eacute;g & eacute;. Yeah, a prot & eacute;g & eacute;. Rated R.





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.

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