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ALPHA DOG


A tale of a 20-something suburban weed dealer (Emile Hirsch) and his drug ring. The kid, unfortunately, got his street smarts from MTV. The film becomes a tragedy of errors after he takes a hostage in lieu of a drug payment. The conceit is gripping, and Ben Foster and Justin Timberlake are both great, but writer/director Nick Cassavetes seems to have modeled his idea of a writer/director on some malformed Hollywood representation the same way his characters have. (LB) Rated R





ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES


Bowie, Madonna, De Niro... they brought out the big guns to do the voices of the one-inch Minimoy fairies who populate this CGI-laden adventure. Adorable Freddie Highmore enlists help to fend off evil real estate developers, who are only slightly less freakish than the imps themselves. (MB) Rated PG





BABEL


Babel concludes a really good trilogy (with Amores Perros and 21 Grams) about guilt and loss with a just OK meditation on the way people grieve all over the globe. From sexually reactive Japanese teens to an affluent, unhappy American couple (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, both very good), Babel proves we're all connected and we're all sad. (LB) Rated R





BLOOD DIAMOND


This is really two films. There's the horrifying view of the conflict diamond situation. You have warlords, and you have the common folk -- like 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 shooting of good, brainless action. Blood Diamond is disjointed but effective. (LB) 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 -- he's there to get the job done. That means beating a villain at poker and, of course, driving fast, bedding beautiful women and constantly escaping death. (ES) Rated PG-13





CHARLOTTE'S WEB


The new live-action version of the classic E.B. White book features great CGI work, and a barn spider (voice of Julia Roberts) who is determined to save the life of a runt pig will appeal to young kids. The bittersweet story concerns life and death on the farm, but there's plenty of slapstick to keep kiddies occupied. (ES) Rated G





CHILDREN OF MEN


In the future, humanity has been infertile for 18 years, and Theo Feron must get Kee, nine months pregnant, past Britain's army, rebels and riotous mobs, to the coast and, possibly, to safety. The success of this film is not primarily in writer/director Alfonso Cuar & oacute;n's dialogue, but in the story he tells without speech, and in the way he creates an environment of such chaos that the film's initial tension is preserved with very little orchestral trickery. (LB) Rated R





CODE NAME: THE CLEANER


Cedric the Entertainer wakes up next to a dead FBI agent with no idea how he got there. So he bumbles through 84 minutes of slapstick action trying to figure it out. Is he an agent? Or just a janitor? Is Nicolette Sheridan his mistress? Has he completely stopped trying to live up to his promising title? (JS) Rated PG-13





CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER


After taking a year off in 2005, Zhang Yimou comes back with more wire-fu than ever. The director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers gives us the chivalric story of what looks to be two lovers and two very big armies. It's a wu xia epic, so the lovers will make love, the armies will make war and then one or all of the main characters will die. (LB) Rated R





DREAMGIRLS


Eddie Murphy's singing and acting as soul-rock star James "Thunder" Early shine even brighter than performances by the (fictional) Dreams (Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose) in this musical about the rise and fall (and rise and fall) of black performers in 1960s Detroit. The songs aren't memorable, but the film is flashy. (ES) Rated PG-13





ERAGON


Nurtured on the original Star Wars trilogy and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings saga, Eragon is little more than a fantasy amalgamation of those works' main moments minus the good filmmaking that made them meaningful. Newcomer Edward Speleers is full of fresh-faced enthusiasm and raw-boned good looks, but his floppy blonde hair and gleaming white teeth make him seem more beach bum than hero. (MD) Rated PG





FREEDOM WRITERS


Hilary Swank plays real-life teacher Erin Gruwell, who, in the early '90s, got a classroom of troublemakers to learn tolerance by keeping journals. But this is no retread; this is sensitive storytelling, with great performances from the leads as well first-timers. And there are a few Kleenex moments. (ES) Rated PG-13





THE GOOD SHEPHERD


As de facto head of the CIA's counter-intelligence arm, Edward Wilson's job is to mislead his Communist counterparts. A blown plan, though, leads Wilson on a voyage of reflection that takes him through the past 50 years. It's a journey that charts his life and the genesis of a whole new war machine. (LB) Rated R





HAPPILY N' EVER AFTER


The producers of Shrek and Shrek 2 churn out more smart-alecky reworkings of classic fairy tales -- this time, without the voice talent or, it appears, the wit. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze, Jr., star in a fable about fables that stop happening by the book. (JS) Rated PG





HAPPY FEET


This story of a penguin who is ostracized because he can't sing is an alternately daffy and affecting tale of the struggle for individual identity. Well-written and gorgeously rendered, Mumble (Elijah Wood), who can't sing but can tap dance, must fight superstition. (LB) Rated PG





THE HOLIDAY


Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet are left loveless for the holidays, so they decide to swap stylish homes. Before you know it, they're engaged in picturesque romancing with Jude Law and Jack Black. (MD) Rated PG-13





NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM


Putting Ben Stiller in a situation that's going to get out of control has been standard comedy formula for five years now. Night at the Museum brings nothing more to the mix than a special effects-driven set piece amidst which Stiller delivers his histrionics. Some old guys with scary teeth (Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney) ham it up as the villains, nearly mitigating Robin Williams' smarmy Teddy Roosevelt. (MD) Rated PG





THE POLAR EXPRESS


The popular book gets the Robert Zemeckis treatment and a dazzling animated style. Charming, wistful, with a nice dose of adventure. (ES) At the IMAX in Riverfront Park. Rated G





PRIMEVAL


A group of croc hunters goes to Africa to track down a legendary man-eater with the name of Gustave. In the process, they anger a local warlord. Maybe the bones scattered across the movie poster is where they end up. (MD) Rated R





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, Smith has the kind of based-on-real-life material to make Oprah cry. (MD) Rated PG-13





THE QUEEN


The story of how Queen Elizabeth II dealt with the death of Princess Di, The Queen lives and breathes on the power of Helen Mirren's performance. The Queen centers on whether the queen's actions were the result of precedent, propriety or simply pride. (LB) Rated PG-13





ROCKY BALBOA


The sixth round of Rocky movies is a bit soft in the middle -- kind of like its main character. Our hero (Sly Stallone) is back in South Philly, Adrian has died, he don't got much to do... except hold court each night at his restaurant, Adrian's. Then, a promoter has an idea... It's sappy, old-fashioned, but heartfelt. (ES) Rated PG





STOMP THE YARD


Oh, those crazy kids at Truth U. They're at a (fictional) black school in Georgia, so you know they're passionate about civil rights. If only they didn't have to spend so much time jukin' in all those step dance competitions. (MB) Rated PG-13





WE ARE MARSHALL


We Are Marshall is perfectly ripe for a little on-field tear-jerking, but things just don't click. With uneven pacing, confusing tone shifts and ham-fisted direction, the film is a nice diversion at times, but fails on some pretty basic levels. (LB) Rated PG n

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