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By The Inlander & r & & r &


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. The conceit is gripping, and Ben Foster and Justin Timberlake are great. (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 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 who's there to get the job done. Period. (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. (LB) Rated R





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





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. Solid acting from all, tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and an eclectic rock soundtrack. (ES) 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. (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 HITCHER


A remake of 1986's The Hitcher -- a horror movie in which the home of evil was on the highway. Sean Bean steps into the role of the ride-hitching killer, and brings heavy ambiguity to his crimes. Sophia Bush is the sexier half of a couple that gets caught up in his killing spree. Director Steve Meyers' adherence to Alfred Hitchcock's rules of terror makes the movie hideously plausible, despite bad acting from Zachary Knighton as Bush's boyfriend. But someone needs to be expendable in these films. (MD) Rated R





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





LAST KING OF SCOTLAND


Big Forest Whitaker steals this fictional film with his portrayal of the monstrous real-life Ugandan dictator General Idi Amin. But James McAvoy (the faun in Chronicles of Narnia) holds his own as a na & iuml;ve young Scottish doctor who settles in the African country to help villagers and then becomes, against his will, Amin's personal physician. The ending is flawed, but just about everything leading up to it is spellbinding. (ES) Rated R





LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA


In this companion to Flags of Our Fathers, director Clint Eastwood presents the same battle as Flags, but from the other side. Rather than a tale of victory and homecoming, Letters From Iwo Jima is about soldiers who, after fighting bravely with few supplies and little support, must confront the prospect of never seeing their families again. (LB) Rated R





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. (MD) Rated PG





OFFICE SPACE


Um... yeah. I don't know if this film needs an introduction. Even if it does, I'm at a loss to write it. I laughed my ass off the first time I saw it -- a film about office politics at a small software company. Then I immediately dropped my Computer Science major. Midnight Friday and Saturday at the Garland. (LB) Rated R





THE PAINTED VEIL


All right, all you post-colonialists are going to have a thorn in your craw over how this film spends far more time quibbling with the emotional well-being of two Brits than it does with the cholera epidemic killing millions of Chinese. Fair point. Naomi Watts' performance, though, quiets those protestations. The film itself is a bit direct, but the way Watts' mannerisms shift throughout the film as youthful promise gives way to disappointment is masterful. Watch her eyes, it's impressive. (LB) Rated PG-13





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


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





VOLVER


Pedro Amold & oacute;var's latest is an engaging, occasionally daffy story of two sisters who, amidst the strife of their lives, come to find the ghost of their dead mother trying to help them with their affairs. Volver has a lot to say about the way we connect with each other. (LB) Rated R





WE ARE MARSHALL


With uneven pacing, confusing tone shifts and ham-fisted direction, this film is a nice diversion at times, but fails on some pretty basic levels. (LB) Rated PG

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