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by The Inlander & r & & r & BALLS OF FURY


Two decades after a Ping-Pong prodigy loses everything at the Olympic Games, he's making a living showing off his paddle work at chintzy Vegas matinee shows -- until an FBI agent says he's needed for a "top-secret mission." So Randy (Dan Fogler) goes off with Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) to train with Master Wong (James Hong) and his beautiful niece (Maggie Q), before finally facing the menacing Mr. Feng (Christopher Walken). The Ping-Pong action and comedy are nonstop, and Fogler holds the film together with his bulbous body and rubber face. A stupid, very funny film. (ES) Rated PG-13





BECOMING JANE


The Harlequinization of Jane Austen? Becoming Jane doesn't go that far. In fact, while the movie takes license with some hints from Austen's life, it's also a reminder that unrequited love can fuel some affecting prose. It's a movie that knows how to dramatize the essentially undramatic life of an author. And yes, Hollywood romanticizes: Anne Hathaway is more beautiful and self-assertive than Austen ever was. Rated PG (MB)





THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM


The second sequel in the Bourne series takes everything up a couple of notches. Matt Damon returns as the amnesia-suffering former CIA agent, regularly chased and shot at by his own people, for reasons that are eventually revealed. But there's also trouble between members of the CIA camp. An excellent addition to the Bourne film catalogue. (ES) Rated PG-13





DEATH SENTENCE


Kevin Bacon is angry. Not only is he angry, but James Wan (director of Saw) has given him an arsenal of guns to help him make his point. After thugs murder his son, then get let off the hook by a screwed-up justice system, stand-up citizen Nick Hume (Bacon) is hungry for a little vigilante justice with a side order of a shaved head. (KM) Rated R





HAIRSPRAY


There have been plenty of big, splashy musicals in recent years, but why are they always so grim? This one, about teens in Baltimore in the early '60s, is incredibly happy, and heck, John Travolta plays a 350-pound woman! It's about mother-daughter relationships, husband-wife relationships, times of racial change, all celebrated in catchy song and dance. Yes, there is such thing as a feel-good movie. (ES) Rated PG





HALLOWEEN


Why remake a classic? Because Rob Zombie is willing to direct it, that's why. Even though he made his early reputation with a band (White Zombie), his forays into film have already earned him serious respect from horror fans. House of 1000 Corpses was a fun, formulaic slasher film, but the sequel, The Devil's Rejects, showed that Zombie could work with characters and cinematic style. John Carpenter, the creator of the legendary original Halloween, wrote the remake's screenplay and hand-picked Zombie, so things are OK in the credibility department. (MD) Rated R





HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX


The best Potter to date makes the previous entry almost forgettable. This streamlined version of the immense fifth book picks up with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts for using his magic in public. The ever-sprawling story relies less on the friendships among him, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Gint), and more on a transformation from fantasy to horror. (ES) Rated PG-13





HURRICANE ON THE BAYOU


Katrina can be discussed in human, social and political terms in forums ranging from political roundtables to Spike Lee films. But Hurricane on the Bayou examines the hurricane as an ecological issue. Beginning as a documentary about the Mississippi Delta, the filmmakers end up turning their IMAX cameras on Katrina. (MD) Not Rated; no deaths are depicted





LEWIS & amp; CLARK


Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea embark on a journey west to discover vast land and indigenous people. Relive the 200-year-old journey that charted the Pacific Northwest and got towns, rivers and schools named in the explorers' honor. At IMAX.Rated G





MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY


On his way to the beach in the south of France, Bean accidentally kidnaps a Russian filmmaker's son, crashes a commercial film set, befriends a beautiful French actress and becomes the surprise hit of the Cannes film festival -- all without saying more than a dozen words. True to the style and humor of the British TV series without replicating its antics (as was the case in the first film), Holiday is refreshingly funny. How Rowan Atkinson remains so flexible at 52 is a mystery. (JS) Rated G





THE NANNY DIARIES


A recent college graduate (Scarlett Johansson) is pushed by her suburban mom to go into the business world, even though she prefers anthropology. Instead, opportunity knocks in the form of a nanny position for the wealthy and nasty "X" family (Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney). But it all comes across as a knock-off of The Devil Wears Prada, complete with Linney's boss from hell, and the protagonist's insistence on keeping the dreadful job instead of just walking away. Flat script, acting, and direction. (ES) Rated PG-13





ONCE


A spare, simple, beautiful quasi-musical about a street singer and the poor immigrant in whom he finds a muse and musical collaborator, Once is easily the best movie I've seen in 2007. More than that, it's probably the most beautiful and guileless film to emerge from a decade overly obsessed with cleverness. (LB) Rated R





RUSH HOUR 3


Chris Tucker still gets a few zingers in this third installment of the fire-and-ice buddy-cop series, but the series' assets -- Jackie Chan's adorable English and astonishing acrobatics -- are this film's greatest liability. Chan seems old and weary, and his stunts and fight scenes hardly dazzle like they used to. The only saving grace is a lovable French cabbie who's hungry for American action. (JS) Rated R





THE SIMPSONS MOVIE


The Simpsons Movie is just about as funny as four of the television episodes. So what's the point? Nostalgia basically, but with a bigger budget, higher stakes, larger scale, in-jokes galore... and, strangely, an actual plot. It's exactly what we should have expected. (LB) Rated PG-13





SHOOT 'EM UP


A satire -- on the shoot 'em up, obviously -- the film stars Clive Owen as the unkillable, gravity-defying, sharp-shooting hero and Paul Giamatti as the assassin for hire charged with killing a little girl, for some reason or another. The initial teaser looked whip-smart. Subsequent, longer trailers have looked considerably more dull. (LB) Rated R





STARDUST


A magical, comedy-laced fantasy about some people searching for a star that has fallen and taken human form (Claire Danes). If one of the rotten sons of a dying king finds it, he'll be the heir. If an evil old witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) gets it, she'll stay young and make life miserable for all. If a wide-eyed and innocent lad (Charlie Cox) retrieves it, he'll win the hand of the woman he thinks is his true love. Fabulous special effects and a terrific story. (ES) Rated PG-13





SUPERBAD


Three high school seniors -- two pals (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) and a dorky hanger-on (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) -- try to find booze for a big party while trying not to think about the fact that college will soon separate them. Equal parts raucous, funny, and sweet, this is far from your usual teen comedy, mainly due to the touch of producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up). It's a goofy class act, with sharp dialogue amid outrageous situations. (ES) Rated R





3:10 TO YUMA


This remake of the 50-year-old Glenn Ford/Van Heflin Western about a murderous bad guy being taken to the titular train gives Russell Crowe something to crow about: He's terrific as cold-hearted bad guy Ben Wade. The still-underrated Christian Bale takes on the down-on-his-luck but heroic Dan Evans part. This is a classic Western done up in style by director James Mangold (Walk the Line). (ES) Rated R





TRANSFORMERS


Autobots and Decepticons descend to Earth to continue their battle and search for a missing source of power. It's one of those good-versus-evil things. But Earth's occupants don't have much to do but get out of the way of these huge machines that can convert into cars, trucks and planes. Much eye-popping devastation and unexpected humor. (ES) Rated PG-13

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