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by THE INLANDER & r & & r & AN AMERICAN CAROL & r & & r & By the guy who created Airplane and the Naked Gun series (read: the guy who hasn't been funny since 1986) comes a mishmash satire that asks the question: What if a Michael Moore-type documentarian were visited -- in Christmas Carol fashion -- by the ghosts of George Washington, George S. Patton and ... by the look of it, Trace Adkins. Bill O'Reilly has a cameo. Kelsey Grammar plays Patton. (LB) Rated PG-13





APPALOOSA


"Feelings get you killed," says Ed Harris in this hard-boiled, joyless-looking western that is best described as the story of Wyatt Earp minus the character of Wyatt Earp and plus considerably worse odds for the good guys. Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger co-star. (LB) Rated R





BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA


Not much more to be gleaned from the trailer than cute, computer-enhanced lap dogs singing truly horrible songs. So, we're saying it's too soon to tell if this film will be another way marker on the road to the apocalypse, but we'd wager a guarded "Yes." (LB) Rated G





BLINDNESS


The Jose Saramago novel about a worldwide virus that takes human sight is adapted into a frightening film that becomes a study of society gone mad. It focuses on a small group of sightless people (and one who can see) who are stuck together in government-enforced quarantine. They form a sort of family that must fend off other power-mad blind people who opt for anarchy. The film is engrossing, terrifying and, in the end, a celebration of good -- if not triumphing over evil, then at least getting out of its grasp. (ES) Rated R





BURN AFTER READING


I've figured out how Joel and Ethan Coen do it -- how they move so effortlessly from comedy to drama. It's that they don't think about tone or genre: They just think about a character, and see where he takes them. A brilliant but heartless killer like Anton Chigurh is naturally going to take them in one direction, and so we get No Country for Old Men. And a bubble-headed knuckleknob like Chad Feldheimer is naturally going to take them in another direction, and so we get Burn After Reading, which is as gloriously zany as Country was brutally vicious. (MJ) Rated R





CHOKE


The Chuck Palahniuk novel about a sex addict/historical interpreter/scam artist/lost little boy (Sam Rockwell) who seems both confused by life and in control of it at the same time, makes a good, but not great transition to the screen. Actor and first-time director Clark Gregg (who plays Rockwell's bad boss) fills the film with plenty of uncomfortable laughs and overt queasiness. But he's also a tad too conservative in adapting the source material. It's too bad that the film isn't a lot stranger. (ES) Rated R





THE DARK KNIGHT


Seldom do follow-ups ring so true to the original, then do them one better. Director Christopher Nolan revisits what he did with Batman Begins and improves everything. Christian Bale is gloomier, both as Bruce Wayne and as the Caped Crusader, while Heath Ledger's intense, frightening and funny Joker might make the world forget that Nicholson ever played him. (ES) Rated PG-13





EAGLE EYE


Using cell phones and GPS and whatever, some mean old lady is tracking Shia LeBeouf and Michelle Monaghan's every move! It's so creepy! And they're, like, being framed as terrorists, so now the entire country is chasing after them! They're trying so hard to be like Hitchcock and, you know, win Oscars! Which they won't. (MB) Rated PG-13





FIREPROOF


Working as a firefighter for the city, Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) is known across town as a hero. Although he regularly rescues people from burning buildings, his marriage is going down the drain. Cameron's character is about to give up and leave his wife when his father sends him on a "Love Dare." So he sets out to stay in his marriage another 40 days. Holt then begs God to make him a good husband. The tagline for this movie is "Never Leave Your Partner Behind." That just about says it all. (TLM) Rated PG





FLASH OF GENIUS


Not the sexiest premise in the world -- an engineer invents the intermittent windshield wiper, has it stolen by a massive car company and spends decades fighting litigation in court -- but Flash of Genius has Greg Kinnear looking as resolutely frazzled as ever. This could be a quietly moving bit of film. (LB) Rated PG-13





GHOST TOWN


Ricky Gervais steals the show as a misanthropic dentist who dies, quickly comes back to life, and finds that he can converse with all of the ghosts in Manhattan, each of whom wants a favor from him. Greg Kinnear plays a slick womanizer who's killed in the opening moments; Tea Leoni is the wife he was cheating on who tries for a new start, only to meet up with the nasty dentist. Plenty of loose ends, but you'll come out feeling good. (ES) Rated PG-13





HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE


Simon Pegg is a British intellectual who takes a job at a conservative society magazine stateside and is forced to, you know, re-evaluate his distaste for stardom and find what's really important. Pegg's in it, so count on a lot of slapstick. He didn't write or direct it though, so don't count on it being terribly funny either. (LB) Rated R





IGOR


John Cusack plays an Igor. That's right, an Igor. In Malaria, a land of evil geniuses, there's one Igor for every mad scientist. All they're trained to do is pull the switch on whatever nefarious scheme their boss cooks up. (LB) Rated PG





LAKEVIEW TERRACE


This is a horror movie for grown-ups: no mad slashers, no psychopath playing torture games. Just the plausible pettiness of human nastiness slowly, inexorably building to a tragedy of suburban proportions. Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) are moving into their dream house -- too bad the next-door neighbor (Samuel L. Jackson) is a nightmare. The extraordinary cast and playwright-turned-director Neil LaBute create a slow-burn atmosphere that you dread cannot end well. It doesn't. (MJ) Rated PG-13





MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA


Spike Lee follows up his mainstream Inside Man with a mainstream World War II film centering on the U.S. Army's all-black infantry division, known as the Buffalo Soldiers. This based-on-fact story recounts how four of them get caught behind German lines in 1944 Tuscany, and how they formed relationships with Italian villagers -- some of whom were partisans, while others were fascists. The story, both brutal and tender, is about racism and camaraderie. It even spins a pretty good mystery. (ES) Rated R





MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL


Jason Biggs rushes things with Kate Hudson -- tells her he loves her and, when that scares her, asks if they can move in together, then she dumps him. So he asks his BFF Dane Cook, who happens to get paid to be a jerk to women so they'll go back to their boyfriends, to be a jerk. Trouble is, Dane and Kate soon find themselves falling in a crazy little thing called love. (LB) Rated PG-13





NICK and NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST


It's Ferris Bueller's Night Out, though sweeter and less snarky. Sensitive musician Nick (Michael Cera) has been dumped by bitchy Tris (Alexis Dziena), but hey: no previous cohort of teenaged boys would have been given the chance to get dumped by her in the first place. And then he meets Norah (Kat Dennings). This is a Romeo + Juliet for the iPod generation, when labels and cliques have disappeared and we all have only ourselves to blame for our stumbling blocks. (MJ) Rated PG-13





NIGHTS IN RODANTHE


Diane Lane is at odds with her husband and daughter, so she agrees to escape by spending a weekend house-sitting a friend's inn on the seacoast of North Carolina. And wouldn't you know it? -- of all the B & amp;B joints in all the world -- in walks ... Richard Gere. (Ladies, you should be so lucky.) He's tormented, of course, by personal problems of his own. Is that romance we can smell in the salty sea air? (MB) Rated PG-13





RELIGULOUS


Documentary wherein Bill Maher goes around telling adherents to basically every faith on earth that they're morons for believing in God. (LB) Rated R





RIGHTEOUS KILL


DeNiro! Pacino! They're veteran NYPD officers investigating a serial killer who may be a cop. Too bad director Jon Avnet's latest is too clever by half: it's obvious from the start who the killer is, and the script appears to have been written for much younger actors -- like maybe Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo, who are far more intriguing as a rival team of detectives hunting down the killer. (MJ) Rated R

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