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Film times & brief film reviews 

For Friday, Jan. 19 through Thursday, Jan. 25

Times are subject to change, and we recommend calling ahead to confirm.

Raleigh

Beaver Creek Cinema 12
Beaver Creek Shopping Center, off NC 55, Apex. 676-3456.

Charlotte's Web—1:35, 6:30. Dreamgirls—12 (Tue-Thu 12:35), 3:30, 6:45, 9:45. Eragon—4, 8:50. Freedom Writers—Fri-Mon 12:15, 3, 6:15, 9:10; Tue-Thu 12:40, 3:35, 6:35, 9:25. The Good Shepherd—1:15, 5, 8:45 (Tue-Thu 8:30). The Hitcher—2 (Tue-Thu 2:30), 4:45 (Tue-Thu 5:10), 7:20, 9:50. Night at the Museum—12:30 (Tue-Thu 1), 4:15, 7, 9:40. Primeval—2:45, 5:15, 7:40, 10. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:55. The Queen—Fri-Mon 1, 3:50, 6:35, 9; Tue-Thu 1:10, 3:50, 6:20, 8:40. Rocky Balboa—1:25, 4:10, 6:50, 9:20. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:45, 7:25, 10. We Are Marshall—Fri-Mon 12:10, 3:15, 6:20, 9:30; Tue-Thu 12:35, 3:25, 6:20, 9.

Blue Ridge 14
600 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 282-9003.

Borat—1:15, 3:20, 5:25, 7:30, 9:35. Deck the Halls—1:15, 3:20, 5:25, 7:30, 9:40. DejaVu—1:10, 4, 7, 9:45. Flags of our Fathers—1:15, 4:10, 7, 9:55. Flushed Away—1, 3:05, 5:10, 7:15, 9:20. The Fountain—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. The Guardian—1:05, 4:05, 7, 10. The Nativity Story—1:30, 3:35, 5:40, 7:45, 9:50. Open Season—1:15, 3:20, 5:25, 7:30, 9:35. The Prestige—1:30, 4:20, 7:10, 10. Running with Scissors—1:30, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45. Santa Clause 3—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. Saw 3—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Stranger Than Fiction—1:30, 4:20, 7:10, 10.

Brier Creek Stadium 14
8611 Brier Creek Pkwy, Raleigh. 484-9994.

Call for shows and times.

Carmike Cinema
5501 Atlantic Springs Rd, Raleigh. 645-1111.

Alpha Dog—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:40. Apocalypto—1, 4, 7, 9:55. Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Code Name: The Cleaner—1:05 (No Sat-Sun), 3:15 (No Sat-Sun), 5:30, 7:45, 10. Curse of the Golden Flower—9:55. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Freedom Writers—1, 4, 7, 9:55. Happily N'ever After—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Happy Feet—1:45, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50. The Hitcher—1:10, 3:45, 5:50, 8, 10:05. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Primeval—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:30, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30.

Colony Theatre
Colony Shopping Center, 5438 Six Forks Rd, Raleigh. 856-0111.

The Painted Veil—7:10, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 1:45, 4:15. The Princess Bride—Wed 7. The Queen—7, 9:20. Also Fri-Sun 2, 4:30.

Crossroads 20
501 Caitboo Ave, Crossroads Shopping Center, Cary. 226-2000.

Call for shows and times.

Galaxy Cinema
770 Cary Towne Blvd, Cary. 463-9989, mygalaxycinema.com.

Curse of the Golden Flower—Fri-Sun 1, 4 (No Sat), 7, 9:20. Guru—Fri-Sun 2:30, 6:10, 9:40; Mon-Thu 2:30, 7:30. The History Boys—3:05, 9:25 (No Fri-Sat). The Last King of Scotland—1:20, 4:10, 7:05, 9:35. The Painted Veil—1:05, 4:05, 7, 9:30. Pan's Labyrinth—1:30, 4:20, 7:10, 9:30. The Queen—1, 5:20, 7:20.

Garner Towne Square
2600 Timber Dr, Garner. 779-2212.

Call for shows and times.

IMAX Theatre at Exploris
201 E Hargett St, Raleigh. 834-4040.

Call for shows and times.

Mission Valley Cinema
2109-124 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh. 834-2233.

Call for shows and times.

Movies at North Hills 14
4150 Main at North Hills St, Raleigh. 786-4511.

Call for shows and times.

Park Place 16
9525 Chapel Hill Rd, Morrisville. 645-1111.

Alpha Dog—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:40. Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Babel—1, 4, 7:05, 10. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 9:55. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Curse of the Golden Flower—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:50. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Freedom Writers—1, 4, 7, 9:55. The Good Shepherd—1, 4:30, 8. Happily N'ever After—1 (No Sat-Sun), 3:10 (No Sat-Sun), 5:20, 7:30. The Hitcher—1:10, 3:45, 5:50, 8, 10:05. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Primeval—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:30, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45. The Queen—1:35, 4:05, 7, 9:30. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30. We Are Marshall—9:40.

The Raleigh Grande
Corner of Glenwood Ave and Lynn Rd, Raleigh. 226-2000.

Alpha Dog—2, 4:45, 7:30, 10:15. Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:20, 6:10. Casino Royale—8:30. Children of Men—1:30, 4:15, 6:50, 9:40. Curse of the Golden Flower—2:10, 5, 7:40, 10:25. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7:0, 10:10. Freedom Writers—1:10, 4:05, 6:55, 9:45. The Good Shepherd—1:40, 5:15, 9. Happy Feet—1:05, 6:40. The Hitcher—1:20, 4:30, 5:45, 8, 10:20. Night at the Museum—1, 3:45, 6:30, 9:15. Pan's Labyrinth—2:15, 5, 7:45, 10:30. Primeval—2:45, 5:30, 7:50, 10:25. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:15, 4, 7:30, 10:15. The Queen—2, 4:30, 7, 9:30. Rocky Balboa—2:25, 4:50, 7:15, 9:50. Stomp the Yard—1:45, 4:40, 7:20, 10. We Are Marshall—3:40, 9:20.

Raleighwood Cinema Grill
Falls Village Shopping Center, Raleigh. 847-0326. www.raleighwoodmovies.com.

Call for shows and times.

Rialto Theater
1620 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh. 856-0111.

Last King of Scotland—7, 9:25. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. Rocky Horror Picture Show—Fri midnight.

Six Forks Station Cinema
9500 Forum Dr, Raleigh. 846-3904.

Arthur and the Invisibles—3:05, 5:05. Charlotte's Web—12:30, 2:40, 4:50, 7:05, 9:20. Children of Men—1:30, 4:15, 7:10, 9:40. The Hitcher—1:45, 4:20, 7:25, 9:45. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5, 7:15, 9:35. Pursuit of Happyness—1, 7:20, 9:45. The Queen—1:15, 4, 7:05, 9:30.

White Oak Village
1205 Timber Dr East, Garner. 676-FILM.

Arthur and the Invisibles—12:30, 2:55, 5:25, 7:55. Casino Royale—6:30, 9:40. Charlotte's Web—12:40, 3:05, 5:35, 8:15. Code Name: The Cleaner—1:25, 4:20, 6:40, 9. Dreamgirls—1, 4, 7, 10:05. Freedom Writers—2, 4:45, 7:30, 10:20. The Good Shepherd—1:05, 4:55, 8:30. Happy Feet—12:45, 3:40. The Hitcher—3:15, 5:50, 8:05, 10:15. Night at the Museum—1:30, 4:10, 6:50, 9:25. Primeval—2:45, 5:15, 7:50, 10:10. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:15, 4:25, 7:10, 9:55. The Queen—1:50, 4:15, 6:45, 9:15. Stomp the Yard—1:40, 4:30, 7:15, 10. We Are Marshall—2:20, 5:40, 8:40.

Durham

Carolina Theatre
309 W Morgan St, Durham. 560-3030, www.carolinatheatre.org.

The Last King of Scotland—7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. The Painted Veil—9:20 (No Fri). Also Sat-Sun 4:20. The Queen—7:10 (No Fri). Also Sat-Sun 2:10. Retrofantasma Film Series: Poltergeist—Fri 7:30; Strange Behavior—Fri 9:30.

Phoenix 10
1056 W Club Blvd, Durham. 286-1001, www.phoenixtheatres.com.

Alpha Dog—1:10, 4, 6:55, 9:45. Arthur and the Invisibles—11:45, 2:10, 4:20, 7:15, 9:30. Code Name: The Cleaner—12, 2:25, 4:45, 7:20, 9:40. The Good Shepherd—11:20, 3:15, 6:45, 10:15. Happily N'ever After—11:40, 1:55, 4:10, 7:05, 9:25. The Hitcher—12:45, 3, 5:15, 7:35, 9:50. Night at the Museum—11:35, 2:05, 4:30, 7, 9:35. Primeval—11:55, 2:35, 5, 7:40, 9:55. Pursuit of Happyness—11:30, 2:15, 4:50, 7:30, 10:10. Stomp the Yard—11:25, 2, 4:40, 7:25, 10.

Southpoint Cinemas
8030 Renaissance Pkwy, Durham. 676-3456.

Call for shows and times.

Starlite Drive-In
2523 E Club Blvd, Durham. 688-1037.

Call for shows and times.

Wynnsong
1800 Martin Luther King Blvd, Durham. 489-9020.

Alpha Dog—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 11:50. Babel—1, 4, 7:05, 10. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. Curse of the Golden Flower—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:50. Also Fri-Sat 12:25. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Freedom Writers—1, 4, 7, 9:55. The Good Shepherd—1, 4:30, 8. Also Fri-Sat 11:30. Happily N'ever After—1 (No Sat-Sun), 3:10 (No Sat-Sun), 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 11:50. The Hitcher—1:10, 3:45, 5:50, 8, 10:05. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. Primeval—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. Also Fri-Sat 12:15. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:30, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45. Also Fri-Sat 12:25. The Queen—1:35, 4:05, 7, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 12. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30. Also Fri-Sat 11:05.

Chapel Hill

Chelsea
Timberlyne Village Mall, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd, Chapel Hill. 968-3005.

The History Boys—9:15. Also Sat-Sun 4:15. The Last King of Scotland—7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. The Painted Veil—7:10, 9:35. Also Sat-Sun on 2:10, 4:40. The Queen—7:15. Also Sat-Sun 2:15.

Lumina
Southern Village, NC 15-501 South, Chapel Hill. 932-9000.

Children of Men—1:30, 4:15, 7:25, 9:45. Freedom Writers—1:15, 7:10, 9:55. The Good Shepherd—1, 4. The Hitcher—4:20, 7:25, 9:35. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5:05, 7:20, 9:40. The Queen—1:20, 4:10, 7:10, 9:55.

Movies at Timberlyne
Timberlyne Shopping Center, 120 Banks Dr off Weaver Dairy Rd, Chapel Hill. 933-8600.

Call for shows and times.

Varsity
123 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill. 967-8665.

Children of Men—7, 9:20. Also Sat-Mon 2, 4:20. Pan's Labyrinth—7:10, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:30.

Graham

Graham Cinema
119 N Main St, Graham. (336) 226-1488.

Call for shows and times.

Roxboro

Palace Pointe
5050 Durham Rd, Roxboro. (336) 598-5050.

Call for shows and times.

Special Showings

Chronological by date and time

Martin Luther King Jr Film Festival: Wed, Jan 17, noon: The Boy King. Thu, Jan 18, noon: Martin Luther King: The Legacy. Fri, Jan 19: The Assassination of Martin Luther King. Sonja Haynes Stone Center, 150 South Rd, Chapel Hill. 962-9001, www.ibiblio.org/shscbch/. Free.

Screen/ Society: Wed, Jan 17, 8 pm: Spirited Away. Griffith Theater, Duke Campus. Mon, Jan 22, 8 pm: Full Time Killer. Griffith. www.duke.edu/web/film/screensociety/schedule.html.

A Flock of Dodos: The Evolution/ Intelligent Design Circus: Thu, Jan 18, 7 pm: Presented by filmmaker Randy Olson. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W Jones St, Raleigh. www.naturalsciences.org. Free.

Student Friends Movie Night: Thu, Jan 18, 7 pm: Pollock. Ed Harris' acclaimed film about Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, aka "Jack the Dripper." Ackland Art Museum, Columbia St near Franklin, Chapel Hill. 843-3676. Free.

NC State University Campus Cinema: Thu Jan 18, 7 pm: A Hard Day's Night. Free. Thu, Jan 18, 10 pm; Fri, Jan 19, 7 pm; Sat, Jan 20, 9:30 pm: Man of the Year. Fri, Jan 19 & Sun, Jan 21, 9:30 pm; Sat, Jan 20, 7 pm: Jesus Camp. Sun Jan 21, 7:30 pm: Glory Road. Free. Witherspoon Student Center, NC State Campus, www.ncsu.edu/cinema. $1.50-2.50.

Durham Co-op Grocery: Fri, Jan 19, potluck at 7:30 pm, movie at 8: The Greening of Cuba. A 1996 profile of Cuban agricultural techniques. Thu, Jan 25, 7 pm: The Abortion Diaries. 1101 W Chapel Hill St. Free.

A/V Geeks: Fri, Jan 19, 8 pm: "The World According to Sid Davis." Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 W. Pettigrew St, Durham. cds.aas.duke.edu/about/here.html. $5 suggested donation.

NC Museum of Art Winter Film Series: Fri, Jan 19, 8 pm: Black Narcissus. Fri, Jan 26, 8 pm: Tokyo Story. 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 839-6262, www.ncartmuseum.org. $5, $3.50 students.

The Civil War: Ken Burns' celebrated nine-part documentary from 1990. Thu, Jan 18: 1862—Very Bloody Affair: From the Peninsular Campaign to Shiloh. Olivia Raney Local History Library, 4016 Carya Dr, Raleigh. 250-1196, oliviaraney@co.wake.nc.us. Free.

Network: Tue, Jan 23, 7 pm: The famous Paddy Chayefsky-scripted television news satire. Kings Barcade, 424 S McDowell St, Raleigh. Free.


Film Capsules

Our rating system uses zero to four stars. If a movie has no rating, it has not been reviewed by Laura Boyes (LB), Godfrey Cheshire (GC), David Fellerath (DF), Kathy Justice (KJ), Neil Morris (NM) or Zack Smith (ZS).

Opening This Week

THE GOOD GERMAN—Ever the idiosyncratic film geek, Steven Soderbergh mounts a suspense drama set in post-WWII Germany using black and white film and only camera equipment available in the '40s. Alas, the result looks less like some golden-age classic than a '60s TV show. And Soderbergh wastes the talents of George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in a tale (about a U.S. reporter probing occupation skullduggery in 1945 Potsdam) that wants to seem as knowing as The Third Man but is mainly turgid and facilely cynical. Rated R. —GC

THE HITCHER—I know Rutger Hauer, sir, and you, Sean Bean, are no Rutger Hauer. This Michael Bay-produced remake of Robert Harmon's 1986 thriller about a psychotic hitchhiker (Hauer then, Bean now) with a high resistance to injury and really, really good aim follows almost every story beat of the original and even recycles some of its soundtrack. However, it trades the original's sense of absurd, nightmarish tension for cheap shocks and numerous close-ups of gaping wounds. Neal McDonough has a good time as a hard-cussin' sheriff, but as with a real hitchhiker, you should pass on this one. Rated R. —ZS

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND—A bravura performance by Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin anchors this smart, engrossing drama about a Third World country's nightmarish descent into tyranny and destruction. Seen through the eyes of a callow young Scottish doctor (an excellent James McAvoy), the film persuasively evokes the matter-of-fact surrealism that accompanies a shrewd, charismatic madman's rise and the payback he exacts for the humiliation of colonialism, a vengeance tragically visited on his own people. Conjuring historical horrors like Uganda's in the 1970s, which cost over 300,000 lives, risks both sensationalism and excessive solemnity, but director Kevin Macdonald, an erstwhile documentarian, here does an excellent job injecting both macabre humor and even romantic folly into his depiction; the film has a gripping momentum and a lush but gritty look recalling classics of the 1970s. Rated R.— GC

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA—In a companion to his Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood looks at the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view. Though there's novelty in seeing Clint directing a Japanese cast in an arty subtitled film, the grim drama here is full of self-congratulatory Hollywood "humanism" that avoids a tough-minded look at the emperor-worshipping militarism that brought the Japanese into this suicidal last stand. Plus, the film's excessive length makes it a tiresome slog. Rated R.— GC

click to enlarge Pan's Labyrinth - PHOTO BY TERESA ISASI / PICTUREHOUSE
PAN'S LABYRINTH—Guillermo Del Toro's (Hellboy) riveting dark fantasy chronicles the tale of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl in 1944 Spain who must contend with both a stepfather who's a fascist soldier (Sergi Lopez) and a faun (Doug Jones) who draws her into an equally threatening fantasy world. The plots come together in unexpected ways, and there are shocking, brutal images that will haunt you in one of the best fantasy films of the last five years. Rated R. —ZS

Current Releases

ALPHA DOG—There is potential floating about Nick Cassavetes' roman a clef of L.A. drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood and the 1999 kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz. A shame, then, that Cassavetes' script rambles so aimlessly, falling back on a surreal, sardonic vibe, a la typical Bret Easton Ellis schlock. When your most poignant scene is shot against a visibly blue-screened nightscape, and the penultimate one features Sharon Stone in a fat-suit, there are clearly loose ends that need tying up. Rated R. —NM

APOCALYPTO—Mel Gibson's subtitled plunge into ancient Mayan civilization turns out to be a brilliantly imagined, thoroughly engrossing popcorn epic. Yes, as in previous Gibson films, there's plenty of blood and gore, but here it doesn't have the S&M tinge of Passion of the Christ. And while there are hints that Mel wants astute viewers to understand this as a kind of Meso-American correlative for the Book of Revelation, the movie's real claim to fame is that it's simply a great display of old-fashioned movie thrills and storytelling smarts. Rated R. —GC

ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES—Luc Besson's mixture live action/ animation tells the story of an young lad's adventures with the Minimoys who live in the grass behind his grandfather's house. With Mia Farrow, and voiceovers by Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Robert De Niro and others. Rated PG.

CASINO ROYALE—Easily the best 007 movie since the 1960s, the 21st installment in cinema's most successful franchise sweeps away a lot of the cutesy gimmickry that's encumbered it in recent decades while inaugurating a new Bond, Daniel Craig, who proves to be the most skilled and charismatic actor to occupy the role since Sean Connery. While the basic formula of action and intrigue in exotic locales remains the same, the fantasy quotient has been significantly reduced, giving us a more human, complex Bond. Rated PG-13. —GC

CHARLOTTE'S WEB—While this live-action rendering of the venerable E.B. White children's book will delight young viewers, some of the original text's idyllic transcendence gets lost amongst such contemporary allowances as burping rats and flatulent cows. Director Gary Winick's effort is quite watchable, but if you are looking for an enchanting movie filmed in Australia about an underdog pig, talking farm animals and their human minders, go rent Babe. Rated G. —NM

CHILDREN OF MEN— Charged with ferrying the world's only known pregnant girl to safety, Clive Owen's Theo Faron is part-Joseph, part-Noah in this post-modern nativity story set in a not-too-distant British dystopia in which women have mysteriously grown infertile and humankind stands at the brink of its gradual, seemingly inescapable extinction. Director Alfonso Cuaron conjures a masterwork of coincidental contradictions and quite simply the best directed film of 2006. Rated R. —NM

CODE NAME: THE CLEANER—This minstrel daytrip down the comic back roads of miscegenation and sundry afro-stereotypes is an affront to the art of cinema, cobbled together with the dexterity of a pickaxe by director Les Mayfield, purveyor of the similarly loathsome The Man. It is an embarrassment for everyone involved, from the genial Cedric the Entertainer to co-victims Nicolette Sheridan and Lucy Liu. Rated PG-13. —NM

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER—Another lavish spectacle from director Zhang Yimou is set against the backdrop of a 10th-century tale of intra-royal family treachery and betrayal, a gilded soap opera evocative of an archetypal Greek tragedy or Jacobean revenge play. Terrific performances by Chow Yun-Fat, Liu Ye, and former Zhang muse Gong Li compliment Zhang's trademark visual flourishes and compensate for some oppressively opulent set designs. Rated R. —NM

DREAMGIRLS—A '60s girl group reaches the top, but only after fronting Deena (Beyoncé), a beauty with crossover appeal, and benching the raw sound and plump physique of the more talented Effie (Jennifer Hudson). This movie stars Beyoncé.  Does no one see the irony in this? The pastiche score of R&B, Motown and disco sounds is convincing, but devolves into one power ballad after another. American Idol confirms the public's insatiable thirst for these anthems, but enough already. Rated PG-13. —LB

ERAGON—One part Star Wars, one part The Lord of the Rings, and three parts crap. Rated PG.—NM

FREEDOM WRITERS—The sincerity of this depiction of real-life educator Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) and the cathartic missives of her Long Beach, California high school students cannot fully compensate for the ultra-banal plot in which an idealistic (and, as usual, white) teacher tries to inspire a group of multiracial miscreants victimized by social decay and a neglectful educational system. Synchronize your watches to the scenes where someone gets shot, someone gets sent to prison, and Swank joins in a hip-hop group jig. Rated PG-13. —NM

THE GOOD SHEPHERD—Focused on a buttoned-down counterintelligence expert played by Matt Damon, Robert De Niro's second directorial outing examines the CIA's roots and first 30 years through a dark, complex drama that's rich enough to evoke comparisons to classics like The Godfather and All the President's Men. Though Eric Roth's script doesn't finally live up to its epic ambitions, this is still one of the year's most fascinating and intelligent films. Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, Billy Crudup and De Niro himself costar. Rated R.—GC

GURU—Abhishek Bachchan stars as a country bumpkin who charms and bullies his way from his village to the helm of a string of textile factories. Director Mani Ratnam's rags to riches story taps into the national anxiety about Westernization; Guru is a polyester tycoon whose rivals wear Gandhi's homespun khadi fabric. Abhishek unleashes his inner dork, with unflattering camera angles and extra poundage, convincingly limning an ambivalent character who is both genius and thug. His teasing affection with Aishwayra Rai ups the heat of their stilted pairing in last year's classic romance Umrao Jaan. Mithun Chakraborthy's journalist is captivated and then disillusioned by Guru's shady populist stance, invoking the aura of a 1930s Edward G. Robinson Warner Brothers muckraker. A R. Rahman's score ranges from the opening rattle of Mallika Sherawat's belly dancing beads to Guru's intoxicated crow over his twins, "Ek Lo Ek Muft"—"Buy One Get One Free."—LB

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER—It's officially reached the point where making fun of clichés has become a cliché. This relentlessly self-referential tale of fairy tale villains taking over the stories where they always lose is harmless but predictable, going over the same territory from Shrek, Ella Enchanted, Hoodwinked, etc. Wouldn't it be nice to see some new stories instead of revamped classics and wisecracking animals? Though in this film's defense, its CGI Cinderella does have an adorable pixie haircut. Rated PG. —ZS

HAPPY FEET—Spawned from the machinations of March of the Penguins, this bird-brained eco-musical posits that penguins are not only hatched under daunting natural obstacles, but born bearing intrinsic familiarity with an anthology of late 20th century American pop music. What starts out as part The Jazz Singer, part Footloose ends up a contradictory fiction where human encroachment on an endangered ecosystem is halted only when the inhabitants of that environment adopt Western pop culture and thereby prove their entertainment worth. Rated PG. —NM

THE HISTORY BOYS—Nicholas Hytner's film of Alan Bennett's West End-to-Broadway hit has the typical strengths and weaknesses of its theatrical kind. Set in an '80s British class of boys hoping to study history at university, a milieu rife with homoerotic, student-teacher and teacher-administrator tensions, the film boasts a cavalcade of witty writing and expertly engaging work by star Richard Griffiths and a slew of young newcomers. But Bennett's script is also overlong and too pleased with its facile, two-dimensional, ultimately sentimental view of human nature. Rated R.—GC

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM—Somehow, the melding of the talents behind The Pacifier, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Just Married and the Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen remakes isn't the disasterpiece it could have been. However, this tale of a shlubby night guard (Ben Stiller) dealing with exhibits coming to life at the Museum of Natural History doesn't offer much beyond typical bland family fare. Points to Robin Williams for not going over the top as Teddy Roosevelt, and also to the filmmakers for assembling an eclectic cast including Mickey Rooney, Ricky Gervais and Dick Van Dyke. Rated PG.—ZS

THE PAINTED VEIL—W. Somerset Maugham's Kitty and Walter Fane is not a timeless literary love story—they embody the ordinary, sometimes smothered everyday of married couples who long to rekindle the embers of their relationship. But, beyond the sweeping vistas and gorgeous scenery set in 1920s China, the film's meta-moral is a cautionary reminder of the perils facing Occidentals, even well-meaning ones, who ignorantly seek to impose their value system upon disparate cultures. Rated PG-13. —NM

PRIMEVAL—Appearances can be deceiving, especially in Hollywood. That's why it comes as no surprise that this heavily marketed horror flick about the world's most prolific serial killer is in fact a no-fuss, no-frills monster flick with a plot ripped straight from the bible of Jaws. Centered on a group of news journalists on a search and destroy mission for Gustave, a 25-foot crocodile who has chomped down on local villagers in Burundi, Central Africa, for years, this creature feature treads into dangerous waters when it tries to mix horror and politics. Shifting between the toned-down bloodlust of Gustave and the exploits of a brutal warlord nicknamed Little Gustave and social injustice caused by civil war, the film fails to achieve the campy horror flick charisma it warrants or to make the socio-cultural impact it strives to achieve. Rated R. —KJ

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS—With its early Reagan-era milieu, the most textured parts of this inspiring rags-to-riches biopic of struggling Chris Gardner (Will Smith) accentuate the intractable class and economic divide that often smothers even the most well-intentioned and hard-working among us. And, the film's most effective moments are the tender and genuine exchanges between Gardner and his young son, played by Smith's real-life son Jaden. Still, director Gabriele Muccino essentially crafts a glorified after-school special imbued with more filler than focus. Rated PG-13.—NM

THE QUEEN—The latest from Stephen Frears has a great premise: a look into the lives of Britain's royal family at the time of the tumultuous public reaction to the death of Princess Diana. Unfortunately, the seriocomic concept is undermined from the first by Peter Morgan's script, which has all the obviousness and banality of a TV production. Rated PG-13. —GC

ROCKY BALBOA—The film franchise nearly stages its greatest comeback, spotlighting a middle-aged Italian Stallion (Sylvester Stallone) subsisting off his faded glory and living amongst the ghosts of his South Philly past. However, once another recycled training montage segues into one final (?) fight against the current champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon (real-life boxer Antonio Tarver), the film loses its focus and spirit. In the end, Rocky Balboa is not unlike its centerpiece Las Vegas exhibition bout—a meaningless spectacle that fails to advance the Rocky lore. Rated PG-13. —NM

STOMP THE YARDYou Got Served meets Drumline in this tale of a doo-ragged LA street dancer (Columbus Short from TV's Studio 60) who becomes involved in a fraternity step line at Atlanta's Truth University. The film plays like it was written by a computer program taking clichéd scenes and dialogue constantly parodied on South Park, Family Guy and The Boondocks and combining them into one uber-screenplay. Immortal line: "Do it for Duron." At this point, the only college sport left for a film may be Hacky Sack. It could be called "Sacked." Rated PG-13. —ZS

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS—This refreshingly entertaining holiday flick aims to channel the mixture of slapstick and poignancy of John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but winds up closer to Home Alone. Based on a story from This American Life, it chronicles the misadventures of a small group of children-of-divorce (including Tyler James Williams from TV's Everybody Hates Chris and Brett Kelly from Bad Santa) who find themselves snowed in at an airport on Christmas Eve and run amuck while avoiding the Scrooge-esque airport head (Lewis Black). Rated PG. —ZS

WE ARE MARSHALLCharlie's Angels mastermind McG gets serious with this based-on-a-true-story tale of Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, but the results take a genuinely moving true story and impose a traditional "underdogs come together" sports film onto it. Rated PG. —ZS

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Are you serious critics? This movie had to have been one of the most astronomically colossal movies of the year! …

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