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Film times & brief film reviews

Times are good from Friday, Feb. 2 through Thursday, Feb. 8 except where noted


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


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

Because I Said So2, 4:40, 7:15, 9:45. Blood and Chocolate—4:15, 9:35. Catch and Release—1, 3:45, 6:45, 9:20. Charlotte's Web—12:40, 6:20. Dreamgirls12:35, 3:30, 6:30, 9:25. Epic Movie—2:45, 5:30, 7:45, 10. Eragon—1:30, 7:05. Messengers—2:230, 5:15, 7:35, 9:55. Night at the Museum—1:15, 4, 7, 9:40. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:55. The Queen—12:50, 4:10, 6:35, 9. Smokin' Aces—2:15, 5, 7:30, 10. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:50, 6:50, 9:30. We Are Marshall—3:25, 8:45.

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 Holiday—1, 3:55, 7, 9:50. Open Season—1:15, 3:20, 5:25, 7:30, 9:35. The Prestige—1:30, 4:20, 7:10, 10. 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. Unaccompanied Minors—1, 3:10, 5:50, 7:30, 9:40.

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.

Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Blood and Chocolate—1:30, 4:15, 7:15, 9:55. Catch and Release—1:45, 4:30, 7, 9:40. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45. Constellation—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:45. Dreamgirls —1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Freedom Writers—9:55. Happy Feet—2 (No Sat-Sun), 4:45, 7:30, 10. The Hitcher—1:10, 3:45, 5:50, 8, 10:05. Kidtoons Presents: Little Robots—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Pan's Labyrinth—1:35, 4:20, 7, 9:35. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:30, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45. Smokin' Aces—1:25, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30.

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

The Last King of Scotland—7:10, 9:40. Also Sat-Sun 1:45, 4:20. The Queen—7, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30.

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

Arthur and the Invisibles—1:30, 7:35. Babel—1:45, 5:05, 8:30. Because I Said So—12:45, 3:45, 7, 9:35. Blood and Chocolate—2, 4:20, 6:40, 9:05. Blood Diamond—5:45, 8:50. Catch and Release—1:40, 4:25, 7:10, 9:55. Charlotte's Web11:55, 5:20. Children of Men—12:15, 3:25, 6:15, 8:55. Constellation—1:15, 3:50, 6:25, 9:20. The Departed—12:35, 4:05, 8. Dreamgirls—12, 3:10, 6:30, 9:45. Epic Movie—12:50, 3:30, 7:25, 9:50. Eragon—2:40, 8:10. Freedom Writers—2:20, 5:25, 8:20. Happy Feet—12:05, 2:50. The Hitcher4:40, 10:15. Letters from Iwo Jima—12:25, 3:40, 6:50, 10. The Messengers—12:10, 2:30, 5:15, 7:40, 10:30. Night at the Museum—1, 4:30, 7:50, 10:25. Pan's Labyrinth—1:05, 3:55, 6:35, 9:25. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:10, 4, 6:45, 9:40. Smokin' Aces—2:05, 4:45, 7:30, 10:05. Stomp the Yard—1:20, 4:10, 7:20, 10:10.

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

Guru—Fri-Sun 6. The Last King of Scotland1:20, 4:05, 7, 9:30. Little Children—3:10, 7, 9:40. Notes on a Scandal—1, 3, 7:15, 9:20. The Painted Veil—1:15, 6:55. Pan's Labyrinth—1:30, 4:15, 7:20, 9:45. The Painted Veil—4:10. The Queen—1:05, 5:10. Salaam-e-Ishq—Fri-Sun 2, 9:45; Mon-Thu 7:25. Volver—1:15, 4:20, 7:05, 9:35.

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

Alpha Dog, Catch and Release, Constellation, Dreamgirls, Epic Movie, The Messengers, Night at the Museum, The Queen, Smokin' Aces, Stomp the Yard. Call for times.

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

Deep Sea 3D, Forces of Nature, Greatest Places, Happy Feet, Mystery of the Nile, Mystic India. Call for times.

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

Epic Movie—1:45, 4:15, 7:20, 9:35. The Messengers—1:40, 4, 7:20, 9:45. Smokin' Aces—1:25, 4:15, 7, 9:50. Stomp the Yard—1:45, 4:20, 7:10, 9:40. Volver—1:30, 4:10, 7:10, 9:40.

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.

Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:10, 5:20. Babel—1, 4, 7:05, 10. Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Blood and Chocolate—7:15, 9:55. Catch and Release—1:45, 4:30, 7, 9:40. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 9:55. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. The Good Shepherd—1 (No Sat-Sun), 4:45, 8:15. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Pan's Labyrinth—1:35, 4:20, 7, 9:35. The Queen—1:35, 4:05, 9:30. Smokin' Aces—1:25, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Notes on a Scandal—7, 9:15. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. Rocky Horror Picture Show—Fri midnight.

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

Because I Said So—12:30, 2:45, 5, 7:15, 9:35. Charlotte's Web—12:30, 2:40, 4:50. Dreamgirls—1, 3:50, 7:10, 9:45. The Messengers—2:55, 4:50, 7:25, 9:40. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5, 7:15, 9:35. The Painted Veil—12:30, 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 InvisiblesFri-Sun 12:30, 2:55; Mon-Thu 1:20, 3:40. Because I Said So1:05, 3:30, 6:20, 8:50. Catch and Release2:30, 5:10, 7:50 (Mon-Thu 7:35), 10:25 (Mon-Thu 9:55). Charlotte's Web—Fri-Sun 12:35, 3:05, 5:35, 8:10; Mon-Thu 1:10, 3:30, 5:50, 8:15. Dreamgirls—1, 4, 7, 10:05 (Mon-Thu 9:55). Epic Movie—12:40 (No Mon-Thu), 2:50 (Mon-Thu 2:20), 5, 8, 10:15. Freedom Writers—2, 4:45, 7:40 (Mon-Thu 7:25), 10:20 (Mon-Thu 10:05). Happy Feet12:50, (Mon-Thu 1:05), 3:40. The Hitcher—8:20 (Mon-Thu 8:05), 10:30 (Mon-Thu 10:15). The Messengers—1:20 (Mon-Thu 1:25), 3:50, 7:20, 9:45. Night at the Museum—1:30, 4:10, 6:50, 9:25. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:15, 4:25, 7:10, 9:55. The Queen—1:50, 4:15, 6:40, 9:05. Smokin' Aces—2:10, 4:50, 7:30, 10:10. Stomp the Yard—1:40, 4:30, 7:15, 10. We Are Marshall—6:15, 9:15.


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

Countdown to Full Frame: Travis; In Harm's WayWed 7:30. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib—Mon-Wed 1, 3. The Last King of Scotland7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. Notes on a Scandal—7:15, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:20. The Queen—7:10, 9:10. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:10. Volver—7:10, 9:35. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:35.

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

Arthur and the Invisibles—11:45, 2:10, 4:20. Because I Said So—12:05, 2:30, 4:55, 7:20, 9:45. Blood and Chocolate—11:50, 2:20, 4:55, 7:35, 10. Dreamgirls—12:30, 3:30, 6:45, 9:50. Epic Movie—11:40, 1:55, 4:10, 7:05, 9:25. The Hitcher—7:15, 9:30. The Messengers—12, 2:25, 4:40, 7:10, 9:40. Night at the Museum—11:35, 2:05, 4:30, 7, 9:35. Pursuit of Happyness—11:30, 2:15, 4:50, 7:30, 10:10. Smokin' Aces—11:55, 2:35, 5, 7:40, 10:15. Stomp the Yard—11:25, 2, 4:35, 7:25, 10:05.

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

Because I Said So—1, 3:45, 6:30, 9:30. Blood and Chocolate—Fri-Sat 3:45, 7:20. Blood Diamond—Fri-Sat 3:05, 9. Casino RoyaleFri-Sat 3:50, 9:40. Catch and ReleaseFri-Sat 1:20, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Children of Men—Fri-Sat 1:15, 7. Constellation—Fri-Sat 12:40, 3:25, 7:05, 9:45. The Departed—Fri-Sat 6:05, 9:20. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sat 12:30, 3:30, 6:20, 9:15. Epic Movie—Fri-Sat 12:45, 3, 5:20, 7:45, 10:05. Freedom Writers—Fri-Sat 12:55, 10. Happy FeetFri-Sat 12, 2:35. Letters from Iwo JimaFri-Sat 12:05, 3:10, 6:15, 9:20. The Messengers—Fri-Sat 12, 2:15, 4:45, 6:55, 10:20. Night at the Museum—Fri-Sat 12:20, 2:50, 6:05, 8:30. Pan's Labyrinth—Fri-Sat 1:40, 4:15, 7:25, 10:10. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Sat 12:10, 3:20, 7:05, 9:35. The Queen—Fri-Sat 12:20, 6:35. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Sat 2, 5, 8, 10:30. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Sat 1:05, 4:05, 6:45, 9:55. Call for additional times.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Babel1, 4, 7:05, 10. Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 12. Blood and Chocolate—1:30, 4:15, 7:15, 9:55. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. Catch and Release1:45, 4:30, 7, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 12:20. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 11:40. Freedom Writers—1, 4, 7, 9:55. Happily N'ever After—1, 3:05, 5:10. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 11:50. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. Pan's Labyrinth—1:35, 4:20, 7, 9:35. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. 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. Smokin' Aces—1:25, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50. Also Fri-Sat 12:20. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30. Also Fri-Sat 11:05. Volver—7:05, 9:45. Also Fri-Sat 12:30.

Chapel Hill

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

The Last King of Scotland—7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. Little Children—7:10, 9:35. Also Sat-Sun 1:50, 4:20. Notes on a Scandal—7:20, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:40.

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

Because I Said So—12:30, 2:45, 5, 7:15, 9:40. Children of Men—1:30, 4:15, 7:25, 9:45. The Departed—1, 4, 7, 9:55. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5:05, 7:20, 9:35. 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.

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

Pan's Labyrinth—7:10, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:30. Volver—7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:20.


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

Happy Feet—7. Also Fri-Sun 9:15; Sat-Sun 2:30, 4:45.


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

Because I Said So—4:45, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Sat-Sun 2:05; Thu 1. Dreamgirls—4:30, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:40; Sat-Sun 2; Thu 1. Epic Movie—4:40, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:20; Sat-Sun 2:15; Thu 1. Freedom Writers—7. Also Sat-Sun 2:05. The Hitcher—4:45. Also Fri-Sat 9:25; Thu 1. The Messengers—4:35, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:15; Sat-Sun 4:35; Thu 1. Night at the Museum—4:30, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:30; Sat-Sun 2:05; Thu 1. Smokin' Aces—4:40, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Sat-Sun 2:10; Thu 1. Stomp the Yard—4:30, 7. Also Fri-Sat 9:25; Sat-Sun 2; Thu 1.

Special Showings

Chronological by date and time

Triangle Indie Film Meetup Group: A congregation of serious movie fans who gather before selected film screenings in the area. Films listed elsewhere in this section that have been selected for a meetup will be marked with an *.

Screen/ Society: Wed, Jan 31, 7 pm: Pretty Baby. 9:30 pm: Persona. Griffith Theater, Duke Campus. Mon, Feb 5, 8 pm: Army of Shadows. Griffith. Tue, Feb 6, 7 pm: Kids Return. 9:30 pm: Blue Spring. Griffith.

Flicker Festival: Wed, Jan 31, 8:30 pm: "The Wild Wild West Flicker."* A program of experimental Super-8 short films. Cat's Cradle, 300 E Main St, Carrboro. 967-9053,, $3.

The Civil War: Ken Burns' celebrated nine-part documentary from 1990. Thu, Feb 1, 6:30 pm: 1863 -Simply Murder: Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Olivia Raney Local History Library, 4016 Carya Dr, Raleigh. 250-1196, Free.

NC State University Campus Cinema: Thu, Feb 1, 7 pm; Fri, Feb 2, 10 pm; Sat, Feb 3, 10 pm: Caddyshack. Free. Thu, Feb 1 & Sat, Feb 3, 9 pm; Fri, Feb 2, 7 pm; Sun, Feb 4, 3 pm: The Departed. Wed, Feb 7, 8 pm: Peaceable Kingdom. Free. Witherspoon Student Center, NC State Campus, $1.50-2.50.

Darfur Diaries: Thu, Feb 1, 7:30 pm: Award-winning documentary, to be followed by discussion led by NCSU asst prof Anna Bigelow. Erdahl-Cloyd Theater in DH Hill Library, NC State campus. Free.

A/V Geeks: Fri, Feb 2, 7 pm: Teenagers from Outer Space. Troublemaking teens from Mars invade the Earth and try to raise giant space lobsters. NC Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W Jones St, Raleigh. Free.

NC Museum of Art Winter Film Series: Fri, Feb 2, 8 pm: Electric Shadows*. Fri, Feb 9, 8 pm: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 839-6262, $5, $3.50 students.

Fargo: Tue, Feb 6, 7 pm: The Coen Brothers classic. 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), Neil Morris (NM) or Zack Smith (ZS).

Opening This Week

BECAUSE I SAID SO—Clearly, director Michael Lehman's lost his taste for the bitch-fest grandeur of his 1989 Heathers debut and gone all squishy. Here, motherly love gets a faint makeover in this estrogen-saturated romantic comedy about millennial mating habits and the inevitable process of cutting the apron strings. Diane Keaton once again plays a postmenopausal mother whose overbearing tendencies cause her to meddle in the dating life of her youngest daughter, Milly (a sticky-sweet Mandy Moore), setting up a steady stream of chick flick cliches that clutter the narrative. Worse, Keaton's fluttery performance finds her chewing up lines and screeching at her daughters like a demented yenta. The only bit of fresh air comes in the form of the two-bit one-liners dropped by an affable Lauren Graham as one of Milly's older sisters and a fair performance by Moore. Save this one for Netflix, because I said so. Rated PG-13. —KJ

LITTLE CHILDREN—An unctuous, off-putting advertisement for "literary" filmmaking, this adaptation of Tom Perotta's novel of suburban infidelity marks the sophomore outing of director Todd Field, whose In the Bedroom announced a smart way with actors and handsome visual compositions but also a tendency toward projected solipsism and melodramatic excess. Here, a miscast Kate Winslet and hunky Patrick Wilson play suburbanites who lazily fall into an affair while minding their kids at the local pool. While failing to make these two rounded and fully believable, the film employs some unbelievably creaky and arch "novelistic" narration and manages to turn most of its secondary characters into grotesque caricatures; one of those, however, involves a memorably harrowing turn by Jackie Earle Haley. Rated R. —GC

THE MESSENGERS—The American debut of Asian horror-meisters Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. Rated PG-13.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL—Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett give razor-sharp performances in this clever, impeccably mounted British drama about a spinster teacher who discovers that a younger, married colleague is having an affair with a 15-year-old student. Blending satire, suspense and psychological scrutiny, the film delivers characters of unusual complexity and depth thanks to a well-honed script by Patrick Marber from Zoe Heller's novel; its several Oscar nominations, including for its two stars, are well deserved. Directed by Richard Eyre. Rated R. —GC

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

ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES—The transition from one language to another can sometimes be detrimental to a film's cohesive script, but that's just one of the problems facing action-director Luc Besson's fudged CGI fantasy. Originally filmed in French, this King Arthur meets The Sword in the Stone with a dash of Harry Potter hybrid falls flat on its face. Not even a stellar lineup of pop cultural icons can save it (Madonna, Snoop Dog, Jimmy Fallon and David Bowie provide character voices). Rated PG. —KJ

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE—"Ah-oo! Werewolves of Bucharest!" ... sorry. This overwrought, very loose adaptation of Annette Curtis Klause's teen horror novel tells the story of a young woman (Blue Car's Agnes Bruckner), torn between her family of Romanian werewolves and the love of a graphic novelist (Hugh Dancy). Chocolate is mostly notable for making werewolves into Eurotrash prone to Casino Royale-esque wall-bouncing. And could someone please give poor Bruckner a meaty role in a good film or TV series? She's the only one with any presence here. Rated PG-13. —ZS

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

CATCH AND RELEASE—The title aptly suggests what should be done with this minnow about Gray (Jennifer Garner), a woman dealing with the untimely death of her fiancé with a little help from their mutual chums (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaeger). The tableau is less Big Chill than a bit chilly, a maudlin meander steeped in fly fishing, peace gardens and an incessant, grating acoustic guitar soundtrack that accompanies banal thirtysomethings who speak in clichés and seek spiritual guidance off the back of herbal tea boxes. Rated PG-13. —NM

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

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

EPIC MOVIE—Banking on the youth-market success of horror spoof Scary Movie and last year's chick flick parody Date Movie, screenwriters Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg gunk up the big screen for the third time with this ode to big-budget Hollywood hit-makers through a "funny through recognition" comic style that relies on the regurgitation of mini-plots and characters from past blockbusters (i.e. The Da Vinci Code, Nacho Libre, Snakes on a Plane, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Chronicles of Narnia). This film may be dead-on in spoofing Hollywood's predictability, but the real laugh lies in the film's own unerring ability to tank while referencing said "predictability." This movie is epically unfunny (unless yellow snow, crotch-kicks and bestiality give you a giggle). Rated PG-13. —KJ

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. With Aishwayra Rai. —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 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. 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. 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

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

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

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

SALAAM-E-ISHQ (SALUTE TO LOVE)—Six loosely linked romantic destinies shuffle in this amusing trifle vaguely inspired by Love, Actually. Director Nikhil Advani's skill with his ensemble cast makes it more engaging than expected at a massive 3 1/2 hours. Salman Khan, underplaying for a change, woos perky Priyanka Chopra, playing an "item queen" (appearing only for a sexy dance) who longs to be taken seriously. Akshaye Khanna, whose slight charisma needs the right script, is amusing as a commitmentphobic bachelor. John Abraham (on his way to the red carpet for Oscar nominated Water) and Vidya Balan, the thinking person's ingénue, bring honest tears to a sappy amnesia story. Anil Kapoor longs for some extracurricular excitement, and almost loses his devoted wife, the luminous Juhi Chawla. Most surprisingly, Govinda, a '90s comedy icon on the comeback trail, is quite soulful as a lovesick cabby helping a gori memsab (white girl) trail her bratty Indian boyfriend. Not rated. —LB

SMOKIN' ACES—Following up his vastly underrated cop drama Narc, director Joe Carnahan reverts back to his Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane days of worshiping at the alter of early Tarantino and spaghetti Westerns with this scattershot of nihilism, black comedy, action and crime drama. A cadre of archetypes—FBI, the Mafia, neo-Nazis, hitmen/women, etc.—vie to be the first to put their hands on (and, for most, bullets in) Las Vegas illusionist and mob informant Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven, unconvincing). Carnahan's skill and still-budding promise as a filmmaker shine through at times. Too bad, then, that a fractured, absurd narrative and hole-ridden plot erase any semblance of gritty subtext, clearing room for only hails of gunfire and buckets of blood. Rated R. —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

VOLVER—Pedro Almodóvar explores the powerful generational bonds between mothers and daughters. As a mother returns from the dead (volver means "to return") to repair shredded relations with her daughter, her daughter must in turn nurture her ties both with the past and the future. Penelope Cruz's magnificent Oscar nominated performance, and her welcome return to Spanish film, evokes Mediterranean heroines such as those played in the 1950s and 60s by Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren. Rated R. —LB

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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