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Film times & brief film reviews

For Friday, Jan. 12 through Thursday, Jan. 18


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


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

Charlotte's Web—1:35, 4, 6:30, 8:50. Code Name: The Cleaner—3:50, 9. Dreamgirls—12, 3:30, 6:45, 9:45. Eragon—2, 4:45, 7:20, 9:50. Freedom Writers—2:15, 3, 6:15, 9:10. The Good Shepherd—1:15, 5, 8:45. Happily N'ever After—1, 6:10. Night at the Museum—12:30, 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. Rocky Balboa—1:25, 4:10, 6:50, 9:20. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:45, 7:25, 10. We Are Marshall—12:10, 3:15, 6:20, 9:30.

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. Deja Vu—1:10, 4, 7, 9:45. Flushed Away—1, 3:05, 5:10, 7:15, 9:20. The Guardian—1:05, 4:05, 7, 10. Harsh Times—1:40, 4:30, 7:20, 10. The Illusionist—1:45, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50. 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. 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. Turistas—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 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—4:45, 10. Arthur and the Invisibles—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Black Christmas—9:50. Charlotte's Web—1:45, 7. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Code Name: The Cleaner—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. 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. Happily N'ever After—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Happy Feet—1:45, 4:20, 7:10. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Perfume—4, 9:15. 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, 3:10, 5:55, 8:30. Thr3e—1:30 (No Sat-Sun), 7:30.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Alpha Dog—Fri-Sat 1:55, 4:50, 7:40, 10:30. Arthur and the Invisibles—Fri-Sat 11:40, 2, 4:20, 6:45, 9:05. Blood Diamond—Fri-Sat 5:45, 8:50. Casino Royal—Fri-Sat 12:20, 9:45. Charlotte's Web—Fri-Sat 11:55, 2:40, 5:15, 8:10. Children of Men—Fri-Sat 1:40, 4:25, 7:10, 9:50. Code Name: The Cleaner—Fri-Sat 12:30, 3:05, 6:15, 8:40. Curse of the Golden Flower—Fri-Sat 1, 3:55, 7:05, 10. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sat 12, 12:45, 3:10, 3:50, 6:30, 7, 9:35, 10:05. Eragon—Fri-Sat 12:40, 3:30, 6:20. Freedom Writers—Fri-Sat 2:20, 5:25, 8:20. The Good Shepherd—Fri-Sat 12:10, 3:45, 8. Happily N'ever After—Fri-Sat 11:30, 1:50, 4:30, 6:55. Happy Feet—Fri-Sat 12:05, 2:50. The Holiday—Fri-Sat 3:35, 6:40. Night at the Museum—Fri-Sat 11:45, 2:30, 5:10, 7:50, 10:25. Primeval—Fri-Sat 12:55, 3:40, 7:25, 10:20. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Sat 1:10, 4, 6:50, 9:40. Rocky Balboa—Fri-Sat 1:30, 4:40, 10:15. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Sat 1:20, 4:10, 7:20, 10:10. We Are Marshall—Fri-Sat 2:10, 5:35, 8:30. Call for additional times.

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

American Hardcore—3:05, 9:05. Curse of the Golden Glower—1:20, 4:10, 7:05, 9:25. Dhoom 2—3:10 (No Sun). Guru—3. Also Fri-Sun 6:15, 9:45; Mon-Thu 3, 7:30. The History Boys—12:50, 7:10. Old Joy—1:05, 5:15, 7:20. The Painted Veil—1:10, 4, 7, 9:35. The Queen—12:55, 3:15, 5:20, 7:25. Thr3e—1, 9:30.

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

Arthur and the Invisibles, Code Name: The Cleaner, Curse of the Golden Flower, Dreamgirls, Freedom Writers, Happily N'ever After, Happy Feet, Night at the Museum, Primeval, Pursuit of Happyness, Stomp the Yard. Call for times.

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

Deep Sea, Fighter Pilot, Forces of Nature, Greatest Places, Happy Feet, Mystery of the Nile, Polar Express. Call for times.

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

Children of Men—1:30, 4:10, 7:10, 9:40. Freedom Writers—1:15, 4:15, 7, 9:40. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:45. The Pursuit of Happyness—1:20, 4:05, 7:20, 9:50. Stomp the Yard—1:45, 4:20, 7:25, 9:50.

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. Casino Royal—4:40, 10:05. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 9:55. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Code Name: The Cleaner—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. 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, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Happy Feet—1:45 (No Sat-Sun), 7:30. 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. We Are Marshall—1:20, 4:15, 7:10, 10.

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

Alpha Dog—Fri-Mon 1:20, 4:20, 7:20, 10:10. Arthur and the Invisibles—Fri-Mon 12, 2:30, 5, 7:30, 9:50. Casino Royal—Fri-Mon 6:05, 9:20. Charlotte's Web—Fri-Mon 12:05, 2:45. Children of Men—Fri-Mon 1:30, 4:10, 6:45, 9:40. Code Name: The Cleaner—Fri-Mon 2:50, 7:50. Curse of the Golden Flower—Fri-Mon 1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 10:15. Dreamgirls—Fri-Mon 1, 4, 7, 10. Freedom Writers—Fri-Mon 12:15, 3:15, 6:10, 9:05. The Good Shepherd—Fri-Mon 12:50, 4:40, 8:30. Happily N'ever After—Fri-Mon 12:30, 5:15. Happy Feet—Fri-Mon 12, 5:30. Night at the Museum—Fri-Mon 12:45, 3:45, 6:30, 9:15. Primeval—Fri-Mon 12:10, 1:10, 2:30, 3:30, 4:50, 5:50, 7:10, 8:10, 9:30, 10:30. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Mon 12:15, 3, 6:15, 9. Rocky Balboa—Fri-Mon 2, 4:30, 7:15, 9:45. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Mon 2:15, 5, 7:40, 10:20. We Are Marshall—Fri-Mon 2:35, 8. Call for additional times.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

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

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

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


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

American Hardcore—Mon-Thu 7:15, 9:15. The Queen—7:10, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:20. The Painted Veil—7, 9:30. Also Sat-Sun 2, 4:30. "Spotlight on Alien Creations: The Benign, Benevolent and Belligerent"—Sat-Sun: 2001: A Space Odyssey—Sat-Sun 5 pm. Aliens—Sat-Sun 9 pm. Close Encounters of the Third Kind—Sat-Sun 2 pm.

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

Call for shows and times.

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

Alpha Dog—Fri-Sun 1:30, 4:30, 7:25, 10:15. Blood Diamond—Fri-Sun 2:30, 9:15. Casino Royal—Fri-Sun 3:10, 9:30. Charlotte's Web—Fri-Sun 12:05, 2:25, 4:45. Children of Men—Fri-Sun 1:15, 4, 7:40, 10:25. Code Name: The Cleaner—Fri-Sun 12, 2:15, 4:30, 6:45, 9. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sun 12:30, 3:25, 6:30, 9:20. Eragon—Fri-Sun 7:05, 9:30. Freedom Writers—Fri-Sun 1, 3:45, 7, 9:55. The Good Shepherd—Fri-Sun 1:20, 5, 8:30. Happily N'ever After—Fri-Sun 11:50, 2, 4:15, 6:25, 8:35. Happy Feet—Fri-Sun 11:50, 6:05. The Holiday—Fri-Sun 12:10, 6:35. Night at the Museum—Fri-Sun 12:15, 2:50, 6:10, 8:45. Primeval—Fri-Sun 12:45, 3:05, 5:25, 7:50, 10:30. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Sun 12:35, 3:15, 7:10, 10. Rocky Balboa—Fri-Sun 1:45, 4:40, 7:05, 9:40. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Sun 1:05, 4:10, 6:55, 9:45. We Are Marshall—Fri-Sun 12:50, 3:40, 7:15, 10:05. 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.

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. Blood Diamond—1 (No Sat-Sun), 4 (No Sat-Sun), 7. Children of Men—1:30, 4:30, 7:20, 9:50. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. Code Name: The Cleaner—1:05, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10. Also Fri-Sat 12:15. 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, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Also Fri-Sat 11:50. Happy Feet—1:35, 7:10. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. Perfume—4:10, 9:50. 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. Stomp the Yard—12:45, 3:20, 5:55, 8:30. Also Fri-Sat 11:05. Thr3e—10. Also Fri-Sat 12:30.

Chapel Hill

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

The History Boys—7. Also Sat-Mon 2. The Painted Veil—7:10, 9:35. Also Sat-Mon 2:10, 4:35. Perfume—6:50, 9:20. Also Sat-Mon 2:30. The Queen—9:25. Also Sat-Sun 4:20.

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

Charlotte's Web—12:30, 2:40, 4:50, 7:05, 9:20. Children of Men—1:30, 5:15, 7:25, 9:45. Freedom Writers—1:15, 4:10, 7:10, 9:55. The Good Shepherd—1, 4, 7, 9:50. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5:05, 7:20, 9:40.

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.

Children of Men—7, 9:20. Also Sat-Mon 2, 4:20. The Good Shepherd—6:40, 9:30. Also Sat-Mon 2:30.


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

Flushed Away—7. Also Fri-Mon 9; Sat-Mon 1, 3, 5.


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

Arthur and the Invisibles—4:40, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Sat-Sun 2:15; Thu 1. Charlotte's Web—4:50, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:40; Sat-Sun 2:20; Thu 1. Code Name: The Cleaner—4:35, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:25; Sat-Sun 2:25; Thu 1. Happily N'ever After—4:45, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:30; Sat-Sun 2:10; Thu 1. Night at the Museum—4:30, 7. Also Fri-Sat 9:25; Sat-Sun 2:10; Thu 1. Primeval—4:40, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:30; Sat-Sun 2:20; Thu 1. The Pursuit of Happyness—4:35, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Sat-Sun 2:05; Thu 1. Stomp the Yard—4:30, 7. Also Fri-Mon 2; Thu 1. We Are Marshall—Fri-Sun 9:20.

Special Showings

Chronological by date and time

NC Museum of Art Winter Film Series: Fri, Jan 12, 8 pm: The Fallen Idol. Fri, Jan 19, 8 pm: Black Narcissus. 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 839-6262, $5, $3.50 students.

NC State University Campus Cinema: Thu, Jan 11 & Sat, Jan 13, 7 pm; Fri, Jan 12 & Sun Jan 14, 10 pm: Saw III. Thu, Jan 11 & Sat, Jan 13, 9:30 pm; Fri, Jan 12 & Sun Jan 14, 7 pm: The Prestige. Witherspoon Student Center, NC State Campus, $1.50-2.50.

The Civil War: Ken Burns' celebrated nine-part documentary from 1990. Thu, Jan 11, 6:30 pm: 1861—The Cause: At the Crossroads of Our Being. Thu, Jan 18: 1862—Very Bloody Affair: From the Peninsular Campaign to Shiloh. Olivia Raney Local History Library, 4016 Carya Dr, Raleigh. 250-1196, Free.

Cinema Inc.: Fri, Jan 14, 7 pm: State of the Union. Rialto Theater, 1620 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh. $20 annual subscription. 787-7611.

Gimme Shelter: Tue, Jan 16, 7 pm: Albert and Peter Maysles' indispensable documentary about the Rolling Stones' notorious 1970 Altamont concert. Kings Barcade, 424 S McDowell St, Raleigh. Free.

Martin Luther King Jr Film Festival: Jan 17, noon: The Boy King. Jan 18, noon: Martin Luther King: The Legacy. Jan 19: The Assassination of Martin Luther King. Sonja Haynes Stone Center, 150 South Rd, Chapel Hill. 962-9001, 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. 843-3676. Free.

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

ALPHA DOG—There is quite a bit of raw potential floating about writer-director Nick Cassavetes' roman a clef of real-life L.A. drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood and the 1999 kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz. The film builds around its tabloid underpinning a portrait of wealthy, disaffected youth keener on emulating gangsta rap videos than their self-absorbed parents. Add to that a committed cast headlined by Emile Hirsch as J.J. Hollywood doppelganger Johnny Truelove and, yes, Justin Timberlake gamely assuming the mantle of the film's carefree heart and soul. Special attention, though, goes to Ben Foster's (Hostage) terrifyingly kinetic portrayal of a meth-addicted, Hitler-worshiping Jewish kid. A shame, then, that Cassavetes' script rambles as aimlessly as its characters, impeding any emotional connection with its more affecting moments by constantly falling back on a surreal, sardonic vibe, a la some typical Bret Easton Ellis schlock, and interjecting an ill-fitting series of faux-documentary interviews. 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—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.

AMERICAN HARDCORE—In its more transparent moments, this documentary betrays early 1980s American hardcore punk rock as, in essence, a bricolage of three-chord noise accompanied by unintelligible caterwauling. Yet, as the talking-head aging rockers who populate director Paul Rachman's cut-rate tribute intimate, musical form was not the impetus for this movement. For many, the cacophony was the primordial sap seeping from the family trees of middle to upper-class society. Primarily, however, it was a countercultural reaction to Reagan-era malaise conjured by the largely white sons of the 1960s, a generation of literal rebels without a cause as defiant of '80s conservatism as they were post-civil rights era liberalism. Rachman's presentation is a flawed mish-mosh, particularly in exploring the origins of both sound and soundmakers. But, it effectively distills the fleeting disillusion of a bygone cultural era. Rated R.—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 complement Zhang's trademark visual flourishes and compensate for some oppressively opulent set designs. Rated R. —NM

GURU—Abhishek Bachchan stars in the truthy story of a go-getter who strides from his rural Indian village to the head of a Fortune 500 company. Director Mani Ratnam gave Abhishek his first hit, Yuva (2004), after a series of flops threatened to scuttle his career. The tantalizing score is by A. R. Rehman; three of his songs from '06 are short listed for an Oscar (the one category where Bollywood has a clear advantage). Also starring Aishwayra Rai and '80s idol Mithun Chakraborthy. Not rated. —LB

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—South Africa, crocodiles, serial killers. With Orlando Jones. rated R.

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 cliched 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

Current Releases

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

BLACK CHRISTMAS—they say Christmas began as a pagan holiday. This year, a group of sorority sisters make the ultimate sacrifice. Rated R.

BLOOD DIAMOND—No doubt the campaign against conflict diamonds is a worthy one, but the film plays like a typically self-righteous Hollywood sermon wrapped around a very bloody, totally predictable and unbelievable adventure yarn constructed of jackhammer "action beats." Even fine performances by leads Leonardo DiCaprio (sporting a South African accent) and Djimon Hounsou can't offset the formulaic filmmaking, or Jennifer Connelly's lame turn as an activist reporter. Rated R. —GC

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

DHOOM 2— Straightlaced cop Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) teams with bad boy cycle racer Ali (Uday Chopra) in a breathlessly entertaining movie of monumental silliness. Hrithik Roshan (one of People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive) snatches the spotlight as a master thief and action guru Allen Amin devises a dizzying array of stunts. The cast (including seductresses Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu) radiate a superhuman level of gorgeousness, beautifully lit, primped and moistened. The giddy international caper encourages you to rev your engines, check your brain and dhoom, dhoom. Not rated.—LB

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

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER—It's officially reached the point where making fun of cliches has become a cliche. 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

THE HOLIDAY—Writer-director Nancy Meyers' triennial sap-fest about symbiotic sisterhood congeals with the yuletide-angst subgenre to form a half-baked Christmas cookie-cutter movie. Some sporadic chuckles, picturesque settings and infectious charm cannot offset the lack of focus and somnolent banality. With Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law. Rated PG-13. —NM

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

OLD JOY—Kelly Reichardt's naturalistic drama about two old friends on a weekend camping trip in Oregon's Cascade Mountains is one of the best films of 2006, but it also plays like one of the best films of 1973 or so, a time of political disillusionment and a boomer generation that found itself starting to settle down. Old Joy is reminiscent of such 1970s boys-gone-wild classics as Deliverance and The Deer Hunter, but its two leads(Will Oldham and Daniel London) are clearly creatures of our own times, perhaps to their sorrow. Not rated. —DF

PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER—This appalling mess tells the tale of Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), an outcast in 18th-century France with a superhuman sense of smell, who becomes obsessed with capturing the essence of beauty in a perfume. Based on a novel by Patrick Suskind that was a favorite of Kurt Cobain, director Tom Tykwer fails to capture the story's subtext about alienation in favor of lurid spectacle. It looks terrific, but it doesn't have a point. 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

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

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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