Times are subject to change, and we recommend calling ahead to confirm.
Beaver Creek Shopping Center, off NC 55, Apex. 676-3456.
Because I Said So—Fri-Mon 2, 4:40, 7:15, 9:45. Catch and Release—Fri-Mon 12:50, 3:25, 6:20, 9. Charlotte's Web—Fri-Mon 12:40. Dreamgirls—Fri-Mon 12:35, 3:30, 6:30, 9:25. Epic Movie—Fri-Mon 2:45, 5:30, 7:40, 9:50. Hannibal Rising—Fri-Mon 1, 4:15, 7:10, 10. The Messengers—Fri-Mon 1:45, 4:10, 6:45, 9:10. Night at the Museum—Fri-Mon 1:15, 4, 7, 9:40. Norbit—Fri-Mon 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, 10. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Mon 1:45, 3:40, 6:35, 9:15. The Queen—Fri-Mon 12:30, 3, 6:10, 8:45. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Mon 2:15, 5, 7:20, 9:55. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Mon 3:50, 6:50, 9:30. Call for additional times.
Blue Ridge 14
600 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 282-9003.
Brier Creek Stadium 14
8611 Brier Creek Pkwy, Raleigh. 484-9994.
5501 Atlantic Springs Rd, Raleigh. 645-1111.
Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Catch and Release—1:20. Charlotte's Web—1, 3:10, 5:20. Constellation—7:30, 10. Dreamgirls —1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Freedom Writers—9:55. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Happy Feet—2 (No Sat-Sun), 4:45, 7:30. The Hitcher—1:10, 7. Kidtoons Presents: Little Robots—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Last Sin Eater—1, 4, 7:05, 10. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Norbit—1, 1:30, 3:25, 4:15, 5:50. Pan's Labyrinth—4:20, 9:35. The Pursuit of Happyness—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 Shopping Center, 5438 Six Forks Rd, Raleigh. 856-0111.
Call for shows and times.
501 Caitboo Ave, Crossroads Shopping Center, Cary. 226-2000.
Call for shows and times.
770 Cary Towne Blvd, Cary. 463-9989, mygalaxycinema.com.
Garner Towne Square
2600 Timber Dr, Garner. 779-2212.
IMAX Theatre at Exploris
201 E Hargett St, Raleigh. 834-4040.
Mission Valley Cinema
2109-124 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh. 834-2233.
Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:15, 7:10, 9:50. The Messengers—4, 9:45. Also Fri-Tue 1:40, 7:20. Music and Lyrics—Wed-Thu 1:25, 4:15, 7, 9:45. Norbit—1:30, 4, 7:20, 9:40. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Tue 1:25, 4:15, 7, 9:50. Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girl—Wed-Thu 1:40, 4:20, 7:15, 9:35. Volver—Fri-Tue 1:30, 4:10, 7:10, 9:40; Wed-Thu 1:40, 7:10.
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, 7:30, 9:40. Babel—1, 4, 7:05, 10. Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Catch and Release—1:20. Charlotte's Web—1 (No Sat-Sun), 3:15 (No Sat-Sun), 5:30, 7:45, 9:55. Children of Men—9:35. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Last Sin Eater—1, 4, 7:05, 10. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Night at the Museum—1:25, 4, 7, 9:35. Norbit—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Pan's Labyrinth—1:35, 4:20, 7, 9:35. The Pursuit of Happyness—4:10, 7:05, 9:45. The Queen—1:35, 4:05, 7, 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.
Arthur and the Invisibles—Fri-Tue 1:40, 4. Babel—Fri-Tue 6:20, 9:35. Because I Said So—Fri-Tue 1:45, 4:30, 7, 9:45. Catch and Release—Fri-Tue 7:20, 9:55. Children of Men—Fri-Tue 2:30, 5:10, 7:50, 10:25. Dreamgirls—Fri-Tue 1:05, 4, 7:05, 10:05. Epic Movie—Fri-Tue 2:45, 5:15, 7:25, 9:40. Hannibal Rising—Fri-Tue 1:30, 4:15, 7:15, 10:15. Happy Feet—Fri-Tue 1:20, 3:55. The Last Sin Eater—Fri-Tue 1, 4:05, 7:10, 10:15. The Messengers—Fri-Tue 1:15, 3:30, 5:45, 8, 10:30. Night at the Museum—Fri-Tue 1:10, 3:50, 6:30, 9:20. Norbit—Fri-Tue 1, 3:45, 6:45, 9:30. Pan's Labyrinth—Fri-Tue 2:10, 4:45, 7:45, 10:20. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Tue 1:25, 4:10, 6:50, 9:50. The Queen—Fri-Tue 1:10, 3:40, 6:15, 8:45. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Tue 2, 5, 7:30, 10. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Tue 2:05, 4:50, 7:40, 10:25. Call for additional times.
Raleighwood Cinema Grill
Falls Village Shopping Center, Raleigh. 847-0326. www.raleighwoodmovies.com.
Call for shows and times.
1620 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh. 856-0111.
Call for shows and times.
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—12:35, 2:40, 4:50. Dreamgirls—1, 3:50, 7:10, 9:45. The Messengers—2:55, 4:50, 7:25, 9:40. Music and Lyrics—12:45, 2:55, 5:05, 7:20, 9:40. Night at the Museum—12:30, 2:45, 5, 7:15, 9:35. Norbit—1:20, 4, 7:10, 9:30. The Queen—1:15, 4, 7:05, 9:30.
White Oak Village
1205 Timber Dr East, Garner. 676-FILM.
Because I Said So—Fri-Sun 1, 3:30, 6:20, 8:50. Catch and Release—Fri-Sun 2:30, 5:10, 7:55,10:25. Charlotte's Web—Fri-Sun 12:30, 3:05, 5:35, 8. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sun 1:20, 5:25, 8:30. Epic Movie—Fri-Sun 12:40, 2:50, 5:50, 8:10, 10:20. Freedom Writers—Fri-Sun 2, 4:40, 7:35,10:15. Hannibal Rising—Fri-Sun 12:50, 3:50, 6:45, 9:40. The Messengers—Fri-Sun 2:20, 4:55, 7:25, 9:55. Night at the Museum—Fri-Sun 1:30, 4:05, 6:50, 9:25. Norbit—Fri-Sun 1:55, 4:30, 7, 10:10. The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Sun 1:15, 4:25, 7:10, 9:50. The Queen—Fri-Sun 1:50, 4:15, 6:40, 9:05. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Sun 2:10, 4:50, 7:50, 10:30. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Sun 1:40, 4:20, 7:15, 10. Call for times.
309 W Morgan St, Durham. 560-3030, www.carolinatheatre.org.
The Last King of Scotland—7 (No Fri). Also Sat-Sun 2. Notes on a Scandal—7:15 (No Tue), 9:20 (No Tue). Also Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:20. Venus—7:10, 9:10. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:10. Volver—9:35 (No Fri). Also Sat-Sun 4:35.
1056 W Club Blvd, Durham. 286-1001, www.phoenixtheatres.com.
Because I Said So—Fri-Tue 12:05, 2:30, 4:55, 7:20, 9:45. Dreamgirls—Fri-Tue 12:30, 3:30, 6:45, 9:50. Epic Movie—Fri-Tue 11:40, 1:55, 4:10, 7:05, 9:25. Hannibal Rising—Fri-Tue 1:30, 4:45, 7:30, 10:20. The Messenger—Fri-Tue 11:55, 2:25, 4:35, 7:10, 9:35. Night at the Museum—Fri-Tue 11:35, 2:15, 5:05, 7:40, 10:05. Norbit—Fri-Tue 11:45, 2:20, 4:40, 7:15, 9:40. Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Tue 11:30, 2:10, 4:50, 7:35, 10:10. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Tue 12, 2:35, 5, 7:45, 10:15. Stomp the Yard—Fri-Tue 11:25, 2, 4:30, 7:25, 9:55. Call for additional times.
8030 Renaissance Pkwy, Durham. 676-3456.
Because I Said So—Fri-Sun 1:15, 3:45, 6:30, 9:30 (Sun 9:10). Blood Diamond—Fri-Sun 3:05, 9. Catch and Release—Fri-Sun 1:20, 4, 6:55, 9:35. Children of Men—Fri-Sun 7:10, 9:50. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sun 12:30, 3:30, 6:20, 9:15 (Sun 9:05). Epic Movie—Fri-Sun 12:45, 3, 5:20, 7:45 (Sun 7:25), 10:05 (Sun 9:30). Hannibal Rising—Fri-Sun 1:35, 4:45, 7:35 (Sun 7:30), 10:30 (Sun 10:15). Happy Feet—Fri-Sun 12, 2:35. Letters from Iwo Jima—Fri-Sun 12:05, 3:10, 6:15, 9:20. The Messengers—Fri-Sun 2:15, 4:25, 6:40, 10:15 (Sun 9:05). Night at the Museum—Fri-Sun 12:20, 2:50, 6:05, 8:30. Norbit—Fri-Sun 12, 1, 3:25, 4:15, 6:05, 7:05, 8:35, 9:30. Pan's Labyrinth—Fri-Sun 1:40, 4:30, 7:20 (Sun 7:15), 10:10 (Sun 9:55). The Pursuit of Happyness—Fri-Sun 12:10, 3:20, 6:55, 9:40. The Queen—Fri-Sun 12:20, 6:35. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Sun 2, 5, 8 (Sun 7:35) 10:30 (Sun 10:05). Stomp the Yard—Fri-Sun 1:05, 4:05, 6:45, 9:55 (Sun 9:20). Call for additional times.
2523 E Club Blvd, Durham. 688-1037.
Call for shows and times.
1800 Martin Luther King Blvd, Durham. 489-9020.
Babel—1, 4, 7:05, 10. Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 12. Catch and Release—1:20. 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 (No Sat-Sun), 4 (No Sat-Sun), 7, 9:55. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Last Sin Eater—1, 4, 7:05, 10. 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. Norbit—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 12. Pan's Labyrinth—1:35, 4:20, 7, 9:35. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. The Pursuit of Happyness—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.
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, 9:35. Children of Men—1:30, 4:15. The Departed—7, 9:55. Hannibal Rising—1:15, 4:05, 7:05, 9:40. Music and Lyrics—12:45, 2:55, 5:05, 7:20, 9:45. The Queen—1:20, 4:10, 7:10, 9:50. Volver—1, 4, 7:25, 9:45.
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, 4:30.
119 N Main St, Graham. (336)226-1488.
Happy Feet—7. Also Fri-Sun 9:15; Sat-Sun 2:30, 4:45.
5050 Durham Rd, Roxboro. (336)598-5050.
Call for shows and times.
Chronological by date and timeTriangle Indie Film Meetup Group: A congregation of serious movie fans who gather before selected film screenings in the area. Films listed in this section that have been selected for a meetup are marked with an *. indiefilm.meetup.com/134.
NC State University Campus Cinema: Wed, Feb 7, 8 pm: Peaceable Kingdom. Free. Thu, Feb 8, 7 pm: Hustle and Flow. Thu, Feb 8 & Sat, Feb 10, 10 pm; Fri, Feb 9 & Sun, Feb 11, 7 pm: Borat. Fri, Feb 9 & Sun, Feb 11, 9:30 pm; Sat, Feb 10, 7 pm: The Blues Brothers. Free. Witherspoon Student Center, NC State Campus, www.ncsu.edu/cinema. $1.50-2.50.
The Civil War: Ken Burns' celebrated nine-part documentary from 1990. Thu, Feb 8, 6:30 pm: 1863—The Universe of Battle: From Gettysburg to Lookout Mountain. Olivia Raney Local History Library, 4016 Carya Dr, Raleigh. 250-1196, firstname.lastname@example.org. Free.
Screen/Society: Thu, Feb 8, 7 pm: At Home in the World. Nasher Museum, Duke Campus. Mon, Feb 12, 8 pm: Lacombe Lucien. Griffith. Tue, Feb 13, 7 pm: Barren Illusion. Wed, Feb 14, 7 pm: Sex Mission (Seksmisja)*. Richard White. www.duke.edu/web/film/screensociety/schedule.html.
NC Museum of Art Winter Film Series: Fri, Feb 9, 8 pm: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?* Fri, Feb 16, 8 pm: Champagne for Caesar. 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 839-6262, www.ncartmuseum.org. $5, $3.50 students.
Cinema Inc: Sun, Feb 11, 7 pm: Holiday*. $20 annual subscription. Rialto Theater, 1620 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh. www.cinema-inc.org.
Film CapsulesOur 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 WeekHANNIBAL RISING—Here's a tip to all would-be "prequel" filmmakers: Great villains become less great when you explain away their mystique. Even if it didn't have the greatness of Silence of the Lambs staring in its face, even if it didn't have to deal with the fact that Anthony Hopkins is nowhere to be seen, this portrait of the cannibal as a young man (Gaspard Ulliel) is still an utter bore. Giving Lecter an origin story that involves tracking down Nazis with a samurai sword is like trying to turn Charles Manson into an action hero. For some reason, Curse of the Golden Flowera's Gong Li is in here as well. Pray author Thomas Harris doesn't decide to go back and do a back story for Buffalo Bill. —ZS
THE LAST SIN EATER—This unadorned Christian proselytization set in 19th-century Appalachia, directed by Michael Landon Jr., features a 10-year-old half-pint (Liana Liberato) seeking absolution for some unspeakable guilt from her village's resident "sin-eater," a hermit ordained to cleanse the souls of the newly departed by devouring food and drink over their corpses. Archaic Welsh tradition is questioned and dark secrets are revealed when a peripatetic preacher (Henry Thomas) wanders through, spreading the Good News to this pagan Peyton Place. Making a detour into limited theatrical release before a surely steady run on the Trinity Network, this handsomely produced cinematic sham is not saved by its earnest message of salvation—even a cheesy Shyamalan-type twist would have been preferable to the white guilt over Native American persecution that gets suddenly injected near the film's end. Rated PG-13. —NM
NORBIT—While Oscar-nominee Eddie Murphy (yep, it's true) does little here to diminish his status as a comic genius, the problems anchoring down this patchwork are even heavier than its central harridan. What is remarkable is how derivative the film is, from its humdrum plotting to Murphy's proverbial round-robin of latex-laden characters. The nebbish Norbit, recycled from Murphy's Jiff Ramsey in Bowfinger, is trapped in a marriage to the rotund Rasputia (Murphy redux), a grotesquerie and would-be Klump cousin or, more regrettably, his Johnny-come-lately to the same rote "big black woman" routine that has sustained Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry's careers for years. Beyond its banality, what the film really trades in are a spate of mean-spirited ethnic stereotypes and fat jokes, further perpetuated by the presence of rail-thin Thandie Newton as Norbit's childhood sweetheart. You will find yourself laughing during Norbit, but only if you don't ask yourself why. Rated PG-13. —NM
VENUS—Peter O'Toole's presence and performance lend gravitas to this tale of an aging actor who enters into a relationship with his friend's young grandniece (Jodie Whittaker) that's equal parts unrequited lust and heartfelt mentorship. Though there are some occasional slips into sitcom and melodrama, at its heart this is a beautifully observant portrait of old age and faded glory, with some moments of real humor and poignance. Besides O'Toole, there's also great work by Vanessa Redgrave and Leslie Phillips, and a promising debut from newcoming Whittaker. Rated R. —ZS
Current ReleasesARTHUR 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 on its face. Not even a stellar lineup of pop icons can save it (Madonna, Snoop Dog, Jimmy Fallon and David Bowie provide voices). Rated PG. —KJ
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 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 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
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 youngsters, some of the original idyllic transcendence gets lost amongst such contemporary allowances as burping rats and flatulent cows. Director Gary Winick's effort is watchable, but if you want an enchanting movie filmed in Australia about an underdog pig, talking farm animals and their humans, 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—Screenwriters Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg (Scary Movie, Date Movie) gunk up the big screen for the third time with this ode to Hollywood hit-makers through a "funny through recognition" comic style that relies on the regurgitation of plots and characters from past blockbusters. The spoofing of Hollywood's predictability may be dead on, but the real laugh lies in the film's own unerring ability to tank while referencing said "predictability." Rated PG-13. —KJ
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
HAPPY FEET—Spawned from 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 muddled 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
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. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson play suburbanites who lazily fall into an affair while minding their kids at the local pool, but Field fails to make the lovers believable and employs creaky and arch "novelistic" narration. Rated R. —GC
THE MESSENGERS—After the successes of The Ring and The Grudge, when we hear the word "Asian" meshed with "horror flick" we tend to get all revved up for a bone-chilling freak fest that is bound to keep us up late with our heads buried under the covers. But don't expect this new film to fill the creep-fest quotient its trailer suggests, even if it is helmed by Asian horror-meisters the Pang Brothers (2002's The Eye). As it stands, the film offers up a veritable mish-mash of horror hooey (references to The Birds, Amityville Horror, The Shining and Poltergeist run amuck) and a grab bag of tired tricks (irremovable stains, blood pouring from a faucet, etc.). Add in John Corbett as a deranged killer, a bevy of sunflower seeds and a tiny tot that can see dead people, and you get the picture. Rated PG-13.—KJ
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM—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. Still, this tale of a shlubby guard (Ben Stiller) dealing with exhibits coming to life doesn't offer much beyond bland family fare. Points to Robin Williams for not going over the top as Teddy Roosevelt, and also to the producers for assembling an eclectic cast including Mickey Rooney, Ricky Gervais and Dick Van Dyke. Rated PG.—ZS
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
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 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 world. The plots come together in unexpected ways, and there are 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 woos perky Priyanka Chopra, playing an "item queen" (appearing only for a sexy dance) who longs to be taken seriously. Elsewhere, 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. 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. 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 YARD—You 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