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Film times & brief film reviews

Movie times are good from Friday, Feb. 16 through Thursday, Feb. 22 except where noted.


Times are subject to change, and we recommend calling ahead to confirm. Due to Valentine's Day, some theaters have special showings on Wed and Thu. Call for shows and times.


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

Because I Said SoMon-Thu 12:35, 3, 6:20, 8:50. Breach—Mon-Thu 1:30, 4:15, 6:50, 9:25. Bridge to Terabithia—Mon-Thu 1, 3:45, 6:30, 9. Daddy's Little Girls—Mon-Thu 2:30, 5:15, 7:35, 9:55. DreamgirlsMon-Thu 12:40, 3:35, 6:35, 9:40. Epic MovieMon-Thu 8:40. Ghost Rider—Mon-Thu 12:30, 1:45, 3:10, 4:30, 5:45, 7:10, 8:30, 9:45. Hannibal RisingMon-Thu 1:15, 4, 6:55, 10. The MessengersMon-Thu 1:50, 4:10, 6:45, 9:15. Music and Lyrics—Mon-Thu 12:45, 4:30, 7, 9:30. Night at the MuseumMon-Thu 12:50, 3:30, 6:10. NorbitMon-Thu 2, 5, 7:25, 9:50.

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

Apocalypto—1:10, 4:05, 7, 9:55. Bobby—1:15, 4, 7:15, 9:50. Borat—1:15, 3:20, 5:25, 7:30, 9:35. Casino Royal—1:15, 4:10, 7, 9:55. DejaVu—1:10, 4, 7, 9:45. Eragon—1:45, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Flushed Away—1, 3:05, 5:10, 7:15, 9:20. The Good Shepard—1, 4:30, 8. 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. Saw 3—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Unaccompanied Minors—1, 3:10, 5:50, 7:30, 9:40. We are Marshall—1:20, 4:15, 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.

Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Breach—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:45. Bridge to Terabithia—1:05, 3:20, 5:35, 7:45, 9:55. Catch and Release—1:20. Daddy's Little Girls—1, 1:15, 3:15, 3:30, 5:30, 5:45, 7:45, 8, 10. Also Fri-Sat 10:15. Dreamgirls —1:10, 4:10, 7. Epic Movie—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Ghost Rider—1, 1:30, 3:25, 4:15, 5:50, 7, 8:15, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 10:40. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Kidtoons Presents: Little Robots—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Last Sin Eater—9:50. The Messengers—1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:40. Music and Lyrics—1, 4, 7, 9:45. Night at the Museum—2 (No Sat-Sun), 4:45, 7:40, 10:10. Norbit—1, 1:30, 3:25, 4:15, 5:50, 7, 8:15, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 10:35. 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 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.

Arthur and the Invisibles—12:15. Babel—4:05. Because I Said So—12:45, 3:20, 6:50, 9:35. Breach—1, 4, 6:55, 9:55. Bridge to Terabithia—11:50, 1:10, 2:20, 3:40, 4:50, 6:10, 7:30, 8:35, 10. Children of Men—3:10, 9:45. Daddy's Little Girls—12:05, 1:30, 2:30, 4:15, 5, 6:35, 7:25, 9, 9:50. Dreamgirls—12, 6:30. Epic Movie—3:55, 9:15. Ghost Rider—12:20, 1:20, 3, 4:10, 6:20, 7:20, 9:10, 10:20. Hannibal Rising—12:35, 2:45, 3:50, 5:40, 7:05, 8:45, 10:10. Letters from Iwo Jima—11:55, 3:05, 6:15, 9:20. The Messengers—12:10, 2:40, 5:15, 7:40, 10:30. Music and Lyrics—12:50, 2:10, 3:30, 5:25, 7, 7:50, 9:30, 10:25. Night at the Museum—1:15, 6:40. Norbit—12:55, 2, 3:45, 4:35, 6:25, 7:10, 8:55, 10:05. Pan's Labyrinth—1:05, 8. Smokin' Aces—1:40, 4:25, 7:35 (No Thu), 10:15 (No Thu).

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

Eklavya-The Royal Guard—Fri-Sun 9:45; Sun-Fri 3:30; Sat-Sun 6:30; Mon-Thu 7:30. Factory Girl—1, 3, 5, 7:10, 9:10. The Last King of Scotland4:05, 9:35. Notes on a Scandal—1:05, 3:05, 7:15, 9:15. The Painted Veil—4:10. Pan's Labyrinth—1:25, 7:05, 9:30. The Queen—1:10, 5:10. Also Wed-Fri 3:10. Venus—1, 5:15, 7:20, 9:25. Volver—1:20, 7.

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

Bridge to Terabithia, Daddy's Little Girls, Dreamgirls, Ghost Rider, Hannibal Rising, The Messengers, Music and Lyrics, Night at the Museum, Norbit, 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.

Daddy's Little Girls—1:40, 4:20, 7:15, 9:35. Ghost Rider—1:15, 4:10, 7:20, 9:50. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:15, 7:10, 9:50. Music and Lyrics—1:25, 4:15, 7, 9:45. Norbit—1:30, 4, 7:25, 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.

Because I Said So—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:30. Breach—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:45. Bridge to Terabithia—1:05, 3:20, 5:35, 7:45, 9:55. 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. Daddy's Little Girls—1, 1:15, 3:15, 3:30, 5:30, 5:45, 7:45, 8, 10. Also Fri-Sat 10:15. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50. Epic Movie—1 (No Sat-Sun), 3:05 (No Sat-Sun), 5:15, 7:20. Factory Girl—1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:30. Ghost Rider—1, 1:30, 3:25, 4:15, 5:50, 7, 8:15, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 10:40. Hannibal Rising—1:45, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50. Kidtoons Presents: My Little Pony—Sat-Sun 1, 3. The Last Sin Eater—9:30. The Messengers—9:40. Music and Lyrics—1, 4, 7, 9:45. 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.

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

Because I Said So2:15, 5, 7:40, 10:05. Breach—1:05, 3:50, 6:30, 9:15. Bridge to Terabithia—1, 3:40, 6:15, 8:45. Children of Men—1:40, 4:35, 7:10, 9:50. Daddy's Little Girls—1, 3:20, 5:40, 8, 10:30. Dreamgirls—1:10, 4:05, 7:05, 10:10. Ghost Rider—1:15, 2, 4, 4:45, 6:45, 7:30, 9:30, 10:15. Hannibal Rising—1:20, 4:20, 7:20, 10:20. The Messengers—2:45, 5:30, 7:45, 10:20. Music and Lyrics—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:45. Night at the Museum—1:10, 3:45, 6:25, 9. Norbit—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 10. Pan's Labyrinth—2:30, 4:45, 7:50, 10:25. The Queen—1:20, 3:45, 6:10, 8:30. Smokin' Aces—1:50, 4:50, 7:35, 10:10.

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. Bridge to Terabithia—12:45, 2:55, 5:05, 7:15, 9:30. Ghost Rider—1:30, 4:15, 7:20, 9:45. Music and Lyrics—12:40, 2:50, 5, 7:20, 9:40. Norbit—1:20, 4, 7:10, 9:35. The Queen—1:15, 4, 7:05, 9:30.

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

Call for shows and times.


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

Countdown to Ten: The Way I Look at You—Wed 7:30. The Last King of Scotland7. Also Sat-Sun 2. Notes on a Scandal—7:15, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:20 (No screenings Fri). Retrofantasma Double Feature: My Bloody Valentine and The Boogens—Fri 7:30; 9:30. Venus—9:30. Also Sat-Sun 4:30.

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

Because I Said So—12:05, 2:30, 4:55, 7:20, 9:45. Bridge to Terabithia—11:20, 1:50, 4:20, 6:50, 9:20. Daddy's Little Girls—11:30, 12, 2:05, 2:35, 4:25, 5, 7, 7:30, 9:30, 10. Ghost Rider—11:35, 2:15, 5:05, 7:40, 10:10. Hannibal Rising—1:30, 4:45, 7:35, 10:15. The Messengers—11:55, 2:25, 4:35, 7:10, 9:35. Music and Lyrics—11:40, 1:55, 4:10, 7:05, 9:25. Norbit—11:45, 2:20, 4:40, 7:15, 9:40. Stomp the Yard—11:25, 2, 4:30, 7:25, 9:55. Call for additional times.

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

Because I Said So—Fri-Sat 1:15, 3:45, 6:25, 8:50. Blood Diamond—Fri-Sat 3:30, 9:35. Breach—Fri-Sat 2, 4:35, 7:10, 9:50. Bridge to Terabithia—Fri-Sat 12:55, 3:35, 6:05, 8:30. Catch and ReleaseFri-Sat 1:20, 6:55. Children of Men—Fri-Sat 12:30. Daddy's Little Girls—Fri-Sat 1:45, 3:05, 4:20, 5:35, 6:50, 8, 9:15, 10:30. Dreamgirls—Fri-Sat 12:45, 6:35. Epic Movie—Fri-Sat 9:05. Ghost Rider—Fri-Sat 11:45, 1:15, 2:20, 4, 5, 6:35, 7:40, 9:30, 10:30. Hannibal Rising—Fri-Sat 2, 4:45, 7:35, 10:30. Letters from Iwo JimaFri-Sat 12:05, 3:10, 6:15, 9:20. The Messengers—Fri-Sat 4, 10:15. Music and Lyrics—1:30, 4:45, 7:30, 10. Night at the Museum—Fri-Sat 12:20, 2:50, 6:15. Norbit—Fri-Sat 12, 1, 2:45, 3:45, 6:05, 7:05, 8:35, 9:40. Pan's Labyrinth—Fri-Sat 1:40, 7:20. Smokin' Aces—Fri-Sat 4:30, 10. 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. Breach—1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 9:45. Also Fri-Sat 12:15. Bridge To Terabithia—1:05, 3:20, 5:35, 7:45, 9:55. Also Fri-Sat 12:10. Catch and Release1:20. Daddy's Little Girls—1, 1:15, 3:15, 3:30, 5:30, 5:45. Also Fri-Sat 10:15, 12:15. Dreamgirls—1:10 (No Sat-Sun), 4:10 (No Sat-Sun), 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. Ghost Rider—1, 1:30, 3:25, 4:15, 5:50, 7, 8:15, 9:30. Also Fri-Sat 10:40, 12. 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—9:35. Music and Lyrics—1, 4, 7, 9:45. Also Fri-Sat 12:30. 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. Smokin' Aces—1, 4, 7. Also Fri-Sat 12:30.

Chapel Hill

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

The Last King of Scotland—7. Also Sat-Sun 2. Notes on a Scandal—7:20, 9:20. Also Sat-Sun 2:10, 4:40. Venus—7:10, 9:10. Also Sat-Sun 2:20, 4:20. Volver—9:30. Also Sat-Sun 4:30.

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

Because I Said So—12:35, 2:45, 5, 7:20, 9:40. Bridge to Terabithia—12:30, 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:30. Ghost Rider—1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:45. Hannibal Rising—4, 9:50. Music and Lyrics—12:45, 2:55, 5:05, 7:20, 9:35. Volver—1, 7:05.

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.

Call for shows and times.


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

Call for shows and times.


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

Because I Said So—4:45, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:30; Fri-Sun 2:10; Thu 1. Bridge to Terabithia—4:35, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:25; Fri-Sun 2:10; Thu 1. Daddy's Little Girls—4:30, 7. Also Fri-Sat 9:15; Fri-Sun 2:05; Thu 1. Ghost Rider—4:40, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:40; Fri-Sun 2; Thu 1. Hannibal Rising—4:35, 7:05. Also Fri-Sat 9:40; Fri-Sun 2; Thu 1. Music and Lyrics—4:50, 7:20. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Fri-Sun 2:20; Thu 1. The Messengers—4:40, 7:10. Also Fri-Sat 9:15; Fri-Sun 2:20; Thu 1. Norbit—4:45, 7:15. Also Fri-Sat 9:35; Fri-Sun 2:15; 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 in this section that have been selected for a meetup are marked with an *.

Duke Screen/Society: Wed, Feb 14, 7 pm: Sex Mission (Seksmisja)*. Richard White, Duke Campus. Mon, Feb 19, 8 pm: A Self-Made Hero. Griffith. Wed, Feb 21, 7 pm: Syriana. Griffith.

The Civil War: Ken Burns' celebrated nine-part documentary from 1990. Thu, Feb 15, 6:30 pm: 1864—Valley of the Shadow of Death: The Wilderness to Atlanta. Olivia Raney Local History Library, 4016 Carya Dr, Raleigh. 250-1196, Free.

NC State University Campus Cinema: Thu, Feb 15, 7 pm: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Free. Thu, Feb 15, 10 pm & Sat, Feb 17, 9:30 pm; Fri, Feb 16 & Sun, Feb 18, 7 pm: For Your Consideration. Fri, Feb 16 & Sun, Feb 18, 9:30 pm; Sat, Feb 10, 7 pm: Animal House. Mon, Feb 19, 7 pm: Philadelphia. Free. Wed, Feb 21, 7 pm: Heritage Africa. Free. Witherspoon Student Center, NC State Campus, $1.50-2.50.

Wings of Desire*: Fri, Feb 16, 7 pm: Bickett Gallery, 209 Bickett Blvd, Raleigh. 836-5358. Free.

NC Museum of Art Winter Film Series: Fri, Feb 16, 8 pm: Champagne for Caesar. Fri, Feb 23, 8 pm: A Face in the Crowd. 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh. 839-6262, $5, $3.50 students.

Half-Cocked & Radiation: Two films by Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley. Sun, Feb 18, 4 pm: Reservoir Bar, 100-A Brewer Lane, Carrboro. 933-3204. Tue, Feb 20, 7:30 & 9: Kings Barcade, 424 S McDowell St, Raleigh. 831-1005.

Improbable Collapse: The Demolition of Our Republic: The first film to look at the events of Sept 11, 2001, from a strictly scientific perspective. Tue, Feb 20, 7 pm: Richard White Auditorium, Duke University. 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

BREACH—This workmanlike dramatization of the plan to catch real-life FBI agent turned traitor Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) is a suitably taut cat-and-mouse thriller, although not as gritty as its espionage-soaked ancestors of the 1970s. While the story is told from the point of view of Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), the greenhorn agent assigned by his handler (Laura Linney, spot-on) to spy on Hanssen, it is Cooper who steals the show by effectively conveying the internal contradictions of a man whose reticent facade of devout Catholicism and conservative personal politics masks a fractured psyche plagued by megalomania, sexual repression and daddy issues. A better movie might have focused more on Hanssen's background and the pre-O'Neill events that initially revealed Hanssen's treachery. Still, like writer-director Billy Ray's Shattered Glass, another tale of betrayal and deception set inside an ivory tower industry, this film's strength derives from its verisimilitude instead of rote genre trappings. Rated PG-13. —NM

THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA—We loved the book way back when. Can we trust Walt Disney with it? Rated PG.

DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS—Evidently Madea is back in the closet for now, as Tyler Perry instead stays behind the camera for a romantic comedy tracing the complications that ensue when Gabrielle Union's rich lawyer falls for a struggling auto mechanic. Rated PG-13.

EKLAVYA: THE ROYAL GUARD—A young heir (Saif Ali Khan) returns to his hereditary estate in Rajasthan to find his noble family corrupted by greed. Can his aged retainer Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan) and a policeman (Sanjay Dutt) help him preserve the family honor? This lush thriller is directed by the excellent Vidhu Vinod Chopra; his superb cast is assisted by 800 camels. —LB

FACTORY GIRL—Actress Sienna Miller gives a terrific, dead-on performance as Edie Sedgwick in this biopic of the Andy Warhol socialite "superstar," who was glam New York's "It" girl for 15 minutes in the mid-'60s before getting hooked on drugs and overdosing at age 28. Unfortunately, Miller is framed by a film that's as tepid and by-the-numbers as her work is incandescent. Director George Hickenlooper previously provided a striking account of the toxic hollowness of celebrity in his doc The Mayor of the Sunset Strip; here, he's undercut by Captain Mauzner's formulaic script and, no doubt, by the fact that Edie's actual life was probably a lot duller than it sounded in the absorbing 1982 book Edie: An American Girl. Even very respectable work by gaunt Guy Pearce as Warhol and Hayden Christensen as a Bob Dylan-like folkie can't make this Factory's ennui compelling. Rated R. —GC

GHOST RIDER—The Marvel comic gets the Nicolas Cage treatment. Again, the Marvel comic.... Rated PG-13.

MUSIC AND LYRICS—In what could be a missing narrative turn from About a Boy or a lost Behind the Music episode about the Brill Building, Hugh Grant plays an aging tunesmith hired to write a hit for a young performer. Drew Barrymore co-stars as the girl who's smart with words. Rated PG-13.

Current Releases

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. 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). 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. Rated PG-13. —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 parody of Hollywood hit-makers. 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

HANNIBAL 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 Flower's Gong Li is in here as well. 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

THE LAST SIN EATER—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. Rated PG-13. —NM

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

THE MESSENGERS—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. Rated PG.—ZS

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. 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's 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. Rated PG-13. —NM

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. 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

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 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. Rated PG-13. —ZS

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

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

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