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THE DEPARTED Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg; directed by Martin Scorsese.Frequently excessive but never boring, this Leonardo DiCaprio-Matt Damon-Jack Nicholson feature has a little too much of a lot of the things that define Martin Scorsese films, but it’s also almost impossible to resist. Too operatic at times, too in love with violence and macho posturing at others, it’s a potboiler dressed up in upscale designer clothes, but oh how that pot does boil. The key to the success of this cops-and-robbers tale of connivance, duplicity and deception is a crackerjack premise that comes courtesy of Hong Kong’s 2002 “Infernal Affairs.” The idea is that in the midst of a war between the police and organized crime, each side succeeds in placing a clever mole in the heart of the other camp. Gradually, each spy discovers the existence – but not the identity – of his opposite number and, as the noose tightens and the tension ratchets past the cracking point, each man struggles furiously to unmask his rival before he himself is revealed and destroyed. Rated R (for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material).THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSECast: Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Martin Short.Review: There were reasonably cute, clever gimmicks behind 1994’s “The Santa Clause” and 2002’s “The Santa Clause 2,” but the two or three feeble premises behind the new sequel are as appetizing as yellow snow. Tim Allen looks silly, tired and bored this time in the fat suit and beard, while the movie presents the irritating Martin Short as Jack Frost, nipping at your nerves as Santa’s nemesis in a bid to take over Christmas. The side stories to this dreary showdown – impending childbirth for Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell), and a North Pole visit by her parents (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret) – pad the main action without enlivening it. The movie’s just not funny, with a flatulent-reindeer gag about as much wit as director Michael Lembeck and writers Ed Decter and John J. Strauss can muster. The returning cast includes Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, Spencer Breslin and Liliana Mumy. G. Running time: 90 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

STRANGER THAN FICTION Cast: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson. Review: An IRS agent (Will Ferrell) wakes up one morning and realizes that his monotonous, meticulous life is being narrated. The voice in his head is articulate, descriptive, British (Emma Thompson as a morose novelist struggling to finish her latest book). At first he thinks he’s going crazy because no one else can hear it – but then when the woman alludes to his imminent death, he understandably grows a tad more concerned. In toying with the ideas of fiction vs. reality and the struggle to create in such topsy-turvy, self-aware fashion, “Stranger Than Fiction” probably sounds like something you’ve seen before: “The Truman Show” or “Adaptation,” perhaps. What sets this film apart, though, is the sweet, subtle way in which director Marc Forster and writer Zach Helm present a potentially preachy message (live each day to its fullest) and the universally outstanding performances from an eclectic cast. Ferrell is a marvel in a completely unexpected, understated role. Thompson is lovely as always, even when she’s a wreck. And Dustin Hoffman is at his richly voiced, deadpan best as the literature professor who tries to help Ferrell determine whether he’s the protagonist in a comedy or a tragedy. And yes, the structure is clever. Very, very clever. PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity. 110 min. Three stars out of four.- Christy Lemire, AP Movie CriticA GOOD YEAR Cast: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish.Review: “A Good Year” – You have to at least give Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott credit for trying something different: A film that could not possibly be more the opposite of their epic, Oscar-winning “Gladiator.” They’ve drained out all the carnage, fury and blood and replaced them with sunshine, laughter and bottles upon bottles of red wine. It’s an ambitious experiment, and not a completely successful one. “A Good Year” often feels desperately strained in its whimsy, and as it morphs from travelogue to slapsticky French farce to shameless chick flick, it grows nauseating in its sickly sweet romantic dialogue. For a while, though, it is sort of a curiosity and a refreshing change to see the typically meaty, serious Crowe try on light, physical comedy. He plays a soulless London banker who travels to Provence following the death of his beloved uncle (a rascally Albert Finney), who raised him there on his sprawling vineyard. Initially, he plans to sell the place as quickly as possible, but in time finds he likes it. Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd’s camerawork makes the French countryside look naturally irresistible, all awash in rich color and warm, golden light. Marion Cotillard and Abbie Cornish co-star. PG-13 for language and some sexual content. 118 min. Two stars out of four.- Christy Lemire, AP Movie CriticRiverwalk Theatre in EdwardsCASINO ROYALE Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench.”Casino Royale” – Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play James Bond in the 21st film of the franchise, which is the second adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original novel (though the first official one). On his first mission, Bond takes on the banker for a terrorist network in a high-stakes game of poker. With Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Directed by Martin Campbell. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity).- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceHAPPY FEET Voices: Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving, Robin Williams, Leslie Nielsen.”Happy Feet” – A children’s film about an emperor penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) who attempts to set himself apart from the rest of his species by becoming a master tap dancer. Also shown in Imax 3-D. With the voices of Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman; tap dancing by Savion Glover. Written by George Miller, John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman. Directed by Miller. (PG for some mild peril and rude humor.)- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceBABEL Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal.”Babel” – If a butterfly flaps its wings in the rain forest, it will, if nothing else, set off an infinite chain reaction in the minds of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his creative collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga. The director and screenwriter have a thing for causal connections, which in this film they literally track to the ends of the Earth. “Babel,” which won the best director award at Cannes, ties together four seemingly unconnected stories that are eventually revealed to be inextricably linked to one another. As its title implies, the movie is about the difficulty of human communication. The stories unfold in four countries and in five languages – English, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and sign – but language is far from the principal barrier. Instead, the film explores the ways in which cultural assumptions and biases tend to obscure reality even when reality is plain, and the way our perceived differences keep us from finding a human connection to one another. (Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use)- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceBORAT Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen.”Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” – You will laugh at this film, you really will, but the laughter will sometimes stick in your throat. With his corrosive brand of take-no-prisoners humor that scalds on contact, star Sacha Baron Cohen is the most intentionally provocative comedian since Lenny Bruce and the early days of Richard Pryor. But unlike those predecessors, there is a mean-spiritedness, a lurking every-man-for-himself coldness about his humor. What results is that pitiless staple of reality TV, watching others humiliating themselves for our entertainment. – L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceFLUSHED AWAY Voices: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen.Review: “Flushed Away” – The claymation masterminds behind “Wallace & Gromit” got together with the computer gurus at DreamWorks Animation, which brought us “Shrek.” But this is one of those times in which the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. This comic tale about Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet rat who gets flushed down the toilet of his posh London penthouse and into the sewer, has plenty of thrilling moments. A wild boat chase through an elaborate underground canal system is especially breathtaking. Despite being deeply steeped in Brit culture, though, “Flushed Away” simply lacks the simple, delicate charm that has marked everything Aardman Features has ever produced on its own. It’s too frantic, too loud – which makes it too much like every other all-star, animated, talking-animal movie that’s come out this year. And there have been many. Kate Winslet voices the sassy boat captain who reluctantly comes to Roddy’s rescue, and Ian McKellen and Jean Reno have great chemistry as a power-hungry toad and his French cousin, a worldly, snobbish frog. PG for crude humor and some language. 84 min. Two and a half stars out of four.- Christy Lemire, AP Movie CriticNow showing at Capitol Theatre HAPPY FEET Rated PG CASINO ROYALE Rated PG-13 FLUSHED AWAY Rated PG SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE Rated G FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford; directed by Clint Eastwood.Review: “Flags of Our Fathers” – This is a very American tale, set 60 years ago but startlingly relevant today, that intertwines and often contrasts bravery and chicanery, idealism and disillusion, war and propaganda, truth and national security. This sad true story surrounding the flag raising on Iwo Jima wrings you out emotionally because it’s concerned with the deaths of young men in battle as well as what happens when the needs of those who survive clash with what society expects and politics demand. A narrative like this requires a measured, classical style to be most effective, and it couldn’t have found a better director than Clint Eastwood. Eastwood handles this nuanced material with aplomb, giving every element of this complex story just the weight it deserves. The director’s lean dispassion, his increased willingness to be strongly emotional while retaining an instinctive restraint, continue to astonish. With Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Joseph Cross and Benjamin Walker. Rated R (for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language).- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceMARIE ANTOINETTE Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn; written and directed by Sophia Coppola.”Marie Antoinette” – Sofia Coppola paints a portrait of the last queen of France (Kirsten Dunst) as a misunderstood young girl whose coming-of-age took place under conditions familiar to a pampered zoo animal. From the moment the soon-to-be dauphine steps onto French soil, she finds herself trapped in a funhouse of bizarre protocol that renders her life at once cloistered and open to the public. A quickie wedding to the future king (Jason Schwartzman) is followed by seven years of celibacy, which marks Marie Antoinette’s transformation from dutiful, pliable daughter to party girl to tabloid whipping post to villainess of French history. Employing over-the-top pop imagery and a contemporary soundtrack, Coppola gives a wide berth to the conventions of period dramas, especially their time-capsule remove, and instead tries to mainline the singular personal experience of a young, simple person caught up in a maelstrom.- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceVail Daily, Vail Colorado

CASINO ROYALE Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench.”Casino Royale” – Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play James Bond in the 21st film of the franchise, which is the second adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original novel (though the first official one). On his first mission, Bond takes on the banker for a terrorist network in a high-stakes game of poker. With Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Directed by Martin Campbell. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity).- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceHAPPY FEET Voices: Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving, Robin Williams, Leslie Nielsen.”Happy Feet” – A children’s film about an emperor penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) who attempts to set himself apart from the rest of his species by becoming a master tap dancer. Also shown in Imax 3-D. With the voices of Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman; tap dancing by Savion Glover. Written by George Miller, John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman. Directed by Miller. (PG for some mild peril and rude humor.)- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceBABEL Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal.”Babel” – If a butterfly flaps its wings in the rain forest, it will, if nothing else, set off an infinite chain reaction in the minds of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his creative collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga. The director and screenwriter have a thing for causal connections, which in this film they literally track to the ends of the Earth. “Babel,” which won the best director award at Cannes, ties together four seemingly unconnected stories that are eventually revealed to be inextricably linked to one another. As its title implies, the movie is about the difficulty of human communication. The stories unfold in four countries and in five languages – English, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and sign – but language is far from the principal barrier. Instead, the film explores the ways in which cultural assumptions and biases tend to obscure reality even when reality is plain, and the way our perceived differences keep us from finding a human connection to one another. (Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use)- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceBORAT Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen.”Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” – You will laugh at this film, you really will, but the laughter will sometimes stick in your throat. With his corrosive brand of take-no-prisoners humor that scalds on contact, star Sacha Baron Cohen is the most intentionally provocative comedian since Lenny Bruce and the early days of Richard Pryor. But unlike those predecessors, there is a mean-spiritedness, a lurking every-man-for-himself coldness about his humor. What results is that pitiless staple of reality TV, watching others humiliating themselves for our entertainment. – L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceFLUSHED AWAY Voices: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen.Review: “Flushed Away” – The claymation masterminds behind “Wallace & Gromit” got together with the computer gurus at DreamWorks Animation, which brought us “Shrek.” But this is one of those times in which the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. This comic tale about Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet rat who gets flushed down the toilet of his posh London penthouse and into the sewer, has plenty of thrilling moments. A wild boat chase through an elaborate underground canal system is especially breathtaking. Despite being deeply steeped in Brit culture, though, “Flushed Away” simply lacks the simple, delicate charm that has marked everything Aardman Features has ever produced on its own. It’s too frantic, too loud – which makes it too much like every other all-star, animated, talking-animal movie that’s come out this year. And there have been many. Kate Winslet voices the sassy boat captain who reluctantly comes to Roddy’s rescue, and Ian McKellen and Jean Reno have great chemistry as a power-hungry toad and his French cousin, a worldly, snobbish frog. PG for crude humor and some language. 84 min. Two and a half stars out of four.- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic



HAPPY FEET Rated PG CASINO ROYALE Rated PG-13 FLUSHED AWAY Rated PG SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE Rated G FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford; directed by Clint Eastwood.Review: “Flags of Our Fathers” – This is a very American tale, set 60 years ago but startlingly relevant today, that intertwines and often contrasts bravery and chicanery, idealism and disillusion, war and propaganda, truth and national security. This sad true story surrounding the flag raising on Iwo Jima wrings you out emotionally because it’s concerned with the deaths of young men in battle as well as what happens when the needs of those who survive clash with what society expects and politics demand. A narrative like this requires a measured, classical style to be most effective, and it couldn’t have found a better director than Clint Eastwood. Eastwood handles this nuanced material with aplomb, giving every element of this complex story just the weight it deserves. The director’s lean dispassion, his increased willingness to be strongly emotional while retaining an instinctive restraint, continue to astonish. With Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Joseph Cross and Benjamin Walker. Rated R (for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language).- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceMARIE ANTOINETTE Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn; written and directed by Sophia Coppola.”Marie Antoinette” – Sofia Coppola paints a portrait of the last queen of France (Kirsten Dunst) as a misunderstood young girl whose coming-of-age took place under conditions familiar to a pampered zoo animal. From the moment the soon-to-be dauphine steps onto French soil, she finds herself trapped in a funhouse of bizarre protocol that renders her life at once cloistered and open to the public. A quickie wedding to the future king (Jason Schwartzman) is followed by seven years of celibacy, which marks Marie Antoinette’s transformation from dutiful, pliable daughter to party girl to tabloid whipping post to villainess of French history. Employing over-the-top pop imagery and a contemporary soundtrack, Coppola gives a wide berth to the conventions of period dramas, especially their time-capsule remove, and instead tries to mainline the singular personal experience of a young, simple person caught up in a maelstrom.- L.A. TImes-Washington Post News ServiceVail Daily, Vail Colorado


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