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Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan -- features a terrific, risky comic creation: a village idiot for the global village. A TV reporter from Kazakhstan comes to the United States and discovers everything you always wanted to know about America but were afraid to ask. Conceived and acted by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, the character of Borat catalyzes uncommon combinations of hospitality and hostility at every stratum of American society. Cohen and director Larry Charles give Borat the high-low genius of an aces episode of South Park. (M.S.) R 85 minutes A

Babel, -- in which director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu suggests that the world's peoples do a lousy job of talking to one another, doesn't devolve into babble, but it comes perilously close. As usual, Inarritu employs multiple story threads that unfold with little regard to chronology, but the device seems arbitrary and unnecessary. One thread, involving a deaf Japanese teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) struggling with the emotional devastation caused by her mother's suicide and the frustrating uncertainty wrought by her blossoming sexuality, belongs in a different movie altogether. The others, centering on Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt as an American couple traveling in Morocco and Adriana Barraza as the nanny watching their kids back in San Diego, work to varying degrees. But the film comes across as more willfully clever than profound, leaving us to applaud the message while pondering why the messenger had to strain so hard to get it across. (C.K.) R 142 minutes B-

Catch a Fire, -- based on the story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a black South African whose torture at the hands of the apartheid government transformed him from an apolitical family man to a dedicated counterrevolutionary, is both a condemnation of torture as a political tool and a tribute to the bravery that exists within everyone. Director Phillip Noyce clearly sees parallels between South Africa in the 1980s and what's happening in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, firmly establishing that it's more than their own humanity that the authorities put at risk. What emerges is a compellingly righteous film condemning torture and inhumanity in the name of the law that seems as much a warning to the abuser as a commemoration of the abused. (C.K.) PG-13 101 minutes B+

The Departed -- illuminates, with a blowtorch, the tangled roots of urban corruption when a Boston Irish kingpin (Jack Nicholson) puts a mole (Matt Damon) in the State Police and the police put a mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the mob. The direction (Martin Scorsese) and the writing (William Monahan) burst with exposed-wire energy; so does the ensemble, including the scene-stealing Mark Wahlberg as a police sergeant. (M.S.) R 149 minutes A

Flags of Our Fathers -- purports to tell the story of Marines raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima and the iconic photo that was snapped during the battle to take the island during World War II. The film has all the coherence and lucidity of a fragmentation bomb. It spews out cliches about the ambiguous nature of heroism - failed cliches, at that - and they fatally wound any authentic character or artistic notion that it has. (M.S.) R 132 minutes C-

Flushed Away -- an animated tale of pampered versus plucky rats (voiced by Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen and others) spends a good bit of its time spinning its wheels and debating whether to be witty or settle for grade-school-level funny. When the latter wins out, Flushed Away shifts from inventive to pedestrian. But the filmmakers have a secret weapon: a Greek chorus of singing slugs, certainly the most talented gastropods to ever hit the big screen. Their appearances never fail to delight, and the gleeful sense of whimsy they nurture helps Flushed Away rise above its tendencies to opt for the lazy laughs. (C.K.) PG 84 minutes B

A Good Year -- features Russell Crowe as a ruthless London bond trader who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence from his uncle (Albert Finney) and rediscovers his soul. It's ideal cold-weather entertainment, but apart from the moments of flesh and fantasy provided by female co-stars Marion Cotillard and Abbie Cornish, it lacks the lyric impulse that would make a swank fantasy take flight; this over-produced frolic seems like proof that money can't buy happiness. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes B-

Harsh Times -- is a rough South-Central L.A. buddy movie about a slacker (Freddy Rodriguez) and a war-vet psycho (Christian Bale) who all-too-easily retreat into the feckless, footloose ways of their youth. Bale's inability to shake his combat-honed, homicidal reflexes makes this one of the most miasma-ridden examples yet of the human-ticking-bomb movie. (M.S.) R 120 minutes C+

Jesus Camp -- is a hypnotic, upsetting and bleakly humorous documentary about evangelical children raised in churches and camps that emphasize ecstatic connections to God while blurring the line between church and state. Despite a half-dozen regrettable directorial decisions, the film taps urgent, often contradictory feelings. (M.S.) PG-13 87 minutes B+

The Last King of Scotland -- is Idi Amin, the Scot-loving Ugandan dictator who staged a coup in 1971, promised national unity and progress, and descended into barbarism. Forest Whitaker gives a performance huge in size and spirit and terrifying in its downward-spiraling momentum as Amin, and James McAvoy has a giddy self-awareness as the film's co-antihero, a reckless Scottish doctor who becomes Amin's personal physician. (M.S.) R 121 minutes A-

Man of the Year -- is about a Jon Stewart-like comedian (Robin Williams) who wins the presidency because of a voting-software malfunction. Although clunky moments crowd magical ones, it's different and better than its trailers: a piquant political comedy-drama without a prefab element in it, with a superb leading lady (Laura Linney) and a funny supporting cast (Lewis Black, Christopher Walken). (M.S.) PG-13 101 minutes B

Marie Antoinette -- is high-caloric art-house moviemaking, full of pastry-coated, sugar-swirled ideas and historical moments dipped in candy. They are consumed entirely in the watching of the movie. They leave no aftertaste - no troubling thought, no haunting emotion, except, perhaps, a smile and a tear for Kirsten Dunst's cheerful valor in the title role. (M.S.) PG-13 118 minutes C+

The Prestige -- stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival turn-of-the-century magicians whose determination to outdo one another leads to tragedy. Director Christopher Nolan, who managed to transform short-term-memory loss into a narrative device in 2000's Memento, once again delights in manipulating movie time, breaking his film into dozens of short segments and presenting them with little regard to chronology. Instead, like the magicians at the center of his tale, he concentrates on revealing his tricks bit by bit, letting viewers see only enough to whet their appetite for more. (C.K.) PG-13 122 minutes B+

The Queen -- is Helen Mirren: As Queen Elizabeth II she does an exhilarating, death-defying tightrope walk in sensible shoes, and Michael Sheen, as her new Labor prime minister, Tony Blair, spots her brilliantly. The movie is mostly about the painful collision of modernity and tradition in the days after the death of Princess Diana. But through some miracle of writing, direction and performance, their scenes go beyond the social or political, into a highly charged personal realm where two antagonists can recognize that they have some kind of attraction and are kindred spirits. (M.S.) PG-13 97 minutes A

Running With Scissors, -- writer-director Ryan Murphy's garish movie version of Augusten Burroughs' acclaimed memoir, follows the vulnerable, refreshingly resilient Augusten (Joseph Cross) as he makes a broken-field run toward maturity, slithering past the clutches of his deluded minor-poet mother Deirdre (Annette Bening) and his distant math professor father Norman (Alec Baldwin). The real trap is the uncertified loony bin where his mom dumps him after her divorce: the home of his mother's unorthodox, unethical and increasingly addled shrink, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox). Baldwin, who seems to be doing next to nothing, steals every scene he's in. From the moment he enters the picture, Baldwin looks good and sick of the whole scene. Unless you're in the mood for dysfunctional-family vaudeville, it won't take long for you to catch up with him. (M.S.) R 122 minutes C+

Stranger than Fiction -- is a charming, quirky comedy-drama starring Will Ferrell as a nondescript IRS auditor who finds out that he's actually the hero in a novel when he begins to hear the writer's voice in his head, offering a running commentary on whatever he just did. With marvelous turns not just by Ferrell, but by Emma Thompson as the novelist and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the cookie chef who wins the IRS man's heart, it is not just the thinking man's Truman Show: it's the feeling man's Truman Show, too. (M.S.) PG-13 113 minutes A-

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