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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-

Bobby -- a star-studded fictional account of what 22 disparate people were doing at the Ambassador Hotel the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, is a lament of what might have been. It is not a history lesson; those looking to explore the events of June 5-6, 1968, should look elsewhere. It does not offer insight into the mind of his assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, or touch upon the myriad conspiracy theories that since have arisen. It does not delve into RFK the man, or look at the political climate or examine the times in which he lived. What it does, with sincerity and untempered hero worship, is offer Kennedy as a paradigm of what a leader should be - a unifying force, whose appeal transcends age and race and class. Not everyone, of course, is going to buy into that image; then, as now, some considered Kennedy as an opportunist who rode the coattails of his martyred brother. But for those who believed in RFK, Bobby will pack an emotional wallop. (C.K.) 112 minutes B+

Casino Royale -- showcases that terrific actor Daniel Craig as he and the whole creative team go back to novelist Ian Fleming's original conception of the super-agent as a somber, driven operative on Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's a shrewd and often exciting relaunching of a franchise, but the filmmakers show too much of their sweat - especially for those of us who think Bond movies should be more emotional and funny, with a bit of brass-knuckled charm. (M.S.) PG-13 144 minutes B

Deck the Halls -- stars Danny DeVito as a car salesman with a dream: erecting a holiday-light display so huge it can be seen from space. In the process he alienates his across-the-street neighbor, optometrist Matthew Broderick, heretofore the local "Mr. Christmas." There isn't an earned moment of uplift or laughter in the movie, but the audience explodes with merriment at each pratfall or explosion; maybe when you're stuck in a mirthless holiday contraption such as this, an Xmas demolition can serve to clear the air. (M.S.) PG 95 minutes F

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

Deja vu -- follows a cutting-edge FBI unit as it enlists ATF agent Denzel Washington to solve the horrible bombing of a jammed New Orleans ferry. It's tense and engrossing, but it lacks exactly what the title advertises: the sense of inexplicable familiarity that should haunt you as the story unfolds and leave you all a-tingle when it ends. Only Washington's megawattage wariness and the searing urgency of Paula Patton as the beautiful key to the case give the film any emotional momentum. (M.S.) PG-13 126 minutes B-

Fast Food Nation -- shouldn't cause audiences to lose their lunch, but it may make them wonder where it's been. Using as his springboard author Eric Schlosser's 2001 examination of the fast-food business, writer-director Richard Linklater employs a series of interconnected story lines - with Greg Kinnear as as advertising executive investigating whether his fast-food company is being sold tainted meat, Catalina Saldina Moreno as an illegal immigrant working at the factory where those burgers are ground out and Ashley Johnson as a high-school student having her moral conscience tweaked - to pound home multiple messages about America's determination to eat fast and cheap. The result is - happily - less a screed against mindless consumerism than a cautionary tale about taking the easy way out. (C.K.) 116 minutes B+

This Filthy World -- is John Waters' one-man-show turned into a one-man-movie: a cross between a comic memoir and a creative autobiography. Hoping to serve as the "filth elder" for new generations of mischief-makers and iconoclasts, Waters fashions one of the funniest and raunchiest self-examinations since Portnoy's Complaint. (M.S.) Unrated 86 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

For Your Consideration -- chronicles the escalating hopes and delusions in the ensemble of an odd little independent movie called Home for Purim (!), when its star, played by the magnificent Catherine O'Hara, earns a mention on an Internet site as a possible best actress nominee. Director Christopher Guest and his stock company (including Harry Shearer and Parker Posey), who last gave us A Mighty Wind, are such deft, humane comedians they put you in a happy daze even when they shred their characters' dreams. (M.S.) PG-13 86 minutes A-

The Fountain -- labors awfully hard to get across a pretty simple message. But this latest from Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), a search for the secret of eternal life that spans a thousand years, is so ethereal and extreme, it's almost impossible to turn away. Hugh Jackman stars, in succession, as a Spanish New World explorer looking for the Fountain of Youth, a modern doctor trying to discover a cure for brain cancer and a 26th-century astronaut meditating on the transience of life. Each one uses a woman, played by Rachel Weisz, as his muse. Aronofsky focuses not on the characters, but on the search itself, on how obsessed the men become, and how they are doomed to failure. At least until an epiphany in the final scene, when it becomes clear that immortality was within easy reach all along. Let's not spoil the revelation, other than to say it's delightfully simple and wondrous. (C.K.) B PG-13 96 minutes

A Good Year -- features Russell Crowe as a ruthless London bond trader who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence, France, 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 overproduced frolic seems like proof that money can't buy happiness. (M.S.) PG-13 120 minutes B-

Happy Feet -- wants to be March of the Penguins: The Musical. But a singing version of last year's surprise documentary hit would need to be far better than this animated effort, a wan, ultimately tedious affair that spends too much time in the mistaken belief that people can never get enough of singing penguins. One or two numbers, and this film could have been a real hoot. But after about a gazillion songs - everything from Queen to Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder - the act gets old. Especially when there's not much of a story line to buck it up. And then, about two-thirds of the way through, it seems to have recruited Al Gore to finish the script, abruptly turning into a plea for environmental sensitivity. (C.K.) 96 minutes PG C

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+

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-

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny -- naturally features Kyle Gass and Jack Black (or as he's known here, "JB"), the power-guitar duo that make up Tenacious D, as they journey to find the guitarists' Pick of Destiny - actually, a chip off Satan's tooth. The movie rises or falls on how funny it is for one hairy, chunky guy, JB, who's full of chutzpah, and one bald, tubby guy, Kyle, who's full of slacker smugness, to delude themselves into thinking that they're epochal rock stars. Their act grows less funny as the movie goes along. (M.S.) R 93 minutes C

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