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The Baltimore Sun

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

Apocalypto -- pits a spotless young man, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the son of Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead), a Mayan jungle chieftain, against evil marauders led by their majestically efficient captain Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and the satanically sadistic Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios). Although it's told in a Mayan dialect, with English subtitles, the movie is just an arthouse film for jocks. Only the surface is exotic: the Mayan empire in its late-decadent phase. Otherwise, the life-or-death jeopardy is so basic, director Mel Gibson might as well be filming a good guy trying to stop a train before it hits the damsel tied by the bad guys to the railroad tracks. (M.S.) R 138 minutes C-

Blood Diamond, -- an adventure film that spotlights the practice of using the trade in precious stones to fund murder and other violence in certain African countries, has the unenviable job of serving two masters. It has to be exciting, but not so much that its message is lost. It has to be moralistic without being preachy. It's only in what amounts to the film's epilogue, when things get wrapped up far too tidily, that things fall out of whack. But by then, the film, with compelling star turns by Leonardo DiCaprio (as an opportuistic South African soldier of fortune) and Djimon Hounsou (as a desperate father struggling to re-unite his family), has earned too much good will to let a few stumbles kill its momentum. (C.K.) R 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. With sincerity and untempered hero worship, it offers Kennedy as a paradigm of what a leader should be. For those who believed in RFK, Bobby will pack an emotional wallop. (C.K.) 112 minutes B+

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. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles give Borat the high-low genius of an aces episode of South Park. (M.S.) R 85 minutes A

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. (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. (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

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. But 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, tedious affair that spends too much time in the mistaken belief that people can never get enough of singing penguins. (C.K.) PG 96 minutes C

The Holiday -- stars Cameron Diaz as Amanda, an L.A. movie-trailer tycoon who decides that a house-swap with a gal 6,000 miles away is just the ticket to romantic recovery. Her partner turns out to be Kate Winslet as Iris, the lovelorn wedding writer for London's Daily Telegraph. Humor with heart: That's writer-director Nancy Meyers' admirable goal. The movie would be trimmer and livelier if she relaxed, too. She undervalues her natural gift for making naughtiness nice with the likes of Diaz, Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black. (M.S.) PG-13 131 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. (M.S.) PG-13 97 minutes A

The Rules of the Game -- are those of 1939 French high-society, in which lovable loser Octave (played by Jean Renoir) juggles obligations of friendship to both a Lindbergh-like aviation hero, Andre Jurieux (Roland Toutain), and a quicksilver Parisian aristocrat, Marquis Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio) while all three, with increasing desperation, try to love the Marquis' wife, Christine (Nora Gregor). (M.S.) Unrated 106 minutes A+

Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause -- This full-service holiday movie makes the North Pole look like a shopping mall with a never-ending school pageant. Tim Allen carries the franchise on his padded tummy. This time, Martin Short jazzes up the proceedings as Jack Frost, the sprite who conspires to take over Santa's gig. (L.A. Times) G 98 minutes B

Shut Up & Sing! -- , the Dixie Chicks documentary, puts us right in the middle of the action as guitarist and lead singer Natalie Maines vamps between numbers on the opening night of a European tour and tells a cheering, laughing, anti-war British audience that she's ashamed the Chicks' president is from Texas; then filmmakers Barbara Kople and Cecelia Peck stick with them through the production of their superb album, Taking the Long Way. The Dixie Chicks may never regain their prolonged eminence on the country charts. However, the art and entertainment value of this movie (and of their album) is off the charts in the best way. (M.S.) 93 minutes A+

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. With marvelous turns not just by Ferrell, but by Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, 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-

Unaccompanied Minors -- is predictable and a tad sappy, but it's also a minor delight, a Christmas tale about family and selflessness and playing the hand you've been dealt. It's Christmas Eve at an airport in the Midwest, and the weather has grounded all flights. Among the stranded passengers is a group of unaccompanied minors, kids flying alone, being jetted from one divorced parent to another for the holidays. Six of them wreak a lot of low-grade havoc and create their own makeshift family. The movie offers little we haven't seen before, but comfort food like this makes for some welcome holiday fare. (C.K.) PG minutes. B-

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