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

Apocalypto -- pits a spotless young Mayan man, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), 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 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 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 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 reunite his family), has earned too much good will to let a few stumbles kill its momentum. (C.K.) R 138 minutes B+

Bobby, -- a star-filled 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.) R 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 the superb, gutsy 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

Charlotte's Web, -- a first-rate family fantasy based on E.B. White's great children's book, follows a valiant young girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning) as she saves the runty pig Wilbur from her father's ax. Then Charlotte, a spider in her uncle's barnyard, saves Wilbur from becoming a Christmas ham. It's impossible to think of anyone besides Dakota playing Fern and bringing the same rapture and strength to the character. But here she's merely the first among equals, including the vocal cast led by Julia Roberts as Charlotte and Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur. And Gary Winick proves to be the rare filmmaker who is a true heart and a good director. (M.S.) G 98 minutes A-

Dreamgirls -- threads the history of black entertainers crossing into mainstream pop through the story of the rise and dissolution of a Supremes-like group. Writer-director Bill Condon's uncanny ability to combine artifice, reality, choreography and improv, and the astonishing performances of Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy make this the true heir to Chicago as a great movie musical. The talent floods off the screen and leaves you drenched in emotion and street wit. (M.S.) PG-13 131 minutes A

The Good Shepherd -- uses a fictional counterintelligence expert (Matt Damon, at his subtlest and savviest) to trace the founding of the Office of Strategic Services before the Second World War and the OSS' postwar transformation into the Central Intelligence Agency. As Monty Python might have put it, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, bang-bang: The material is all bad manners and worse behavior in high places, complete with private codes and deadly secret gestures, but the movie is anemic and humorless. (M.S.) R 160 minutes C+

The History Boys -- are eight gifted middle- (or lower-middle-) class kids from unconnected households. The headmaster of a Yorkshire grammar school believes they'll give his school a shot at landing a record number of scholarships for Oxford and Cambridge. Playwright Alan Bennett and his adapter-director Nicholas Hytner treat teaching as an art and make it thrilling. Richard Griffiths, as the unconventional instructor at the center of this fresh, unfailingly witty comedy-drama, is both a heartbreak and a joy. (M.S.) R 109 minutes A

Eragon -- is the story of a boy and his dragon, and of the war for freedom they help lead. It isn't much, but its baby dragon sure is adorable. A sword-and-sorcery saga that desperately wants to be another Lord of the Rings, Eragon succeeds in being only the palest of imitations. It lacks scope, grandeur, humanity and style. What it does have is a teen-heartthrob hero, plus some passable special effects and a handful of big-name stars on hand to collect a paycheck. (C.K.) PG 106 minutes C-

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 tedious, animated effort 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-

Night at the Museum -- offers a great conceit - that every night at New York's Museum of Natural History, all the statues and mummies and dioramas and dinosaur bones come to life. But the filmmakers seem to waste all their inspiration in the first 20 minutes (when the new security guard played by Ben Stiller discovers what he's up against) and don't know where to go from there. (C.K.) PG 108 minutes C+

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 Pursuit of Happyness -- subverts every cliche in its path as it tells a small, fictionalized piece of the life of Chris Gardner, a struggling medical-equipment vendor who stakes his future on becoming a top stockbroker. The moviemakers skillfully distill Gardner's quest and ferment their own creation while maintaining its first-person immediacy and warmth. The tough beauty of the picture is that it lets each viewer weigh the costs and benefits to the hero. As Gardner, Will Smith practices the highest form of acting: the kind that seems artless. (M.S.) PG-13 117 minutes A

Rocky Balboa -- is strictly for nostalgia lovers, resurrecting everyone's favorite underdog heavyweight boxing champ for one last go at the title. Hero worshipers who cherish the Rocky character will doubtless enjoy what amounts to a stroll down fantasy lane, as the 60-year-old Balboa revisits his old haunts and tries to recapture some of the old magic. Others, however, should recognize Rocky Balboa for the self-indulgent exercise it is and regret why star-writer-director Sylvester Stallone couldn't once again have left well enough alone. (C.K.) PG 102 mins. C

Stranger than Fiction -- is a charming, quirky dramedy 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 89 minutes B-

We Are Marshall -- tells the story of the 1970 plane crash that killed nearly every member of Marshall University's football team. One year later, with a team composed almost exclusively of freshmen, the squad pulled off one of the great victories in collegiate sports history. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the coach who took on the job of rebuilding the team and winning over the town. Unfortunately, he wears a perennial half-smirk, which somewhat undermines his character. (C.K.) PG 125 minutes B

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