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Capsules by film critics Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach unless noted. Full reviews are at Blood Diamond -- is an adventure film that spotlights the practice of using the trade in precious stones to fund violence in certain African countries. (C.K.) R 138 minutes B+

Alpha Dog -- centers on a passel of drugged-out teen reprobates for whom every word is a four-letter one beginning with F, every action is a reaction to some perceived slight and every waking moment is an opportunity to be squandered. Writer-director Nick Cassavetes clearly sees his film as a cautionary tale. But the deck is too stacked. (C.K.) R 117 minutes B-


Blood Diamond -- is an adverture film that spotlights the pratice of using the trade in precious stones to fund violence in certain African countries. (C.K) R 138 minutesB+

Children of Men -- is a sci-fi thriller that has less to do with the plot - disease has left all the women sterile - than with the director's vision of where our culture is headed. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given that the director is Alfonso Cuaron, one of current cinema's most striking visual stylists. (C.K.) R 106 minutes B-


Code Name: The Cleaner -- is clearly envisioned as a star vehicle for Cedric the Entertainer. But Cedric has yet to show he has the chops to carry a film. Still, it features a wonderfully appealing turn by Lucy Liu, who gets to show off both martial-arts skills and a light-hearted comic persona that has been only suggested in her earlier films. (C.K.) PG-13 90 minutes C+

Curse of the Golden Flower -- Gong Li plays the Empress who is being slowly poisoned by the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat). Does he know she has been sleeping with her stepson, the Crown Prince (Liu Ye)? Director Zhang Yimou tries to top the breathtaking poetic spectacle of his masterpiece, House of Flying Daggers, and instead plummets into self-parody. (M.S.) R. 114 minutes C

Dreamgirls -- threads the history of black entertainers crossing into mainstream pop through the story of the rise and dissolution of a Supremes-like group. Astonishing performances by Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy make this the true heir to Chicago as a great movie musical. (M.S.) PG-13 131 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. (C.K.) PG 106 minutes C-

Freedom Writers -- follows gang members at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., as they get the luckiest break of their young lives: enrollment in the English class of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a novice instructor who refuses to give up on them. (M.S.) PG-13 123 minutes B

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

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. (C.K.) PG 108 minutes C+

Notes on a Scandal -- is a tale of two flawed teachers: the fetching art instructor (Cate Blanchett), who sleeps with a 15-year-old student, and the battle-ax history department head, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), who uses knowledge of the affair to forge a closer bond with her. (M.S.) R 91 minutes C+


The Painted Veil -- tells the tangled love story of a mismatched British bacteriologist in Shanghai (Edward Norton) and a seemingly shallow London woman (Naomi Watts) who marries him in a desperate attempt to escape her family. (M.S.) PG-13 124 minutes B+

The Pursuit of Happyness -- 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. As Gardner, Will Smith practices the highest form of acting: the kind that seems artless. (M.S.) PG-13 117 minutes A

Stomp the Yard -- is as predictable as movies come: Loner with a chip on his shoulder finds acceptance and maturity by channeling his talents into something socially acceptable and finding the love of a great gal. But at least that workhorse of a formula is being used in service of a film that extols the virtues of higher education and a proud tradition in the black community. (C.K.) PG-13 109 minutes C+