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BABEL 4 stars (R) A freak mishap has far-reaching repercussions that affect the lives of a pair of American tourists (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), two young Moroccan shepherds, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza) and a deaf Japanese teenager (Rinko Kikuchi). Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu presents another gripping, gritty and well-acted set of intersecting narratives that feature raw performances (particularly from Rinko Kikuchi) and moments of nearly unbearable suspense. On reflection, Iñárritu's themes of language, globalization and human connection don't quite come together, but Babel's passion and visceral image give it power that transcends borders. -- Holman
BECAUSE I SAID SO (PG-13) Diane Keaton stars as a meddling mother who can't stop interfering with her daughters' love lives in this rom-com that features Lauren Graham, Piper Perabo and Mandy Moore as besieged siblings. From the director of Heathers and The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Expect it to be more like the latter.
BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (PG-13) Two great tastes that taste great together. In this horror flick reminiscent of Underworld, a would-be werewolf (Agnes Bruckner) grapples with her supernatural destiny in modern-day Bucharest.
BLOOD DIAMOND 3 stars (R) A white soldier-turned smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a black fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) become unwilling partners in the effort to recover a huge, uncut diamond amid the chaos of a civil war in Sierra Leone. Glory's Edward Zwick directs a crisply paced, superbly photographed film, replete with magnificent vistas and harrowing action scenes. Despite the film's justified indignation over "conflict diamonds," however, the plot proves utterly familiar and the horrific black-on-black violence will more probably stick with the audience more than contempt for the Western corporations that profit from it. -- Holman
CATCH AND RELEASE 2 stars (PG-13) Jennifer Garner of "Alias" plays a young woman who mourns the death of her fiance, then learns to embrace life and romance anew. This debut film from Susannah Grant, screenwriter of Erin Brockovich and Charlotte's Web, seems aware of the film's rom-com clichés without being able to avoid them. As the love interest, Timothy Olyphant, who seethes so forcefully on "Deadwood" here merely stands around looking like a handsome actor and lets Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith steal the film, which increasingly looks like a promotion video for both Boulder, Colo., and Celestial Seasonings herb tea. Really. -- Holman
CHILDREN OF MEN 5 stars (R) In England of 2041, following a global epidemic of infertility, a cynical Englishman (Clive Owen) becomes caught up in a revolutionary group's plan, hinging on the miraculous secret of a young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Alfonso Cuaron, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, retains the premise but departs from the spirit of P.D. James' novel to focus on xenophobia, homeland security and urban unrest. Trading high-tech sci-fi trappings for gritty, present-day concerns, Children of Men practically shimmers with tense scenes and rich themes, culminating with a breathless, wordless extended sequence that pleas for peace and the recognition of our shared humanity. -- Holman
CONSTELLATION (PG-13) This drama depicts the tribulations of an African-American family in the South and features Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong, Lesley Ann Warren and some actors who have less than three names.
THE DEPARTED 4 stars (R) In this exciting, almost insanely intricate crime thriller set in Boston, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an undercover cop trying to ingratiate himself with an Irish mobster (Jack Nicholson), who has a mole in the police force passing as a high-level cop (Matt Damon). -- Holman
DREAMGIRLS 4 stars (PG-13) Based on the long-running Broadway musical, Bill Condon's rousing film adaptation parallels the rise of a fractious girl group inspired by The Supremes with the changes in African-American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Playing a role based on Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jamie Foxx virtually drives the plot but lacks a show-stopping number of his own, hinting that there's a hole in the material. It's still a delightfully cast show, featuring Beyoncé Knowles as a Diana Ross-esque chanteuse, Eddie Murphy as an electrifying R&B star hitting the skids and newcomer Jennifer Hudson as a demanding, discarded diva; a role that's already made the "American Idol" contestant the frontrunner for this year's Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. -- Holman
EPIC MOVIE (PG-13) Some of the creators of the Scary Movie franchise branch out to poke fun at seemingly every big-budget movie from the past year or so, including The Chronicles of Narnia, Superman Returns, The Da Vinci Code and Snakes on a Plane. At least someone still remembers Snakes on a Plane.
FREEDOM WRITERS (PG-13) In this drama inspired by a real person, two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays a young teacher who inspires a class of young, at-risk students to learn tolerance and pursue education beyond high school.
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