At the movies

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"Flags of Our Fathers"

The battle scenes are harrowing, the black-sand beaches exploding again and again with artillery fire, filling the gray sky and forming an even darker vision of hell. But it's what happens to the men who fought after they've come home from Iwo Jima - and been hailed as heroes, whether they feel they deserve to be or not - that can be just as devastating in its intimate, internal way. With its awesome scope, this is by far the most ambitious picture Clint Eastwood has made in his 35 years as a director. Yet in following up "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby," he balances the quiet intensity of those films with sequences that are breathtaking in their epic proportions. Working from a script by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, Eastwood follows the men featured in the iconic flag-raising photograph at the Battle of Iwo Jima - a Pulitzer prize-winning Associated Press photograph, we might add - and those who grapple with the guilt of being linked to that shot, even though they might not have been there. Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford and John Slattery lead the excellent ensemble cast. R for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language. 131 min. Three and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

"The Prestige"

Director Christopher Nolan's saga of dueling magicians devolves into a silly spiral of one-upmanship and half-baked revelations that won't make you marvel so much as shrug and forget about them. Nolan captures a sturdy, period-drama variation of the dark broodiness that underscores his previous films, "Batman Begins," "Insomnia" and "Memento." Yet this tale of a blood feud between rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and "Batman Begins" star Christian Bale) is cold and distant emotionally, with extreme, single-minded obsession the only palpable sentiment. The movie is a schoolboy rivalry gone overboard, with wives and stage assistants (Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Piper Perabo), a mentor (Michael Caine) and inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) caught in the fray. PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. 130 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"The Departed"

This is what you want in a Martin Scorsese film: beautifully edited, brutally violent sequences, brimming with life even as bodies are hitting the floor, all awash in a blaring Rolling Stones song. (In this case, "Gimme Shelter," again.) Even though this is an Americanized version of the 2002 Hong Kong hit "Infernal Affairs," it's vintage Scorsese - for a while at least. The veteran director has made two-thirds of a great film about Boston cops and mobsters, with rich, meaty performances from a dizzyingly stellar cast and an ambiance that screams Scorsese's typical cultural authenticity. (It's as if the fellas from "GoodFellas" took a road trip up I-95.) Leonardo DiCaprio, reuniting with the director for a third film, stars as a Massachusetts State Police detective who's gone undercover to take down a crime boss (Jack Nicholson). Matt Damon, meanwhile, stars as the crime boss' protege, who's been working his way up the state police ranks. Each of them is asked to sniff out the rat - to seek out each other. It's a clever premise and it can be thrilling, but "The Departed" is also about a half hour too long, and tends to drag just when it should be at its most intense. R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material. 150 min. Three stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

"The Guardian"

Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher's Coast Guard adventure drags on like a slow boat ride to Anchorage, its standard-issue heroics and flavorless dialogue gone stale long before the movie arrives at the big, valorous finish. Director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") crafts hearty action sequences of men hurling themselves into peril to save others in Alaska's churning waters. But the drama and emotion behind the action is so frosty, you could die of exposure by the time the movie lumbers to its climax after well over two hours. Costner plays a legendary Coast Guard rescue swimmer who takes on a temporary assignment training recruits, with Kutcher as his arrogant but promising protege. The cast includes Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Neal McDonough, Clancy Brown and Bonnie Bramlett. PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality. 139 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"Man of the Year"

Funny as he is at times, Robin Williams as a political jokester turned presidential candidate is a lightweight, almost as empty a suit as the career politicians he's up against. Writer-director Barry Levinson's premise is too absurd for belief even alongside 2000's photo-finish presidential election, the movie relying mainly on its cast to see it through. Williams and especially co-stars Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black deliver well enough to keep the movie in the race, making viewers care about these people more than the story merits. Williams plays the comic host of a political talk show who runs as a lark and winds up elected - only to find out a computer glitch may have put him in the White House. PG-13 for language including some crude sexual references, drug related material and brief violence. 115 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"Open Season"

It's too bad that "Open Season" is coming out now, at the end of a year that saw a flock of animated flicks about smart-alecky talking animals. It has the obligatory all-star vocal cast (Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing) and a healthy sprinkling of pop culture references (Lawrence, as a domesticated grizzly bear, watches "Wheel of Fortune"). But unlike "The Wild," "The Ant Bully" or "Over the Hedge," which it most closely resembles, it's not insufferably obnoxious. This debut offering from Sony Pictures Animation has a giddy energy about it and a gleeful sense of its own weirdness, as evidenced by the casting of Billy Connolly as the furry-eyebrowed McSquizzy, the leader of an organized, angry band of squirrels. Lawrence's character, Boog, gets sent back to the woods after being wrongly accused of attacking a deer, the one-antlered Elliot, voiced by Kutcher. He longs to return to the home he shares with forest ranger Beth (Messing) but learns to survive and even thrive amid his fellow creatures along the way. It's appropriate for most kids, though the confrontations with an overzealous hunter (Gary Sinise) could be a bit scary for little ones. PG for some rude humor, mild action and brief language. 87 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

"Employee of the Month"

Jessica Simpson, Dane Cook, Dax Shepard and colleagues will not be in the running for Hollywood's employee of the month for their new comedy. Except for standup comic Cook, who manages to come off as likable enough in this dreadful workplace tale, everyone else involved belongs in the unemployment line. First-time director Greg Coolidge shares screenwriting credit with Don Calame and Chris Conroy, and it's a sorry day on the job when it takes the toil of three people to come up with a comedy so lame and gags so pathetic. Set at a bargain warehouse store, the movie pits Cook as a slacker box-boy against Shepard as an odious super-drone competing for the latest employee of the month contest, both convinced that winning is the only way to win the heart of a gorgeous new cashier (Simpson). Simpson is so flat and vacuous, she delivers her lines with all the personality of a 10-pound can of cling peaches. PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and language. 108 min. One and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

"Flicka"

Still girlish at 27, Alison Lohman stars as a spirited teen who tames a spirited horse in this paint-by-numbers update of Mary O'Hara's children's book "My Friend Flicka," previously filmed in 1943. Lohman plays a 16-year-old who adopts a wild mustang that everyone else, including her rancher dad (country singer Tim McGraw), thinks is too fierce and crazy to be tamed. Director Michael Mayer presents some gorgeous Western vistas, but the dull dialogue and predictable action corrals the actors, including the daring Maria Bello in an unusually dry role as Lohman's mom. Lohman is blandly cute and mischievous, while McGraw is so tightly reined, he's a dull stone face even when he's supposed to be playing a testy father. PG for some mild language. 94 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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