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BLOOD DIAMOND

Edward Zwick's latest film assembles three refugees from central casting around the quest for an egg-sized pink diamond in Sierra Leone. When rebels rampage through his village, Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) is wrenched from his family and put to work mining diamonds. On the job, Solomon retrieves the rock and sets about hiding it when government soldiers bust in and cart everyone off to jail. Word of the diamond soon reaches Danny (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a scheme is hatched to get rich or die trying. The holy trinity of African adventure flick clichès is soon completed by the arrival of Maddy (Jennifer Connelly), a foxy idealist reporting on the blood diamond trade for an American newsweekly. (NL) (Countywide)

 

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

Like his Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's third global-market gigaproduction makes little sense in narrative terms even after two screenings, but the sets, costumes, and cinematography are so intoxicating that it doesn't much matter. Zhang's interest in the wuxia (martial arts) film may well extend no further than the kick he gets out of constructing ostentatious palaces and then watching from behind the lens as they crumble to the ground—he's a movie director, in other words. (RN) (AMC 30 at the Block, Orange; Edwards Long Beach)

DÉJÀ VU

The story goes like this: The ferry blows up (seen it), Denzel Washington struts on the scene to investigate (seen it), clues are discovered (seen it), a dead girl is found under mysterious circumstances (seen it), Val Kilmer arrives looking kind of pudgy (??), everyone heads off to a top-secret government base and climbs into a gigantic spark plug. There, a next-level surveillance system renders real-time composite images of anything that happened four days ago, from any angle, through all obstacles, and in the visual vocabulary of the 21st century blockbuster. Except that actually it's a time machine. (Now here is something new.) (NL) (Woodbridge Dollar Movies, Irvine)

THE DEPARTED

Martin Scorsese strives to bring it all back home, remaking the strongest HK action film of recent years. Infernal Affairs is a movie with a star premise; The Departed is packed with names: Matt Damon; Leonardo DiCaprio; and Jack Nicholson; who skews crazy, reprising his turn from The Witches of Eastwick in the inflated role of a patriarchal crime boss. Neither debacle nor bore, the movie works, but only up to a point and never emotionally—nothing that wouldn't have been cured by losing half an hour . . . and Jack. (JH) (Countywide)

ERAGON

In a time of darkness, under the evil reign of John Malkovich—who sits upon a throne in a different soundstage from all the other cast—a hero shall rise: Eragon (newcomer Ed Speleers). And then shall cometh a big blue CGI dragon, voiced by Rachel Weisz and far lamer—physically and stylistically—than Sean Connery's beast from 1996's Dragonheart. As Eragon tries to save his home from the power-mad king of Stefen Fangmeier's lame fantasy world, much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensue, especially in the scenes when singer Joss Stone plays a fortune-telling gypsy, and even more so when songbirds Avril Lavigne and Jem foist themselves unto the soundtrack. (LYT) (Krikorian Buena Park; Regal Foothill Towne Center, Foothill Ranch; Edwards Long Beach)

FREEDOM WRITERS

Neither Half Nelson nor all bad, this white-teacher-uplifts-poor-kids-of-color drama aims to favor the students' stories, which are based on those of real-life Long Beach high-schoolers who wrote their way out of oppression and anonymity in the mid-'90s. But those diary entries too often take a back seat to the film's "Ms. G." played by two-time Oscar-winner and Chad Lowe-survivor Hilary Swank, who makes instantly credible her character's preference of work over marriage to a boring man-behind-the-woman (Patrick Dempsey). The movie's most effective lesson is teaching isn't just for teachers. (RN) (Countywide)

FLUSHED AWAY

The third collaboration between Britain's Aardman studio and DreamWorks animation, this puckish charmer about a posh Kensington mouse flushed down the loo into London sewer country is to action-adventure what Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was to Hammer Horror. Beyond the obligatory Hollywood moralizing about community and cooperation, there's a heartfelt upstairs-downstairs tale of urban loneliness redeemed by love and family. (ET) (Regency Charter Centre, Huntington Beach; Woodbridge Dollar Movies, Irvine)

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

It took Norman Mailer seven years and 1,282 pages to write 1991's Harlot's Ghost: A Novel of the CIA, so director Robert De Niro and screenwriter Eric Roth can be forgiven for taking two hours and 40 minutes to tell The Good Shepherd (a/k/a A Movie of the CIA)—but then why does it feel so empty? As long as it is, Shepherd speeds through its leading man's life, cramming in 30 years without elaborating on any of them. The fictional story here is about Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a CIA agent tied to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and suspected of being a mole. (RW) (Countywide)

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER

With shtick as dull as it is ill-natured, this appallingly dumb and tasteless inversion of the Cinderella story features the voice of Sigourney Weaver as a generically shrieky wicked stepmother who discovers she can tinker with fairy-tale endings, notably that of Cinders (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who sports a short black Audrey Hepburn 'do and a mistaken crush on a narcissistic prince (Patrick Warburton) brazenly ripped off from Beauty and the Beast's Gaston. I spent the movie scratching my head over which audience Lionsgate is hoping to tap with this noisy rubbish. YouTubers? Tots with A.D.D.? (ET) (Countywide)

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