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Alpha Dog, Borat, Charlotte's Web

THE HOLIDAY

Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is an LA movie trailer producer who's just kicked her cheating boyfriend to the curb. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a Daily Telegraph wedding reporter whose own unfaithful ex is getting hitched to another woman. After bonding in an Internet chat room, they negotiate a house swap and, upon arriving in their new digs, promptly dive headfirst back into the relationship cesspool (Diaz with Jude Law, Winslet with Jack Black). The Holiday is frequently smarter and savvier than the Hollywood norm, but like writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers' other recent films (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give), it's also reductive in its view of women. (SF) (Countywide)

THE ITALIAN

Russian director Andrei Kravchuck charts the plight of his country's army of orphans, hapless waifs deserted by drunken parents, and a post-Soviet government in disarray. Caught between the brutalities of orphanage life and the profiteers of illegal adoption, little Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) longs to reunite with his real mother, and sets out to learn to read in order to find her. Lured, perhaps, by the promise of international markets, Kravchuk opts for routine uplift, and once the heroic journey is set in motion, the rest is ballast. (ET) (Edwards Westpark, Irvine)

LITTLE CHILDREN

Todd Field's second excursion into middle-class unease, after his intelligent but overrated In the Bedroom, unfolds at a leisurely, insidious pace. It posits a suburb full of hypocrites busily persecuting their local child molester (a compellingly creepy Jackie Earle) so as not face up to their own subterranean secrets and desires. Little Children divides its time between melodrama and black comedy, uneasy bedfellows in a movie that solicits serious sympathy for its wounded souls, adulterous lovers played by Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. (ET) (Edwards Westpark, Irvine; Art Theatre, Long Beach)

MISS POTTER

How the Beatrix Potter franchise—with its tight-lipped moral justice visited upon insipid mice, bunnies, and the truly insufferable Jemima Puddle Duck—continues to flourish in this age of permissive parenting is a mystery, but surely there's a meaty drama to be made about the dark forces that drove this dyed-in-the-wool Victorian. Director Chris Noonan (Babe) and screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr. are having none of it. Miss Potter shifts the burden of ill humor onto the lady authoress' petit bourgeois mother (Barbara Flynn), thus freeing Rene Zellweger to perk up Beatrix into a chipper cross between Bridget Jones and Mary Poppins. (ET) (Century Stadium, Orange; Edwards Brea Stadium East; UA Marketplace, Long Beach)

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

Ben Stiller—as usual, frazzled with a touch of hipster frump—is a divorced dad in need of a gig, lest his cutie-pie kid (Jake Cherry) wind up spending all of his time with uptight bond-trading New Dad (Paul Rudd, wasted in a straightlaced cameo). So Stiller's Larry takes a job as night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, where things go bump in the night. The first half-hour's too slow; the last half-hour's too manic. But it's the first outing from director Shawn Levy (he of Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther infamy) that actually entertains. (RW) (Countywide)

PRIMEVAL

Dominic Purcell plays a disgraced, charisma-challenged reporter traveling to Africa alongside nature documentarian Aviva (Brooke Langton), Funny Black Guy cameraman Steve (Orlando Jones, who deserves better), and Steve Irwin-y animal guy Matthew Collins (Gideon Emery, dullsville). There, they learn that life in Africa is hard, especially with those warlords and oversized reptiles picking on everyone. With a little camp this could have been fun (see: Lake Placid, Anaconda), but director Michael Katleman (see: episodes of Gilmore Girls, Tru Calling) doesn't play it that way, and even Jürgen Prochnow's crazed Ahab wannabe is unfortunately understated. (LYT) (AMC 30 at the Block; Edwards Long Beach)

ROCKY BALBOA

In '06, Rocky's belated return to the ring can be blamed, like this DVD-ready sequel, on the digital revolution: The ESPN Boxing channel's computer simulation program predicts that the Italian Stallion, at least as he was in his prime, could take the current heavyweight champ, Mason "the Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) by K.O. Naturally, neither Rocky, now a restaurateur, nor Mason Dixon (named for the thin line between drama and comedy?) can resist when a promoter's Vegas exhibition offer follows. (RN) (Countywide)

STOMP THE YARD

Upon his release from jail, talented dancer DJ (Columbus Short) is shipped by his moms from South Central to Atlanta's ever-so-subtly named Truth University (a fictional amalgam of prominent black colleges). There, DJ falls for a fine sister (Meagan Good), whose father—the dean of Truth—doesn't look kindly on his little angel socializing with an ex-felon. What's a brother to do? Why, put his fancy footwork to use in service of step-dancing competitions, a tradition at black fraternities and sororities, which, as filmed by White with an overload of slow-motion effects and high-speed shutters, are about as cinematic as a televised Riverdance concert. (SF) (Countywide)

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