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Don't be fooled by the CGI-laden, Narnia-lite trailers for Bridge to Terabithia: Far from a computer generated escapist fantasy, this film is an unpretentious and touching tale of pre-teen companionship and loss. Terabithia is the story of fifth-grade loner Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), whose sensitive, artistic temperament isolates him from the towheaded bullies at school and his hardheaded father at home. Liberation from solitude comes in the form of sprightly Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), whose flair for fiction and exaggerated anime cuteness bring Jess out of his shell. The pair form a bond based on a made-up world called Terabithia, located in the woods behind their homes. Director Gabor Csupo of Rugrats "fame" brings out nuanced performances from both Hutcherson and Robb, whose characters steer clear of cutesy tween stereotypes. But it's Jess' relationship with his father, played by Robert Patrick, that elevates Terabithia from a good kids movie to a classic contender. (Jessica Grose) (Countywide)


Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Eklavya: The Royal Guard plays like vintage Bollywood melodrama, complete with fratricidal murder plots and a glorious final spasm of revenge. The Ranas of Devigarh, an ancient feudal clan of Rajasthani rulers, are a royal family stripped of all but their ceremonial authority in modern-day India, now dealing with an issue of paternity that gnaws at the vitals of the patriarchal system. The story's central icon and title character is a bodyguard whose ancestors have protected the family for nine generations, a battered human relic of the past played with effortless conviction by aging superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Although Eklavya was filmed in two actual palaces, the action feels more like an intimate chamber drama, all intense two shots and vehement whispered exchanges. Clocking in at a mere two hours and containing only one song sequence, the movie still embraces the essential imperatives of dynastic family melodrama as fervently as any classic of Bollywood's Golden Age. This is robust storytelling with blood and thunder pumping through its veins. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)

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The underused Indian actor Kay Kay Menon is perfectly cast as a crisply correct detective keeping a tight lid on his seething anger in Black Friday, a rigorously naturalistic docudrama about a complex police investigation. The film is a methodical three-hour account of the mixture of luck, instinct and ruthlessness that allowed decorated investigator Rakesh Maria (Menon) and his crew to track down 168 conspirators in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts in only a few weeks' time. The 10 powerful explosions had targeted government and business landmarks and were acts of retaliation for a wave of anti-Muslim violence by Hindu nationalists a few months earlier. One edge the cops had was that the bombings had been arranged not by Muslim fundamentalists but by an outlaw faction they understood a bit better: Muslim gangsters. An established smuggler and money launderer with connections in Pakistan, the mobster Tiger Memon (Pavan Malhotra) was equipped to organize the attacks with professional efficiency. Writer-director Anurag Kashyap has made only one other movie, the critically admired crime drama Paanch (2003), but he has worked as a screenwriter for both Ram Gopal Varma (Satya) and Mani Rathnam (Yuva), and there is impressive craftsmanship in his set pieces, such as a foot chase through the Bombay slums that goes on and on until both the suspect and his pursuers are on the verge of collapse. But the movie would be all crisp surfaces without the internal combustion of Menon, as a man who bears down on familiar procedures in order to avoid being overwhelmed by his emotions. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)


See "Spy vs. Spy" (Countywide)

See "Yuppie Scum Meets Ravishing Refugee" (Edwards Westpark, Irvine; Mann Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel)

See "Edie Made Easy" (Countywide)

When studios elect not to press screen a movie for critics, it usually says something about the movie. In the case of Ghost Rider, it's kind of a moot point. Dude, they actually let the guy who made Daredevil make another movie? Starring Nicolas Cage as a demonic, hog-humping leather daddy on fire? Oh yes they did, and it doesn't seem entirely coincidental that the plot involves selling your soul to the devil. Having bargained with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to save his father's life, motorcycle daredevil Johnny Blaze (Cage) awaits the day the dark one will come calling. Enter Blackheart, aka Satan Jr. (Wes Bentley), with a clutch of minions and an Oedipal agenda to wrest an ancient soul scroll away from daddy—or whatever. Point is, Ghost Rider is enlisted to kick their ass, which he does through such remarkable techniques as yelling really loud and throwing clumps of dirt. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson gives the okay to some exceptionally muddled CGI while eking a surprisingly witty performance from Cage, here proving there is absolutely nothing, nothing, he won't lend his name to. He's got some charming scenes with Eva Mendes as the inevitable girl reporter/first love/Botox babe, and while Ghost Rider lacks both tongue and cheek, he shoulders his flaming skull lightly. (Nathan Lee) (Countywide)

See "Low Note" (Countywide)

In his third gospel-comedy feature, actor-writer-producer-director Tyler Perry has finally managed to sustain the same tone for most of a movie. Which is a damn shame: That neck-snapping mash-up of tear-streaked melodrama, love-your-mama sermonizing, and chitlin-circuit vaudeville, coupled with the odd chainsaw rampage or boiling-grits attack, was what made Diary of a Mad Black Woman and the lesser Madea's Family Reunion so welcome amid the Xanaxed tranquility of the megaplex. Instead, this is 95 minutes of a thin, dully contrived problem drama about a single-dad ex-con mechanic (Idris Elba) whose custody battle with his drug-ho ex-wife leads to class-defying romance with his Ivy League attorney (Gabrielle Union). The Atlanta locations are fresh as ever, and all of Perry's traditional elements are in place, right down to the seemingly incompatible combination of come-to-Jesus altar-calling and cathartic crowd-pleasing violence. But Perry's indifferent direction flattens everything out: You might fall asleep if his heavy-mitted music cues didn't keep cattle-prodding your ass. Apart from The Wire's Elba, who has a warm, everyguy decency, the acting is as silent-movie broad as the plotting. And yet Daddy's Little Girls, with its struggling single parents, rigid class and race inequities, spiritual yearning, and paycheck-to-paycheck scuffling, still bears more relation to most Americans' lives than anything else in theaters. Come back, Madea, and bring your chainsaw. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)

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