"Borat" The full name of Borat's new movie is the wonderfully awkward "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Borat, a Kazakh journalist, is off to visit America, where he preys on the hapless citizenry, and chases the dream of marrying Pamela Anderson. "Borat" might be a faker, but the people who fall for him aren't. Cohen and his con-team swoop in for an interview with a stack of contracts the mark doesn't have the time or inclination to read. The result is usually a disaster for the interviewee and comedic gold for Borat. Cohen's character is one of the funniest mainstream satirists in pop culture today. (He would be the funniest without those DVD box sets of "The Simpsons.") He's leagues above the funny race car driver, news anchor and other characters created by Will Ferrell. Ferrell, after seeing "Borat," is reputed to have lamented he'd never top it. That's likely true. (R) 82 min. ***** Wayne Melton
"Casino Royale" All fears surrounding the future of cinema's longest running franchise are put to rest with Daniel Craig more than capably filling 007's shoes in a Bond film that shatters formula constraints and delivers nail-biting action. Ian Flemming's 1953 inaugural James Bond novel provides the source material for Bond to earn his 007 stripes before facing off against a terrorism-financier. With a $10 million bank-roll, Bond travels to Montenegro to play a high stakes game of poker opposite the over-leveraged villain whose impatient investors wait with loaded guns. However, 007 will have to do more than win at cards in this gritty and witty action movie. (PG-13) 144 min. ***
"Catch a Fire" Australian director Phillip Noyce ("Rabbit-Proof Fence") applies his authentic sense of cinematic storytelling to the real-life story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), an apolitical South African oil refinery engineer who joins a revolution against the violent apartheid regime after government goons torture he and his wife (Bonnie Henna). Tim Robbins plays South African police honcho Nic Vos, who takes a special interest in keeping tabs on Patrick after he is released after being suspected of carrying out a bombing. Filmed on location in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Mozambique, "Catch a Fire" is an incendiary movie about an individual's desperate decision to battle a corrupt government system after being mentally and psychically abused. The film effectively shows how government-sponsored torture polarizes human beings and gives birth to terrorists. (PG-13) 101 min. *** C.S.
"The Departed" Returning from the latest cinema shoot-up usually is not cause for introspection. But they are not all made by Martin Scorsese, and you usually don't enjoy them this much. "The Departed" is a vigorous though conventionally furbished police thriller about two cops (Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon) working undercover, one for Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and one against him. "The Departed" is extremely entertaining. Scorsese's fluency with the medium is such that he can shock, titillate, frighten and make an audience laugh, seemingly at will and sometimes all at once. In lesser hands this could have been a convoluted whodunit. With Scorsese there's no mystery. He makes the bullets and the banter zing and leaves the ponderous stuff like casings scattered on the floor. (R) 152 min. **** W.M.
"Flags of Our Fathers" Watching the previews of this winding wartime treatise on heroism, you wouldn't be blamed for mistaking it for "Saving Private Ryan From the Japs." But this is a vastly different story about heroism. The tag line pinned to the movie's breast reads, "A single shot can save the war." It refers not to a sniper's bullet but a photographer's picture, the historic photograph by Joe Rosenthal of a handful of Marines, backs to the camera, raising an American flag over the desolate landscape of Iwo Jima. We've seen these arguments in war movies before: It's necessary hell; heroes aren't what you think they are; the calling justifies the means. "Flags" tries to wrap itself around too many things already said and ends up flapping in the wind. (R) 132 min. *** W.M.
"Harsh Times" Christian Bale plays a tweaked-out discharged Army Ranger who returns from the Gulf War to his childhood neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles to stir up trouble with his best friend in this devastating drama by writer/director David Ayer (writer of "Training Day"). Fate derails his plans in law enforcement, and he ends up in a Homeland Security job as an anti-drug enforcer even as he descends into a drug-induced madness that leaves a swath of destruction in its wake. "Harsh Times" is a modern and raw reflection of the disastrous effects of war on the soldiers who survive them and the potential danger they pose. (R) 120 min. **** C.S.
"The Queen" Elizabeth II ascended the throne just a few weeks after Eisenhower became president, yet Stephen Frears' smart, moving and altogether engrossing "The Queen" is the first feature film about her. It's likely to remain the best. Set mostly in the week following the death of Princess Diana, "The Queen" traces the aging monarch's attempt to come to grips both with a population whose extraordinary outpouring of grief is entirely beyond her comprehension and with a new, media-savvy prime minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), whose political antennae vibrate in perfect sympathy with the mood swings of the masses. The result is a fascinating and telling confrontation of old-fashioned British phlegm and newfangled demands that all public figures be emotionally accessible to the people. It's the story, in other words, of how politicians and sovereigns can hold onto their positions only if they consent to become just a special kind of celebrity. (PG-13) 97 min. *****