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Charlie digs Charlie 

Plus: 'P.S. I Love You,' sort of

Openings

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR

Easily the most interesting of the four local openings last Friday, Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Mike Nichols with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing), is an ironic and ultimately serious look at the U.S. covert involvement in the war between Soviet forces and the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s.

Based on the book by George Crile, the film follows the story of obscure (to me) Texas Democratic congressman Charlie Wilson who conspired to get funding and C.I.A. help for the Afghan rebels in their successful effort to drive the Soviets out of their country.

Unlike other releases this year about U.S. military involvement in other countries, Charlie Wilson's War takes a lighter approach and it is all the more effective because of that strategy. The coke-snorting, woman-chasing Wilson (who retired in 1996) may seem like an unlikely person to take up the Afghan cause, but as effectively portrayed by Tom Hanks, in his best performance in a while, Wilson has a depth that is belied by his surface appearance (he calls one of his young female staff "Jailbait").

Hanks is nicely supported by a fine cast that includes Julia Roberts, who revels in her role as a conservative, religious (which doesn't prevent her sleeping with Wilson) Houston socialite who hates Communism, Philip Seymour Hoffman (who's everywhere these days) as an irascible but intelligent C.I.A. agent who knows how things work, and the delightful Amy Adams (Enchanted) who plays Wilson's assistant with aplomb.

The film does make its political points, particularly when the same congress that secretly appropriated a billion dollars to help the Afghans won't give one million for education to the same country. Let's see, billions for killing and nothing for social programs. Sound familiar? Rated R for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use. 107 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

P.S. I LOVE YOU

Perhaps if I hadn't seen the 1990 British film Truly Madly Deeply, which also deals with the loss of a partner, P.S. I Love You might not have seemed so shallow. Directed by Anthony Minghella, Truly Madly Deeply starred Juliet Stevenson as the bereaved woman whose prematurely dead partner (Alan Rickman) returns to her as a ghost.

P.S. I Love You follows the same general story arc: Holly (Hilary Swank) loses her Irish husband Gerry (Gerard Butler, Dear Frankie; Phantom of the Opera) early on to a brain tumor and must try to deal with the loss and move on. In addition, though, to Gerry's ghostly appearances, Holly must also cope with a series of messages from Gerry whose sequential delivery he planned while dying. This plot device, however, simply adds to the film's sentimentality, a condition that Hollywood films all too often sink to, particularly when romantic relationships are involved.

Holly's guilt is also deepened by the fact that she and Gerry weren't getting along all that well, and she has no other direction to her life. Swank has done some interesting work, particularly in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Here, she's been "feminized" (early shots in attractive lingerie and girly outfits) as befits a clich├ęd romantic partner, and the role does not play to Swank's primary strengths although she's far from terrible.

The cast is nicely filled out with Lisa Kudrow (I wanted more of her) and Gina Gershon as Holly's friends, Kathy Bates as her mother, and Harry Connick Jr. as a male friend who wants to move to the next level. The film has some nice moments and is certainly watchable, and I probably shouldn't wish for what is not forthcoming: a little complexity. Rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief nudity. 136 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY

You may think you've seen this film before, but director Jake Kasdan and writer Judd Apatow give this music mockumentary a little more bite than the genre sometimes supports.

The story follows the arc of every rags to riches to despair to redemption music biography you've ever seen. But the story of the fictional Dewey Cox has the advantage that by creating a legend, it can also serve as a brief history of major American popular music styles including country, blues, soul, rap and pop a la Buddy Holly.

Performing his own songs, John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox has a lot of fun with the role, and so does the viewer. He is ably supported by a good cast that includes Margo Martindale (Feast of Love) as his mother and Jenna Fischer (Blades of Glory) who plays Reese Witherspoon (a.k.a. June Carter) to Reilly's Johnny Cash persona.

Apatow can't seem to be nasty without a layering of nice thrown in, but he comes up with some genuinely funny moments. A slight but mostly entertaining film. Stay through the end titles to get a shot of the "real" Dewey Cox. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity (male and female), drug use and language. 106 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS

If you enjoyed 2004's National Treasure, then you will probably like this sequel as well, since it's the same film with different locations.

With the same director (Jon Turteltaub), Book of Secrets returns treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage, who may appear courtesy of outtakes from the first film) and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, whose acing hasn't advanced since 2004) now Ben's ex-girlfriend due to a plot contrivance, along with Ben's dad Patrick (Jon Voight) and pal Riley (Justin Bartha, Failure to Launch, a symbolic title if I ever saw one).

This time, Ben is trying to clear his family's name after his ancestor is accused by rival treasure hunter Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris in safe mode) of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln. Exoneration in this case means kidnapping the President (Bruce Greenwood) to discover where the book of secrets, passed from prez to prez, is hidden. Helen Mirren, whose primary function here is to help the viewer remember what film acting looks like, appears as Patrick's ex-wife. Sound good? Then enjoy. Rated PG for some violence and action (did the MPAA board mean acting here?). 134 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and the Fortuna.

Continuing

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM.Title says it all. Rated R. 94 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.Based on the 1950s cartoon series about chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, who sing in three-part harmony. Rated PG. 91 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

AMERICAN GANGSTER.True, juggernaut success story of cult crime hero from the streets of 1970s Harlem. Rated R. 157 m. At The Movies.

AUGUST RUSH.A street musician in New York who was orphaned by circumstance, August Rush uses his talents to find the parents from whom he was separated at birth. Rated PG. 113 m. At The Movies.

BEE MOVIE.A bee, disillusioned with the prospect of never-ending honey collection, breaks bee rules and talks to a human. Rated PG. 91 m. At The Movies.

BEOWULF.The mighty warrior Beowulf slays the demon Grendel and incurs the wrath of its monstrous yet seductive mother, in a conflict that transforms king into legend. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

ENCHANTED.A fairytale princess changes her views on life and love after being thrust into present-day New York City by an evil queen. Rated PG. 108 m. At The Movies.

GOLDEN COMPASS.A young girl's epic quest set in a world where people's souls manifest themselves as animals, talking bears fight wars and Gyptians and witches coexist. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway.

GREAT DEBATERS.A group of underdog students from a small, black college in Texas is transformed to an elite debate team by a brilliant, but volatile coach in the Jim Crow South. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.

HITMAN.Agent 47, a professional assassin, gets caught up in a political takeover and is pursued across Eastern Europe by Interpol and the Russian Military. Rated R. 100 m. At The Movies.

I AM LEGEND.Robert Neville, a brilliant scientist, is the one man left alive after a terrible, manmade virus sweeps New York City. Or is he alone? Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM.The emporium is a strange, fantastic and magical toy store where everything comes to life. Rated G. 94 m. At The Movies.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer-winning crime novel by Cormac McCarthy: violent, riveting and brilliant. Rated R. 123 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

STEPHEN KING'S THE MIST.A small town comes under attack by creatures prowling in a thick, unnatural mist said to be originating from a nearby, top-secret military base. Rated R. 127 m. At The Movies.

WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP.Angus, a young boy, takes home an enchanted egg which leads him to find himself face-to-face with a mythical "water horse" of Scottish lore. Rated PG. 112 m. At Mill Creek, the Broadway and Fortuna.

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