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Hancock among capsule film reviews

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MONGOL It wouldn't exactly be accurate to tag this historical drama I Was a Teenage Conqueror, but this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (Kazakhstan's first such nod) spends next to no time on the Genghis Khan who would become legendary for invading and occupying much of Asia during the first quarter of the 13th century. Instead, Mongol is reminiscent of movies like Young Mr. Lincoln, The Motorcycle Diaries, Young Winston, and, uh, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd in that they all focus on the early years that helped shape and define their protagonists. In this case, we witness the brutal conditions which Temudjin (his real name) had to endure as he fought his way to his lofty place in the world. After his father is poisoned, 9-year-old Temudjin (played as a child by Odnyam Odsuren and as an adult by Tadanobu Asano) finds much of the next two decades spent either chased, caged or forced into slave labor by his ruthless countrymen. He receives help along the way from strangers who soon become friends, but he draws most of his strength from his wife Borte (Khulan Chuluun), with whom he's shared a special bond ever since they first met as children. It goes without saying that Asano makes a more credible Genghis Khan than John Wayne, who essayed the role in 1956's The Conqueror (yes, unbelievable, but look it up). Yet the real star here is director and co-writer Sergei Bodrov, who largely turns his back on CGI effects and creates stirring battle scenes the old-fashioned way, by orchestrating actors and animals across open landscapes. Somewhere, David Lean is smiling. ***

SEX AND THE CITY Threatened fanboys on the Internet have been driven insane by the mere existence of this film (how dare anyone make a movie centering on women instead of superheroes or Sandler?), but anyone who's ever bothered to watch the acclaimed HBO series realizes that it need not be the exclusive property of women and homosexuals. Certainly, with its frequent look at eye-popping fashions, it can qualify as female-oriented porn in the same way that Transformers hardware might cause erections in fanboys, but at its heart, the show was about the necessity of enduring friendships and how they can serve as an anchor in a roiling sea of emotional upheavals. In this sequel-of-sorts, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is preoccupied with her upcoming marriage to longtime beau Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) valiantly resists the call of the penis as she tries to remain faithful to her boyfriend (Jason Lewis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) struggles with issues of infidelity as they relate to her husband (David Eigenberg), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is content with her life as a wife and mother. Superior to most of the year's rom-coms, this works because its ability to mix real-world issues with reel-world fantasies provides it with both gravity and buoyancy. There are a few missteps – the new character of Louise, Carrie's personal assistant, reveals that without any showstopping tunes to hide behind, Dreamgirls Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson might not possess an ounce of acting talent – but for the most part, this is likely to satisfy faithful followers of the show, and even select newbies should enjoy this break away from the season's more clamorous offerings. ***

WALL-E This animated effort from Pixar is a treat for the young and old alike, although it might end up endearing itself even more to adults than to kids. And it's not just because grown-ups will enjoy the usual asides tossed their way (e.g. a witty reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey; Alien star Sigourney Weaver providing the voice of a ship's computer); it's also because the plot itself will speak to them in a way that it can't to humans who still don't possess all their permanent teeth. For ultimately WALL-E is about nothing less than one of the tenets of human existence: the need to find a partner with whom to share life's experiences. Of course, the switch here is that it's a robot, not a human, who's in need of companionship. WALL-E is the last of his type, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class robot who rumbles around a deserted Earth, as all humans have long since abandoned the polluted planet to take up residence in a gargantuan spaceship called the Axiom. (Yes, it's a pro-environment cartoon, and it's no accident that our planet's Public Enemy #1, George W. Bush, is referenced via a CEO urging others to "stay the course.") When a sleek robot named EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is dropped off on the planet to search for signs that it might be inhabitable again, WALL-E pursues her like a dog in heat, and once she's ferried back to the Axiom, our intrepid little Romeo determines not to let her get away. I won't reveal any of the action that takes place on the spaceship, but rest assured that the movie retains its comic invention while adding slight degrees of action and menace. And who knew that romance between robots could be so affecting? ***1/2

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