Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell

Even staunch anti-monarchists should bow before Helen Mirren, who gives what just may be the performance of the year as Britain's current Queen in this spellbinding drama. Astutely directed by Stephen Frears, The Queen takes us behind palace doors as it tracks the evolving relationship between Elizabeth II and newly elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Sheen) in the week following the death of Princess Diana in 1997. After the reserved Queen and other royals fail to respond publicly to the national outpouring of grief—Prince Philip (Cromwell) goes hunting—Blair is convinced that the future of the monarchy itself is at stake and sets out to persuade Her Majesty to loosen her stiff upper lip. When Mirren finally does, it's like watching granite melt. (PG-13)

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Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher

Take bits of Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, G.I. Jane and every other military training movie of the past couple of decades, douse 'em in salt water, toss in rubber flippers and you've got The Guardian. This standard-issue action film glorifies the Coast Guard's Rescue Swimmers, an elite unit whose members dive into the freezing drink to save folks who've gone overboard. Here Kutcher plays a brash trainee and Costner's the dedicated vet who must give his student a sense of mission and tradition. The scenes of watery rescues are exciting and the stars are in great shape, but this derivative hokum boasts more brine than brains. (PG-13)

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Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy

There it is again: that title card informing you that the movie you're about to watch was "inspired by real people and events," even though The Last King of Scotland is based on a novel. The real part would be that the movie's villain, Idi Amin, not only existed but during his bloody 1971-79 reign as Uganda's ruler he tortured and killed hundreds of thousands.

An adrenaline rush of a film, King follows a young Scotsman (McAvoy) who, fresh out of medical school, heads to Africa seeking adventure. A chance encounter with Amin (Whitaker) results in his being hired as the strongman's personal physician. Seduced by Amin's charm, the good doc becomes a trusted adviser, failing to grasp what's happening until the pile of corpses grows sky high—and his own life is in danger.

Whitaker's bravura performance is the primary reason to see King. He makes Amin human—but with the madness always glinting at the edges. As for the rest of the movie, it starts off promisingly but eventually lapses into gory sensationalism. Kerry Washington and Gillian Anderson turn up briefly but serve mostly as sexy decoration. (R)

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Voices by Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise

Fred, my 6-year-old consultant when it comes to kids' movies, gave me strict instructions on how to review this one. "Don't say anything bad," he ordered. So I won't. I will say that Open Season is yet another computer-generated animated comedy featuring cuddly, anthropomorphized forest creatures who crack wise, get into scrapes and are threatened by nasty humans. That doesn't mean that Season, about Boog (Lawrence), a domesticated grizzly bear who finds himself facing down hunters in the woods, isn't clever and fun. It's all that—but with animated kids' fare coming out so frequently these days, this one seems kind of been there, seen that. (PG)

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Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Sarah Silverman

This slapdash comedy is most likely to strike a sympathetic chord with men who—how to be tactful?—never dated in high school, much less squired the head cheerleader. Roger (Heder), a New York City parking meter guy, is a loser who enrolls in a class to learn to be macho. It works—that is, until his instructor (Thornton) makes a play for Roger's new girlfriend (Barrett). Heder is revisiting his Napoleon Dynamite dork, but TNT fails to ignite twice. And though Thornton offers a few amusingly sneering line readings, he's coasting. (PG-13)


>FOREST WHITAKER Takes on a Tyrant

Whitaker, 45, is getting big buzz for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who ordered the deaths of an estimated 300,000 of his countrymen during his eight-year reign (even eating a few of his victims, according to lore). And he's still haunted by the experience.

HOW DID YOU BECOME AMIN? I learned Swahili and studied film footage of him, listening to his speeches, watching him move. I met with his brothers and sisters, generals and diplomats that worked under him, people who raised him. That's all I did and thought for five months. I'd go to sleep and be dreaming like Idi Amin.

DID YOU SYMPATHIZE WITH HIM? I understand a lot of choices he would make. He's not a politician and feels cornered: Paranoia sets in, where you can't trust anybody and know people around you don't think you're smart. You could understand too, if you were put in that situation.

WAS IT TOUGH TO SHAKE OFF PLAYING A MONSTER? As soon as we wrapped, I thought I had lost the accent, but when I talked to people, I realized I hadn't. So I was pushing myself to just get him out of my system. I took showers, trying to get the guy to leave me. I needed to wash those darker passions away.

>Kathy & Mo

Goddesses to a devoted cult of fans, the comedy team of Kathy Najimy, 49, and Mo Gaffney, 47, have put 20 years of jokes (and fashion don'ts) in The Complete Kathy & Mo Show, a DVD set packed with their best sketches and never-before-seen bits. What keeps this duo dynamic? PEOPLE's Julie Jordan found out.

Kathy: We had over 100 Beta tapes—I'm not exaggerating.
Mo: And some cave drawings.
Kathy: We'd sit on the floor, put in tapes and laugh, not at the material, but at our hair and Mo's outfits.

Mo: We were some hot chicks! Kathy had hair you could see from space.
Kathy: You can turn down the volume and laugh at Mo with her suspender outfit and me with bubble hair and two different earrings, thinking I was Cyndi Lauper.

Mo: When we cracked each other up and could not stop laughing.
Kathy: You remember on Carol Burnett, when they break up and the audience laughs along? Ours was like, "We paid our $35—get it together!" It was Mo's fault. She came out with her ponytail on the side. And I peed in my tights.

Mo: Congratulations!

Kathy: Nice hair!

Mo: Hallelujah! I started watching again.

Kathy: Who?

Mo: I'm just going to say, Mad Max.