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THE BALTIMORE SUN

Capsules are by critics Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, plus wire services. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Capote -- is a bleakly funny, profoundly unsettling depiction of Truman Capote as a young literary lion, or maybe an overgrown cub, on the scent of his Next Big Thing: a "non-fiction novel" about a Kansas murder. It begins as a deft high comedy about a cosmopolitan man of letters endearing himself to the boondocks. Then it expands into a heart-stabbing, dizzying examination of the exploitation that occurs in friendships, work relations and the connection between a journalist and his subject. As Capote bonds to the marrow with killer Perry Smith, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the writer from tenderness to brute emotional force and then denial. Along with director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman, he creates the odyssey of a man who achieves a self-knowledge that defeats instead of strengthens him. (M.S.) R 114 minutes A+

Chicken Little -- represents Disney's answer to its recent string of underforming animated films: ditch the traditional hand-drawn animation in favor of computers and bring on that hoariest of animated movie cliches, the adorable-animal flick. The movie, which presents the title fowl as both an alarmist and a worry to his father, includes labored messages about parental love and believing in yourself, inspirational themes done to death in Hollywood films over the years. Yes, the story is lame, especially for a film that's supposed to represent something of a landmark. But that Chicken sure is cute. (C.K.) G 78 minutes C

Domino -- is a caper movie that weds Tilt-a-Whirl visuals to a script that's constantly flashing back and forth in time and to a heroine -- a model-turned-bounty-hunter (Keira Knightley) -- who's little more than a glamorous conundrum. Director Tony Scott's ploys for keeping the action edgy beat it to a standstill. (M.S.) R 128 minutes C

Dreamer, -- "inspired" by a true story, is about a father (Kurt Russell), a daughter (Dakota Fanning) and the lame racehorse that brings them closer together. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to force rather than cajole its audience to feel a certain way. A little more finesse would have made this horse a real winner, instead of making the audience feel it's watching a race where the fix is in. (C.K.) PG 102 minutes C+

Elizabethtown -- is brimming with at least three movies' worth of plotlines, and it gives short shrift to all of them. With a romantic comedy, a road picture and a grieving, dysfunctional family flick all struggling for attention, it's hard to get caught up in what's happening onscreen. Orlando Bloom plays a failed tennis shoe designer who heads back to his father's hometown after the older man dies; Kirsten Dunst is the effusive free spirit he meets on the way. (C.K.) PG-13 126 minutes C+

The Exorcism of Emily Rose -- is a horror film rooted in fact. Unfortunately, nothing in it rings with the faintest tinkle of truth. Tom Wilkinson plays a Catholic priest tried for negligent homicide after a girl dies when he attempts to free her of demons. (M.S.) PG-13 118 minutes D+

Flightplan -- stars Jodie Foster as a widow and mother who claims her daughter has vanished during their trans-Atlantic flight. Passengers and crew think she's imagined it. There's a serious plot deficiency here, but it's still a satisfyingly taut thriller. (C.K.) PG-13 88 minutes B+

The Fog -- is a scareless and senseless clutter of items from the horror smorgasbord: zombies, fire, haunted pirate ships, unnerving religious imagery. Tom Welling, Maggie Grace and Selma Blair play residents of a town trying to stay calm as the fog, and that other stuff, rolls in. (Knight Ridder/Tribune) PG-13 100 minutes D

The 40-Year-Old Virgin -- is probably the most sweet-spirited sex comedy ever made. The always-hilarious Steve Carell scores again. The movie isn't about just one character but the culture of sexual relationships and the absurdities it engenders. (C.K.) R 116 minutes A-

Get Rich or Die Tryin' -- is 50 Cent's attempt to take the 'come-to-me' attitude of stoic action stars a step further, to 'I dare you to come to me.' You wonder what's behind the slabs of muscle and confidence, the ingratiating smiles and, even worse, the ingratiating tears -- but you're not motivated to find out. Director Jim Sheridan (In America) and screenwriter Terence Winter (The Sopranos) base the film on 50 Cent's rise from the gutter to media godhood. But no matter how they sweat and strain to be relevant and powerful, all they deliver is a bullet-scarred man with a big-bad-guy physique toting a mike or a gun. The moviemakers slam down our gullets the star's own broad-stroke perception of crime as the main way urban blacks can 'get rich or die tryin',' as if it's medicine. Terrence Howard steals the movie clear away from 50 Cent as his best friend. (M.S.) R 118 minutes C+

Good Night, and Good Luck -- tells several interlocked stories with passion, wit and sting. At its red-hot center is the attempt of CBS star newscaster Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) to expose anti-communist witch hunter Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. The movie dramatizes professionalism and collegiality under stress in ways that are subtle and intense. (M.S.) PG 90 minutes A

A History of Violence -- is a hollow story from an empty graphic novel. Viggo Mortensen plays a seemingly perfect small-town father and husband, determined to raise his son to be strong and gentle. Then, when burglar-assassins try to hold up his diner, he manages to kill them first. This is Carnage for Art Houses 101. (M.S.) R 96 minutes C+

In Her Shoes, -- a fractured Cinderella story, has a wicked stepmother (Candice Azzara) and sisters with low self-esteem: Maggie (Cameron Diaz), a feckless beauty, and Rose (Toni Collette), a zaftig lawyer who overachieves her way out of life's pleasures. It's the feel-bad-then-feel-better film of 2005. (M.S.) PG-13 130 minutes C+

Jarhead -- has a title that is slang for Marine. Anthony Swofford, or "Swoff" (Jake Gyllenhaal), tells us in the voiceover that it may derive from the "tight, high" Corps haircut and may mean that if you lift the lid of hair you find an empty jar. In this movie, that's a certainty. It might as well have been called Jughead. It's about what happens to normally messed-up American boys if you egg them on toward a testosterone-fueled insanity that only brutality can control. The setting is the first Gulf War. In that statement lies part of the problem. The long, slow buildup to the war is no more than a foil to the bottled-up lunacy of the troops, and the lightning war itself becomes pop-Bosch. The movie gives you no characters or feelings or ideas to hang onto, only desert vistas of hell on earth. (M.S.) R 123 minutes C+

The Legend of Zorro -- is overstuffed and watered-down. In this Spy Kids-style sequel to the 1998 hit starring Antonio Banderas as the masked savior of Old California and Catherine Zeta-Jones as his raven-haired lady fair, the filmmakers dump in everything from a 10-year-old son to the rise of the Confederacy and the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction. What escapes them is the cool, clear line of action that would enable Banderas and Zeta-Jones to flaunt their amorous charms without huffing and puffing and stretch their swashbuckling muscles with dash, not balderdash. (M.S.) PG 126 minutes C+

March of the Penguins -- thrillingly records the annual trek of emperor penguins to their breeding ground in the Antarctic. Its message resounds all the more deeply because director Luc Jacquet is so restrained: It takes a rookery to raise a child. (M.S.) G 80 minutes A+

Mirrormask -- is a gorgeous psychedelic cameo of a movie. It's about a 15-year-old with an unusual young-adult-fiction problem. Her parents run an old-fashioned family circus and are also madly in love. Their ecstasy causes this artistic teen, not yet her own self and not yet a woman, to feel left out and batty. Early on, cancer sends her mom to the hospital. As her father struggles to keep his troupe together, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) wakes up in a wispy yet volatile dream landscape. With the help of the Jim Henson Co., writer Neil Gaiman and director and co-writer Dave McKean concoct comic marvels like a notably stupid sphinx and a school of "monkeybirds" who at one point knock each other over and swap beaks. They leave you just enough breath to laugh or sigh. (M.S.) PG 101 minutes A-

North Country, -- about the first class-action sexual harassment suit in the United States, features Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand acting their hearts out as (respectively) a single mother of two working in the iron mines and her best friend and union rep. The movie patiently details how male locker-room banter, taken out of the locker room, creates an environment that encourages casual atrocities. But the personal story it creates for Theron's character peters away instead of paying off. (M.S.) R 123 minutes B-

Prime -- offers Uma Thurman, luminous as ever, as Rafi Gardet, recently divorced, vulnerable and falling for David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg), 15 years younger and himself a bit confused, not to mention shy around women. Thank goodness for Rafi's therapist, Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep), who urges her patient to seize the moment. Less sanguine is David's mom, who keeps pressuring him to find a nice Jewish girl, which Rafi is not, and settle down. Maybe this is a good time to point out David's mom and Rafi's therapist are the same person. Therapists may take a dim view of Prime, which features some of the worst therapeutic advice ever to appear onscreen. Just about everyone else will be too busy chuckling to care. (C.K.) PG-13 105 minutes B

Roll Bounce, -- with Bow Wow as a kid struggling to establish himself on the roller rink and within his family, is a nostalgia-tinged look at being young and finding all the happiness you need is skates and good friends. (C.K.) PG-13 107 minutes B

Saw II, -- a horror film decidedly not for the squeamish, brings back the Jigsaw Killer, unmasked near the end of the first film as a dying cancer patient determined to take life from those he believes don't deserve it. Jigsaw locks eight people in a house full of booby traps. They have two hours to get out before dying from nerve gas. Saw II is decidedly, disturbingly and devotedly gruesome. And yet, there's an honesty to the film that elevates it a cut above standard slasher fare. (C.K.) R 93 minutes B-

Shopgirl -- presents itself as a modern, thoughtful rumination on today's dating scene, and posits the idea -- hard for some people to accept, I'm sure -- that the best person out there may not be the best person for you. But there's a central dishonesty that undercuts much of what the film is trying to do and renders moot much of what it is trying to say. Still, the acting is superb, especially Claire Danes as the title character, an introvert working the glove counter at Saks who has to choose between a perpetual adolescent who loves her (Jason Schwartzman) and a rich smoothie (Steve Martin) who may not -- but lavishes on the attention. (C.K.) R 104 minutes B

Two for the Money -- should be seen by anyone who longs to watch Al Pacino overact. Pacino plays a high-rolling bookie who recruits rube Matthew McConaughey to join his bookmaking operation. Pacino is really just a blowhard, while McConaughey relies too much on his killer pecs and winsome smile to make his character work, or make his inevitable fall from grace all that tragic. (C.K.) R 120 minutes C+

Ushpizin -- , a modern-day fable set in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, immerses its audience in a world few will have experienced, with results both life-affirming and surprisingly comedic. Shuli Rand, who left acting several years ago to embrace the Orthodox life, stars as the devoutly religious Moshe Bellanga, facing the most depressing holidays of his life: he's poor, he doesn't have the son he's been wanting for so long, and he and his wife are having trouble reconciling their piety and faith with their lot in life. So they pray to God for a miracle ... and get it, although at the possible cost of their marriage. With heartfelt acting and refreshing whimsy, Ushpizin entrances its audience, proving that, Jew or gentile, a good story well told is a thing to be cherished. (C.K.) PG 90 minutes B+

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