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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.

Brokeback Mountain, -- an overlong and way-too-polite tale of forbidden passion on the range, stars a terribly over-emphatic Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar, the ranch-hand lover of small-time rodeo-man Jack Twist (the excellent Jake Gyllenhaal). Ennis and Jack start families with their respective wives (Michelle Williams as Alma and Anne Hathaway as Lureen), but reconnect after four years. Soon they're taking semiannual "fishing trips" and comparing notes on lives of quiet desperation. It's like a gay Western version of that dinner-theater standby Same Time, Next Year - without the humor and with bits of better fiction mixed in. Director Ang Lee and his celebrated screenwriters, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, set out to make an old-fashioned male weepie in the grand manner, plus sex. They expand Annie Proulx's blessedly compact short story into a high-plains drifter of a movie. It's so lugubrious I had to wonder: Is Ang short for Angst? (M.S.) R 134 minutes C

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Now Playing 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 "nonfiction novel" about a Kansas murder. As Capote bonds with killer Perry Smith, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the writer from tenderness to brute manipulation. He creates the odyssey of a man who achieves a self-knowledge that defeats instead of strengthens him. (M.S.) R 114 minutes A+

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 -- applies everything with a trowel. The sentiment, the cuteness, the macho silliness, the family bonding, even Hilary Duff's makeup. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt are back as the Bakers, while Duff, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, et al. are back as their 12 kids, all gathering for one final family vacation. Unfortunately, they run into their old rivals, the Murtaugh clan (headed by Eugene Levy). If the setup sounds trite, the payoff is simply not funny, unless your idea of great is a dog breaking lots of priceless china. (C.K.) PG 94 minutes D

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- plummets into an imaginative landscape as large as all creation - and never slackens its barreling pace or shrinks its panoramic scope. As it moves from the Battle of Britain to an apocalyptic war between good and evil in the bizarre parallel world of Narnia, this movie has everything a first-rate fantasy should have, including sweep, color and clarity. Georgie Henley as little Lucy Pevensie and Tilda Swinton as Jadis, the White Witch, supply indelible performances. The movie is foremost a success because of surging, flavorful action and imagery. But it's also downright ennobling. It renews a devalued word. It reminds us of the true meaning of "sacrifice." (M.S.) PG 140 minutes A

The Family Stone -- pits a stick-up-her-spine Manhattan career woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) against the title clan, a boho New England family headed by sixtysomething college professor Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) and his wife, Sybil (Diane Keaton). Writer-director Thomas Bezucha may feel he's pointing out the irony of college-town progressives closing ranks against anyone with opposite values. But this writer-director's every instinct moves him to celebrate the Family Stone and put down Parker. Luckily, and against all odds, Keaton triumphs over the material: Her artistry overflows with generosity. (M.S.) PG-13 102 minutes C

Fun With Dick and Jane -- is a liberal-concept comedy that doesn't stray far from its simple message. The moviemakers think CEO greed is bad. They think laid-off-employee greed is not as bad, and funnier - and that's where they go wrong. Tea Leoni, who combines the talents of a crazy comic with those of a gorgeously bent straight gal, and Jim Carrey, Mr. Malleable, appear made for each other. But as social commentary, the film wears Leno-thin. And as a big-screen sitcom, it's a procession of hit-or-miss touches that cancel each other out. (M.S.) PG-13 85 minutes C+

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- pits Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and pals Hermione and Ron against the turmoil of teenage crushes and competition under the gaze of the evil, and increasingly close, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). As Hermione, Emma Watson lets all the comic-dramatic complications of her age play out across her face. Otherwise, the action dominates the characters - and director Mike Newell stages it with kitschy abandon. He doesn't cheat the Potter audience. Yet I don't think he wows it, either. (M.S.) PG-13. 157 minutes B-

Just Friends -- works whenever the hilarious Anna Faris is onscreen, channeling every blond pop tart who ever flounced her way into the modern consciousness. Ever-whining, ever-tawdry, Faris' Samantha James is a comic creation of manic beauty. Unfortunately, the film is built around Ryan Reynolds, as a former fat kid who's spent the better part of his life pining for the beautiful girl next door (Amy Smart). Reynolds makes his character smarmy and clueless, leaving the audience unable to root for him, much less laugh at his exploits. (C.K.) PG-13 96 minutes C+

King Kong, -- in Peter Jackson's hugely entertaining, undeniably erratic remake, resembles a DC Comics super ape. He boasts the brainpan of Gorilla Grodd and a scrambled version of Superman's power menu. Jackson overstuffs the film with action set pieces, including a superfluous arachnid jamboree. Yet whenever the spectacle grows wearying, the sight of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), the courageous blonde who entrances the mountainous gorilla, supplies a shot of adrenaline. Watts scales dizzying new emotional heights for the whole venerable Kong fable. When it comes to what's great about this movie, it's not the harum-scarum: it's the girl. (M.S.) PG-13 187 minutes B+

Memoirs of a Geisha -- presents an astounding insider's look at the life of a geisha: a woman trained to give pleasure to a man without being a prostitute, to stylize her own appearance into a stunning figment of imaginative beauty and to imbue each action with a carefully choreographed grace. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) mounts an elegant production. But he and his screenwriters don't do what they really must to put Arthur Golden's research-heavy novel on its feet: churn up a soap opera that, as written, doesn't achieve low-to-medium suds. (M.S.) PG-13 137 minutes. C+

Munich -- is a turgid, sermonizing anti-thriller. Steven Spielberg and his screenwriter, Tony Kushner (Angels in America), ostensibly depict the aftermath to the Palestinian terrorist slaughter of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic squad during the 1972 Summer Games. But from the moment the Israelis decide Munich has changed everything to the final shot of the World Trade Center, Spielberg and Kushner look in history's rear-view mirror and say, "Munich may be closer to 9/11 than it appears." They reduce Israel's response to the massacre to an analogy of America's response to al-Qaida. This is a subject for historical debate, not this movie's tortured, pseudo-humanistic propaganda. (M.S.) R 160 minutes C-

The Producers -- is like a bustling Al Hirschfeld cartoon of the Great White Way brought to uproarious and untidy life. Mel Brooks' musical comedy expansion of his 1968 cult farce about producers who think they can make more money with a flop than with a hit comes to the screen as a loving burlesque caricature of Broadway. It captures much of the verve and spice that, along with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, made Brooks' musical version a Broadway stage smash 33 years later. Those who've seen the stage production will doubtless get a kick - make that a whole chorus line of kicks - from the returning cast members, including Lane, Broderick, Gary Beach as queenly Broadway director Roger De Bris and Roger Bart as his "common-law assistant," Carmen Ghia. And Will Ferrell should win over Ferrell nonbelievers with his stand-out, far-from-stand-up performance as Hitler-loving playwright Franz Liebkind. (M.S.) PG-13 134 minutes B

The Ringer -- would be one for the ages, if the movie were as funny as it is well-meaning. Johnny Knoxville plays Steve Barker, who's in a fix: he needs quick cash to pay a friend's medical bills. The solution: enter the Special Olympics, where he can assuredly beat the reigning pentathlon champ, Jimmy Washington. All his sleazy Uncle Gary has to do is bet a fortune that Jimmy will lose, and then watch the cash roll in. Fortunately for Steve, the other Olympians are tired of having Jimmy win all the time. They agree not only to keep quiet about the ruse, but also to help Steve in his training. Steve and his new buds, played by a mix of Special Olympians and professional actors, make for quite a crew, their camaraderie seemingly genuine. And despite fears to the contrary, the film doesn't make its mentally challenged characters the butt of the jokes; more often than not, they instigate the humor rather than are victimized by it. Without fail, the movie's characters are human first, disabled or not disabled second. (C.K.) PG-13 93 minutes B-

Rumor Has It -- boasts a sassy setup: What if a confused woman named Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston) discovered that her late mother and her salty, still-kicking grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) were the real-life models for Elaine and Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate? And what if she searched for "Benjamin Braddock," who bedded them both, and found that he's Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner), a San Francisco venture capitalist and Internet guru? (In this version of the story, the Elaine character spurned her bourgeois-renegade lover and wed her conventional fiance.) Screenwriter T.M. Griffin and director Rob Reiner should be charged with criminal neglect and maybe cultural treason for doing so little with their premise. In a slack meandering way, they rework the characters from The Graduate to celebrate cozy domesticity rather than risk and adventure. (M.S.) PG-13 96 minutes C

The Squid and the Whale, -- bitterly funny about divorce, is even sharper and more original about intellectuals and their discontent. Writer-director Noah Baumbach plies the autobiographical fiction-maker's art of making the intimate universal in this rendering of his parents' breakup, set in Brooklyn in 1986. And his cast (Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as the parents, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline as their sons) make you care about their characters' fouled-up feelings. (M.S.) R 80 minutes A-

Syriana, -- named after a think-tank term for a reconstituted Middle East, is an exercise in futility posing as a modernistic thriller. Writer-director Stephen Gaghan jams a diverse group of players inside a jagged-edged, radical-chic plot. George Clooney is an out-of-favor CIA agent, Matt Damon an international finance whiz grieving for his son, and Jeffrey Wright is a Washington lawyer ordered by his boss (Christopher Plummer) to vet an oil merger - but also to make sure he paints a good face on it. Along with a subplot about impoverished Muslim oil workers recruited for suicide bombings, these characters and their storylines merge into a picture of a political-industrial complex on the brink of self-destruction. The movie comes together like a nihilistic jigsaw puzzle - with a few pieces removed for that special, indefinable dash of pseudo-density. (M.S.) R 126 minutes C+

Walk the Line -- uses the real-life stories of country singers Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash to conjure a full and lyrical and improbably persuasive tale of love conquering all. The movie is like one long, beautifully sustained torch song done as a duet. It doesn't demonize Cash for wanting some family of his own before he knows his core identity or his authentic feelings. And the movie doesn't lionize Carter, either: She doesn't know exactly what Cash's demons are. She knows only that if he doesn't get off drugs and change his life, he'll be dead before she lets herself love him. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon act with every bone and inch of flesh and facial plane, and each tone and waver of their voices. (M.S.) PG-13 135 minutes A

Wolf Creek -- is about a weird guy who sadistically kills people. Those who enjoy this kind of movie will doubtless want to experience it again and again. But this is a movie for genre fans only. Based on "actual events" (and the fact that 30,000 Australians are reported missing every year), Wolf Creek is the story of college-age chums who go backpacking together in the outback. Returning to their car, they're unable to get the darn thing started. A grinning local offers to drag them and their car back to his home and effect the necessary repairs. You've probably figured out already that this guy is not the good Samaritan he initially appears to be. Oh, yeah, people die, in ways exceedingly grisly (C.K.) R 99 minutes D

Immortal 'Cats'

CATS - Now and Forever. And ever, apparently.

On Tuesday, a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical lands at the Hippodrome Theatre. The original show turned into a cultural phenomenon, running for 18 years and 7,485 performances on Broadway alone before closing in September 2000 - but not before more than 10 million people saw it.

Including you?

Maybe you saw it a couple - or dozens - of times. Maybe you saw it once and couldn't figure out what the big deal was. Or maybe you have a memory of the show that stayed with you.

Tell us about it. Send an e-mail with your name, a daytime phone number and your brief CATS story to sun.features@baltsun.com. Please send it by noon Monday. Your submission might become part of a story in The Sun.

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