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THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

Brokeback Mountain, -- stars Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar, the ranch-hand lover of small-time rodeo-man Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). After their first summer of love, 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 expands Annie Proulx's blessedly compact short story - an old-fashioned male weepie, plus sex - into a high-plains drifter of a movie. It's so lugubrious you have to wonder: Is Ang short for Angst? (M.S.) R 134 minutes C

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+

Casanova -- stars Heath Ledger as the 18th-century lothario who tumbles for a bold feminist named Francesca (Sienna Miller). The clever script involves a multitude of masquerades. But director Lasse Hallstrom's grace keeps subplots from registering as "complications." They're more like sumptuous chutes and ladders that turn the canalworks of Venice into a romantic slip 'n' slide. In its own lighthearted, coruscating fashion, this movie is a carnival of the emotions. (M.S.) R 111 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. (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. The movie is foremost a success because of surging, flavorful action and imagery. But it's also downright ennobling. 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 sixty- something 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 his every instinct moves him to celebrate the Family Stone and put down Parker. Luckily, Keaton triumphs over the material. (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 and Jim Carrey appear made for each other. But they're lost in a procession of hit-or-miss touches that cancel each other out. (M.S.) PG-13 85 minutes C+

Glory Road, -- the annual inspirational sports movie from Disney, stars Josh Lucas as Texas Western basketball coach Don Haskins, and tells the tale of how he, as a first-year coach in 1966, recruited a bunch of black players and took his team all the way to the NCAA championship, making history as the first tournament finalist to field an all-black starting five. But director James Gartner saps the life from the story and turns his film into more of a lecture than a movie. We're told and told about how great these guys were, about the obstacles they had to overcome, both on the court and in society. But that passion rarely shows up onscreen. Even during the basketball games, it's left to the play-by-play announcers to point up the team's greatness. The film will leave audiences impressed, but not inspired. (C.K.) PG 106 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-

Hoodwinked -- answers the question: What would have happened had Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon) and Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle) collaborated on an animated movie? It's the story of Little Red Riding Hood. No, it's actually the story of what happens after Little Red Riding Hood and her infamous encounter with the wolf, as cops and detectives case the crime scene to figure out what happened. Everyone - including Red, the Wolf, Grandma and an ax-wielding woodsman - tells a different version. What ends up onscreen is a low-level hoot, a piece of welcome dementia that refuses to take anything seriously. Ward would be proud. And here's betting Kurosawa would let loose with a few chuckles. (C.K.) PG 80 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. 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+

Last Holiday -- is best when it matches the endearingly low-key performance of its star, Queen Latifah, who ratchets down her typically outsized persona to great effect in this comedy focusing on a departmnent-store clerk who, discovering she has only weeks to live, decides to live it up at a fancy European resort. The film's genius is that her decision doesn't make her nasty or boorish or in any way insufferable; but instead lets her finally appreciate and enjoy who she is. As does almost everyone else at the resort, where she is mistaken for a hotshot VIP. (Timothy Hutton egregiously overplays as the real hotshot VIP who doesn't take to her populist ways.) Unfortunately, director Wayne Wang tends to slip into slapstick mode. When he does, my best advice is: Go for the popcorn. By the time you come back, Last Holiday will be back on track, Latifah will be back on the screen and all will be well with the cinematic world. (C.K.) PG-13 112 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 doesn't do what he 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 ostensibly depicting 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, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony 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 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 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+

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

Yours, Mine and Ours -- updates the 1968 comedy that featured Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball as middle-aged newlyweds with 18 kids between them. Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid are the parents of this expansive family this go-round, but they lack the cinematic heft necessary to make a slight film like this work. (C.K.) PG 90 mins. C-

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