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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. Director Ang Lee expands Annie Proulx's compact short story 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 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. (M.S.) R 111 minutes A-

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 parallel world of Narnia, this movie has everything a first-rate fantasy should have, including sweep, color and clarity. (M.S.) PG 140 minutes A

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. The film will leave audiences impressed but not inspired. (C.K.) PG 106 minutes C

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 the story of what happens after Red has her infamous encounter with the wolf, as cops and detectives case the crime scene to figure out what happened. Everyone - 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. (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 department-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. 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, all will be well with the cinematic world. (C.K.) PG-13 112 minutes B

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World -- offers Albert Brooks as Albert Brooks, a stand-up comic asked by the U.S. government to find out what makes Muslims laugh, on the theory that sharing a laugh or two will help bring our cultures together. The title suggests potentially incendiary mischief, but all the film delivers is Brooks going to India and telling his audience a bunch of bad jokes, at which they do not laugh. Which proves, I guess, that a bad joke is a bad joke is a bad joke. (C.K.) PG-13 98 minutes C-

Match Point -- features a sizzling performance by Scarlett Johansson - she brings down this homicidal London-set romance like a match igniting a Covent Garden opera house of cards. As if the prominent placement of Crime and Punishment weren't enough to foreshadow gloom and doom, an onslaught of arias indicates that nothing will be easy for Johansson's struggling American actress and her ambitious Irish lover (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). (M.S.) R 124 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 in 1972. 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 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 pseudo-humanistic propaganda. (M.S.) R 160 minutes C-

The New World -- presents the founding of the Virginia colony at Jamestown in 1607 and the evolution of its savior, Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), from Indian princess to British tobacco-grower's wife, as a trip though a time tunnel. It's both disorienting and revelatory, and, in the end, wonderful. The writer-director, Terrence Malick, ignores the clarity and the pleasures of storytelling; instead, he surrounds his players in a dense sensory environment. (M.S.) PG-13 136 minutes A-

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. 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's 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 -- is an exercise in futility posing as a modernistic thriller. George Clooney is an out-of-favor CIA agent, Matt Damon an international finance whiz grieving for his son, and Jeffrey Wright is a lawyer ordered by his boss (Christopher Plummer) to vet an oil merger - but also to make sure he paints a good face on it. 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 the story of college-age chums who go backpacking in the outback. Returning to their car, they're unable to get it started. A grinning local offers to drag their car to his home and fix it. You've probably figured out that this guy is not the good Samaritan he initially appears to be. (C.K.) R 99 minutes D

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