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THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

Annapolis -- wasn't shot in Annapolis and doesn't have an original thought in its head. James Franco is Jake Huard, son of a neglectful, working-class father. Determined not to spend his life in a factory, Jake gets an appointment to the Naval Academy. Those who have seen An Officer and a Gentleman know the rest. Once there, Jake faces nearly insurmountable odds, most the result of his uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Then come the brigade boxing matches, through which he can prove his mettle and fitness to serve. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes C

Ballets Russes -- rouses the adrenaline surge rock fans associate with "battles of the bands" when it details the competition that ensued after clashing personalities, intent on reviving Sergei Diaghilev's famous troupe, split into the "Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo" and "Original Ballet Russe." Moviemakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine achieve an epic tapestry of artists expanding boundaries of their chosen form. (M.S.) Unrated 118 minutes A+

Brokeback Mountain -- stars Heath Ledger as the ranch-hand lover of rodeo-man Jake Gyllenhaal. After their first summer of love, they take wives and start families, but reconnect after four years. Soon they're going on "fishing trips" and comparing notes on lives of quiet desperation. The result is as close to a still life as you can get with live characters. (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 "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 a fictionalized version of the 18th-century lothario; here he tumbles for the feminist 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. As it moves from the Battle of Britain to a war between good and evil in the parallel world of Narnia, this film has everything a first-rate fantasy should have, including sweep, color and clarity. But it's also downright ennobling. It reminds us of the true meaning of "sacrifice." (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: CEO greed is bad. The filmmakers think laid-off-employee greed is not as bad - and that's where they go wrong. Tea Leoni and Jim Carrey appear made for each other. But their talents get lost in a procession of hit-or-miss touches. (M.S.) PG-13 85 minutes C+

Glory Road -- stars Josh Lucas as Texas Western basketball coach Don Haskins, who, in 1966, recruited a bunch of black players and took his team to the NCAA championship. But it's more a lecture than a movie. We're told about obstacles they overcame, on the court and in society. But that passion rarely shows up onscreen. (C.K.) PG 106 minutes C

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- pits Harry and pals against the turmoil of teen crushes and competition under the gaze of the evil Lord Voldemort. As Hermione, Emma Watson lets all the comic-dramatic complications of her age play out across her face. Otherwise, the action dominates the characters. Director Mike Newell doesn't cheat the Potter audience. He doesn't wow it, either. (M.S.) PG-13. 157 minutes B-

Hoodwinked -- is 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. What ends up onscreen is a low-level hoot. (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. Yet whenever the spectacle grows wearying, the sight of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), the courageous blonde who entrances the gorilla, supplies a shot of adrenaline. (M.S.) PG-13 187 minutes B+

Last Holiday -- is best when it matches the endearingly low-key performance of Queen Latifah, who ratchets down her outsized persona to great effect in this comedy about a store clerk who, discovering she has only weeks to live, decides to live it up at a European resort. The film's genius is that her decision doesn't make her in any way insufferable; but instead lets her finally enjoy who she is. (C.K.) PG-13 112 minutes B

The Matador -- is a lewd shaggy-dog tale with a waggish ending; it derives a mild charge from the prospect that its canine-like antihero might actually contract rabies. Pierce Brosnan plunges into the depiction of a hired killer gone haywire with self-satire and gusto. But most laughs come from Greg Kinnear's portrait of a nice-guy businessman who attempts to square his fellowship with his morality as he gets caught up in this hit man's seedy yet still exotic glamour. (M.S.) R 95 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. An onslaught of arias indicates that nothing will be easy for her struggling American actress and her ambitious Irish lover (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). But Johansson bequeaths the welcome sight of a talent in full bloom to this wilted dark whimsy of a movie. (M.S.) R 124 minutes C

Memoirs of a Geisha -- presents an astounding insider's look at the life of a geisha: women trained to give pleasure to a man without being a prostitute, to stylize her appearance into a stunning figment of beauty. Director Rob Marshall mounts an elegant production. But he doesn't do what he really must to put Arthur Golden's 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+

Mrs. Henderson Presents -- stars Judi Dench as a wealthy widow and Bob Hoskins as her music-hall impresario; together they offer titillation for the hoity-toity and hoi polloi as breadlines grow and the Nazi threat erupts into the Battle of Britain. That's what director Stephen Frears and writer Martin Sherman bequeath to contemporary moviegoers, too: a humorous bounty of flesh and fantasy. (M.S.) R 102 minutes B+

Munich -- is a sermonizing anti-thriller ostensibly depicting the aftermath to the Palestinian terrorist slaughter of 11 Israeli Olympians 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 pseudo-humanistic propaganda. (M.S.) R 160 minutes C-

Nanny McPhee -- offers a great time to be had at the movies. Emma Thompson stars in repulsive makeup as a nanny who shows up to care for the unruly children of widower Mr. Brown (Colin Firth), a bankrupt mortician. He has accepted the financial help of autocratic Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury), who has one condition: that he marry again. That doesn't sit well with his kids. Nanny McPhee's vaguely supernatural powers soon cow the kids into submission. Then Mr. Brown proposes to a horrible woman from town. Whatever will they do? (C.K.) PG 97 minutes B

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 through a time tunnel. It's both disorienting and revelatory, and, in the end, wonderful. (M.S.) PG-13 136 minutes A-

Something New -- tackles an important social and cultural issue: interracial dating in a culture where color-blindness is still a far-off goal. Sanaa Lathan is Kenya McQueen, a career-obsessed financial consultant who notices that she's on the fast track alone. The she meets Brian (Simon Baker), a handsome, absolutely wonderful guy. It doesn't take long for Kenya to realize that Brian is one fine catch. Except that she's black, and he's white. Something New doesn't live up to its title; it is the sort of intimate love story that Hollywood has been churning out for years. But it does offer that most pleasant and valuable of viewing experiences: A message movie in which story and character come first. (C.K.) PG-13 100 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 and 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 to vet an oil merger. The movie comes together like a nihilistic jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces removed for that indefinable dash of pseudo-density. (M.S.) R 126 minutes C+

Transamerica -- courses on the jet-stream of Felicity Huffman's performance as Stanley "Bree" Osbourne, a man determined to become a woman. With humor and sanity, Huffman portrays a quest for self-definition without pleading for sympathy or selling a panacea. (M.S.) R 103 minutes B+

The World's Fastest Indian, -- based on the real life of Kiwi biker Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins), puts a burst of warmth into that by-now too-familiar genre, the inspirational biopic. Both handmade and souped-up, it beautifully renders two types of camaraderie: the bonds among eccentrics and the fellowship of speed. (M.S.) PG-13 127 minutes B+

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