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THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

Aquamarine -- is a movie only 14-year-old girls can love. Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna Levesque) are bumming. Hailey's mom has landed a dream job in Australia. Then a storm deposits a mermaid (Sara Paxton) in their Florida pool. She must find someone to love her in three days or marry her father's pick. For their help, she'll trade one wish. But the boy Aquamarine wants is Raymond (Jake McDorman), whom both girls have a crush on. (C.K.) Rated PG 100 minutes B-

The Boys of Baraka -- provides eloquent and infuriating testimony to the failures of the Baltimore public school system. But the two-year program it's based on - sending a score of 12- and 13-year-old African-American boys to a boarding school in Kenya - remains a sign of hope, even after the program disintegrates. And the movie is a sign of hope, too. It's unceasingly involving and entertaining. (M.S.) Unrated 84 minutes A

Brokeback Mountain -- stars Heath Ledger as the ranch-hand lover of rodeo-man Jake Gyllenhaal. After their first summer of love, they marry 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 human 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+

Curious George -- gives the fabled Man in the Yellow Hat a name (Ted), but otherwise all is as it should be in this winsome adaptation of H.A. and Margret Rey's tales of a mischievous monkey and his innocent adventures. The story is about Ted's search in Africa for a giant idol that will save his museum from bankruptcy and the little monkey who follows him home. Curious George is a charmer. (C.K.) G 87 minutes B

Dave Chappelle's Block Party -- records the comic's attempt to stage his dream rap concert on a Brooklyn corner, shooting it in sherbety colors and editing it in an ice-cream swirl. Chappelle doesn't just generate laughs: He inspires wonder and delight. He's an observational comic with a drawling syntax almost as sly as Mark Twain's. (M.S.) R 100 minutes B+

Eight Below, -- in which eight sled dogs are stranded in the frozen Antarctic, should win over all but the determinedly cynical. Guide Jerry Smith (Paul Walker) takes a scientist to look for meteorites. When a storm hits, the two are saved by their dogs, which they are then forced to leave behind. Guilt-ridden, Smith tries to return for them. The dogs are gorgeous, loyal and whip-smart. Sure, the movie's manipulative, but at least it's expertly manipulative. (C.K.) PG 112 minutes B

Failure to Launch -- offers Matthew McConaughey as Tripp, a 35-year-old yacht broker who still lives at home. Though they don't really mind having Tripp around, Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) eventually hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who makes a living out of luring overgrown boys out of parents' houses. Failure to Launch resorts to mismatched-couple formulas. But it also keeps the atmosphere light and the laughter steady. (C.K.) PG-13 95 minutes. B

Final Destination 3 -- continues the movie franchise in which some teen and a group of his or her friends somehow cheat death, only to discover soon thereafter that the Grim Reaper doesn't like taking no for an answer. As the movie progresses, the teens meet their ends in grisly ways. Granted, there's a certain perverse fun in trying to outguess a movie like this. But this is the third trip to the same cinematic trough, and it's hard to believe even hard-core fans aren't getting a little tired of the repetition. (C.K.) R 90 minutes C

Find Me Guilty -- stars Vin Diesel in the off-type role of mobster Giacomo "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio, who served as his own counsel during the longest criminal trial in U.S. history. Jackie Dee is a stand-up guy who turns into a stand-up comic in the courtroom. He seduces the jury with his joshing and his display of honor among thieves (and racketeers and murderers). He doesn't win over the movie audience: This film flat-lines early. (M.S.) R 124 minutes C

Firewall -- offers competently doctored formula: Grade B pap with a violent mickey in it. As a computer security V.P. for a bank, battling a thief who locks down his family, Harrison Ford has the reliability and simple charm of the old Timex watch: He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (M.S.) PG-13 106 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

Inside Man -- is a slick, briskly paced tale of bank robbers who think they're at least twice as smart as everybody else, and maybe are. It's also among Spike Lee's best works, benefiting from his unrivaled ability to portray his native New York onscreen. Issues of race, religion and culture percolate just under the surface, in ways that seem both real and important to the story. Clive Owen is the robber determined that everyone play his game, Denzel Washington the detective assigned to the case and Jodie Foster a mysterious operative working desperately to keep something inside one of the bank's safety-depsoit boxes from ever coming out. (C.K.) R 129 mins. B+

The Libertine -- crashes to Earth with a sickening thud. As degenerate John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester and Charles II's sometime-ally in the House of Lords, Johnny Depp brings neither debauched grace nor lucidity to this wastrel. And John Malkovich, as the King, lets his false nose, sickly skin and wig do most of the acting. (M.S.) R 130 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. Nanny McPhee's strange 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

Neil Young: Heart of Gold -- turns two Young performances into an intimate epic. Director Jonathan Demme, like his star, knows the power of plain utterance. But to generate this movie's tsunami of emotion, Demme doesn't rely on the yearning that pours out from Young's Prairie Wind album. Shot by shot, choice by choice, he magnifies the feelings and multiplies the meanings of each verse or chord, each glance between performers or faraway look in their eyes. The result is a vision of American life as moving, funny and rueful as John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. (M.S.) PG 103 minutes A+

The Pink Panther -- features Steve Martin tying himself into a knot trying to play Inspector Clouseau. Seeing Martin wreak changes on a classic slapstick character is like watching a lab experiment in a comedy clinic. Martin is so inherently graceful, dance-like and cerebral that when he plays clumsy the laughs must derive from bizarre choreography, not inspired, spontaneous idiocy. And even that happens only a few times here. (M.S.) PG 95 minutes C

She's the Man -- centers on spunky, soccer-loving Viola (Amanda Bynes), who strains an audience's credulity with her impersonation of a frisky teenage male. She pastes on wispy fake sideburns, battens down her breasts, wears a soup-bowl-haircut wig and drawls like Gomer Pyle. Bynes' performance is so bumptious it makes you hunger for the seasoned craft of a Lindsay Lohan. (M.S.) PG-13. 105 minutes. D

16 Blocks -- marks an intriguing new chapter in an established actor's career and an exciting milestone in that of a relative newcomer. The veteran would be Bruce Willis, here as boozy cop Jack Mosley, who gets a shot at redemption. Mos Def is Eddie Bunker, a small-time hood who's decided to turn his life around. Mosley's assignment is to take Eddie from the station to the courthouse just 16 blocks away. But Eddie's the key witness in a police-corruption case, and a bunch of cops are determined to see he doesn't make it alive. (C.K.) PG-13 105 minutes B+

Thank You for Smoking, -- a barbed satire from writer-director Jason Reitman, stars Aaron Eckhart as the world's most successful (and least contrite) big-tobacco lobbyist. It aims equally at smoking and sanctimony, but also at journalists, politicians, spin-doctors, grade-school career days and just about every other target in sight. Even while laughing at all the well-deserved jibes, one can't help but wonder where Reitman's sympathies rest. Everything gets skewered; the film offers plenty to root against, but counterbalances that abundance with little to root for. That said, it's hard to think of a film since Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog that so devastatingly lampoons the moral ambiguity it sees at the heart of corporate America. (C.K.) R 92 mins. B

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada -- stars Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) as a Texas ranch hand who seeks justice for the killing of his Mexican best friend (the Melquiades Estrada of the title, played by Julio Cesar Cedillo) and fulfills a promise to return him to rural Mexico. Jones' quest becomes a civic-minded riff on Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Too bad the rotting-corpse grotesquerie doesn't mesh with fables of brotherly love and a racist sadist getting his comeuppance and redemption. (M.S.) R 121 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+

V for Vendetta -- reconfirms the Wachowski brothers' status as our reigning masters of murk. You've got to picture them and their director, James McTeigue, squealing like three witches in Macbeth as they prepared their adaptation of the Alan Moore-David Lloyd graphic novel about a rabble-rousing vigilante - a full-body burn victim who wields daggers and swords and wears the mask and costume of Guy Fawkes - at odds with a totalitarian England. They succeed at sustaining a spectacular jet-black-comic setup for voluptuous slashings and explosions. (M.S.) R 132 minutes. B+

Why We Fight -- examines the American way of war with the warmth and pace of a first-rate personal essay. Director Eugene Jarecki interviews men and women across the social-political spectrum, from bomber pilots proud of their missions to battlefield and Pentagon veterans who question their past service, and from crafters of neoconservative policy like Richard Perle to longtime critics of American conduct like Gore Vidal. Jarecki treats each figure respectfully, fomenting discussions that spill out of the theater and follow you home. (M.S.) PG-13 98 minutes. A

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