The Baltimore Sun

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach unless noted. Full reviews are at baltimore

American Gangster -- A Harlem, N.Y., criminal mastermind puts together a heroin operation with drugs smuggled out of Vietnam in soldiers' coffins and a wholesome army of outlaws. It plays like a deluxe network-TV miniseries, but with all the nudity, profanity and gore the networks would cut out. (M.S.) R 160 minutes C+

Bee Movie -- Jerry Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson, a squat, big-eyed buzzer, attempts to break out of a job stirring honey in the hive and ends up falling for a human florist (Renee Zellweger). It's Seinfeld's amiably bent view of bee-ness that supplies this film with its modest charm. (M.S.) PG 90 minutes B-

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead -- Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an overweight would-be criminal mastermind who ropes his alimony-poor brother (Ethan Hawke) into trying to stick up a mom-and-pop jewelry store owned by their own mom and pop (Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney). The movie has all the elements of black comedy, but it isn't laugh-out-loud funny; it's brutal and punishing, the psychological equivalent of a torture film. The ensemble goes so far into their roles that you feel their sweat through your own pores. (M.S.) R 123 minutes B-

Control -- locates the raw lyric impulse in post-punk rock as it tells the story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer and songwriter for Joy Division, who committed suicide in 1980. Even if you have no interest in Joy Division, this picture is worth seeing for the unsentimental empathy and passion of the moviemaking and performances. (M.S.) R 121 minutes A-

Fred Claus -- Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) agrees to lend his ne'er-do-well brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) the money to open an off-track betting office in Chicago if Fred helps with the holiday rush up at the North Pole. This movie will do anything for a laugh or a tear, but doesn't get any laughs or tears; against all odds, though, Giamatti makes a superb St. Nick. (M.S.) PG 116 minutes D+

Gone Baby Gone -- Private eye Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) struggles to crack the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl from the rough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Director Ben Affleck skillfully focuses on the tragedy and mordant comedy of urban corruption and decline, and the blunders and debacles of good guys and bad guys. The result is a compelling, sometimes terrifying and, on occasion, bleakly funny urban mystery about failure. (M.S.) R 114 minutes B+

Lions for Lambs -- College professor Robert Redford tries to push a complacent frat boy (Andrew Garfield) into some commitment to civic life, while Tom Cruise, as a hotshot Republican senator, shops a scoop about a bold strategic change in Afghanistan to a seasoned journalist (Meryl Streep). The problem with this film isn't its political engagement but its cinematic disengagement: It would have been more effective as a radio play. (M.S.) R 88 minutes C

Michael Clayton -- Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer for a New York corporate law firm, trying to stay alive (and solvent) while protecting a colleague (Tom Wilkinson) who's gone nuts defending a heartless agrichemical giant. This movie is that scintillating and rare pop-culture creation - a thriller about a morally complicated character - and Clooney is gritty and majestic as a fellow who's not as put-together as he looks. (M.S.) R 119 minutes A

30 Days of Night -- A band of vampires descends on Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, just when the December sun is about to set and plunge it into monthlong night. The film is seductive in its buildup but overall as subtle and, alas, as humorless as a hatchet to the brain. (M.S.) R 113 minutes C+

We Own the Night -- Father and son New York City policemen (Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall) and a black-sheep club-manager brother (Joaquin Phoenix) go up against the Russian mob in 1988. Writer-director James Gray relishes but never illuminates the psychological mess of one son (Wahlberg) who tries too hard to fill his father's work shoes and another (Phoenix) who has gone screaming in the other direction, partying all along the way. (M.S.) R 117 minutes C-

Wristcutters: A Love Story -- Patrick Fugit plays a young man who kills himself out of heartbreak and winds up in an odd little corner of the afterlife reserved for suicides: the seedier parts of Los Angeles and the Southern California desert. It's a lovely-loony picture about people who learn that affection, companionship and love can be found even in limbo. (M.S.) R 88 minutes A-

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