the best of the rest

The Baltimore Sun

Capsules by Michael Sragow. Full reviews are at

Elegy: *** An aging critic and academic (Ben Kingsley) sees an intoxicatingly beautiful student (Penelope Cruz) as his last chance for ecstasy; Kingsley is miscast, but Cruz and the supporting players (Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard and Dennis Hopper) are superb. R 107 minutes

Frozen River : *** This solid, satisfying, ruthlessly character-driven thriller focuses an unblinking eye on the fraying lives of native Americans and struggling whites living in and around the Mohawk Reservation on the New York-Canada border. It creates a charged emotional atmosphere in which you feel anything can happen. And as a working-class mother who smuggles illegal immigrants across the frozen St. Lawrence River, Melissa Leo brings a ferocious brusqueness to a downward-spiraling character and is never less than galvanic. R 97 minutes

Hamlet 2: *** 1/2 The drama coach at a Tucson, Ariz., high school tries to save his program by mounting the wildly ambitious Hamlet 2 - like The Godfather Part II, both a sequel and a prequel to a work of genius. Ace British comic actor Steve Coogan gets his best chance so far to strut his smart-silly stuff in an American movie, and he nails it; he creates a character whose exuberance knows no limits. Neither does his bad taste. R 92 minutes

Hellboy II: The Golden Army: *** Guillermo del Toro designs this follow-up to his 2004 Hellboy as a battle between the magical and fearsome creatures who roamed J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and C.S. Lewis' Narnia and a handful of agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, including the burly red demon Hellboy (Ron Perlman). Del Toro stuffs the film with wit and wonderments. Yet, it often plays like a lovingly crafted synthesis of the superhero and fantasy sagas we've been seeing all decade and especially this summer. PG-13 120 minutes

Kung Fu Panda: *** Reared to be a noodle maker, a jovial panda named Po (Jack Black), the hero of this martial-arts cartoon, leaps into the chop-socky big leagues when he accidentally wins a competition to find the Dragon Warrior destined to defeat an evil snow leopard. The film hits its stride when Po goes one on one with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a red panda who is as fleet and sharp as Po is roly-poly and fuzzy. Overall, it has a cuddly kapow. PG 88 minutes

Man on Wire: **** This documentary pays tribute to the high-wire walker Philippe Petit, who in 1974 plotted and executed a plan to walk between the tops of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Thanks to the suspenseful, sensuous direction of James Marsh, Petit's accomplishment registers, in its own balletic way, as potently as King Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State Building - and Petit doesn't fall off. PG-13 90 minutes

Star Wars: The Clone Wars : ** 1/2 Lucasfilm's new feature-length cartoon gives fanboys and fangirls their chance to see sweeping big-screen images of the Jedi using their clone armies to protect the Republic against the Dark Lords of the Sith and their droid armies. It's not exactly thrilling, and it doesn't cover much new ground, but young audiences will lap it up like ice cream, and its good humor and faith in the Force will put adults in a Saturday-morning frame of mind, even at midnight showings. PG 98 minutes

Step Brothers : ** 1/2 Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star as 40-year-old men who act like 12-year-olds; when their single parents marry, they go through a ticklish parody of buddy-movie emotions. The film is wildly erratic and just outrageous enough to acquire a cult. It's a slacker farce done as performance art and a midnight movie you can catch at a matinee. R 95 minutes

Tell No One : **** This film is a terrific, humane suspense film. On the eighth anniversary of his wife's abduction and apparent murder, a Paris-based pediatrician (Francois Cluzet) receives an e-mail containing a link to a video Web site on which he thinks he spots her alive. The e-mail comes with the warning "tell no one," because people will be watching. The movie, like its hero, is shrewd about the small lies and mini-corruptions that can lead to major crimes. Unrated 125 minutes

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: **** In seductive Barcelona, romantic complications swirl around an artist (Scarlett Johansson), a grad student (Rebecca Hall), a painter with a past (Javier Bardem) and the painter's ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Woody Allen's affectionate, enlightening and blissfully entertaining movie shows how much residue sexual desire or experience leaves in the brain and gut and heart. It's a summery idyll. PG-13 97 minutes

Wanted: *** 1/2 This movie goes postal with wireless speed. It's a tall tale of skyscraper proportions: the gory story of a put-upon accountant (James McAvoy) who discovers that he's the son of a top assassin in a secret world of super-assassins. The film pulls you by the scruff of the neck and makes you thankful for it. Angelina Jolie reminds you of why she is a movie star with her athletic grace and daring, and McAvoy roots the wildest deeds (and misdeeds) in extreme emotion. R 110 minutes

no screening

Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys: , a comedy starring Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard, was not screened for critics.

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