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November 25, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH

Capsules are by critics Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, plus wire services. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Bee Season -- is a drama in which a couple's marriage unravels as a daughter advances in a national spelling bee. While its reverence for language is refreshing, the film ultimately is a letdown. Richard Gere plays Saul, a professor and one of those dads around whom the entire family is collapsing while he remains blissfully unaware. His wife, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), seems vaguely dissatisfied, his daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross), sullen, his son, Aaron (Max Minghella), on the cusp of rebellion. Things change when Eliza wins her class spelling bee, then keeps winning. The look of self-satisfaction on Gere's face says it all, making us understand that Saul is congratulating himself more than his daughter. Things get wrapped up at the national contest, where the family's fate ends up in Eliza's hands. Her solution displays all the trappings of a grand, selfless gesture, but it's tough to say what it accomplishes. Which, sadly, can be said about Bee Season. (C.K.) Rated PG-13 104 minutes C+

Capote -- is a bleakly funny, profoundly unsettling depiction of Truman Capote as a young literary lion, or maybe an overgrown cub, on the scent of his Next Big Thing: a "non-fiction novel" about a Kansas murder. It begins as a deft high comedy about a cosmopolitan man of letters endearing himself to the boondocks. Then it expands into a heart-stabbing, dizzying examination of the exploitation that occurs in friendships, work relations and the connection between a journalist and his subject. As Capote bonds with killer Perry Smith, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the writer from tenderness to brute emotional force and then denial. He creates the odyssey of a man who achieves a self-knowledge that defeats instead of strengthens him. (M.S.) R 114 minutes A+

Chicken Little -- represents Disney's answer to its recent string of so-so animated films: Ditch the traditional hand-drawn animation in favor of computers and bring on that hoariest of animated movie cliches, the adorable-animal flick. The movie, which presents its hero as both an alarmist and a worry to his father, includes labored messages about parental love and believing in yourself.Yes, the story is lame, but that chicken is cute. (C.K.) G 78 minutes C

Derailed -- lands an audience in the puritanical pits. Clive Owen brings off the role of an ineffectual ad exec with a fetching teacher wife (Melissa George) and a model daughter (Addison Timlin) with juvenile diabetes. But it's a thankless feat. As a character who risks everything to protect the good name of a woman he's infatuated with yet barely knows (Jennifer Aniston), Owen has to play beneath his normal intuition and intelligence. The narrative is like a Rubik's cube with half the squares removed; the possibilities are limited, so there are no real surprises, just momentary jolts as the pieces click together. (M.S.) R 110 minutes D+

Flightplan -- stars Jodie Foster as a mother who claims her daughter has vanished during a trans-Atlantic flight. All aboard think she's imagined it. There's a serious plot deficiency, but it's still a satisfyingly taut thriller. (C.K.) PG-13 88 minutes B+

The 40-Year-Old Virgin -- is probably the most sweet-spirited sex comedy ever made. The always-hilarious Steve Carell scores again. The movie isn't about just one character but the culture of sexual relationships and the absurdities it engenders. (C.K.) R 116 minutes A-

Get Rich or Die Tryin' -- is 50 Cent's attempt to take the "come-to-Me" attitude of stoic action stars a step further, to "I dare you to come to me." You wonder what's behind the slabs of muscle and confidence, the ingratiating smiles and, even worse, the ingratiating tears - but you're not motivated to find out. The moviemakers slam down our gullets the broad-stroke perception of crime as the main way urban blacks can "get rich or die tryin'," as if it's medicine. (M.S.) R 118 minutes C+

Good Night, and Good Luck -- tells several interlocked stories with passion, wit and sting. At its red-hot center is the attempt of CBS star newscaster Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) to expose anti-communist witch hunter Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. The movie dramatizes professionalism and collegiality under stress in ways that are subtle and intense. (M.S.) PG 90 minutes A

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