Movies today

December 09, 2005

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

Aeon Flux, -- the movie Paramount was hiding from movie critics, is just a good-looking, empty-headed, empty-hearted sci-fi failure. And there's no shame in that. Four hundred years in the future, a depopulated Earth is reduced to living in one big city. A "chairman" (Marton Csokas) runs the show. Rebels are trying to kill him. Frances McDormand, dolled up like the Bride of Frankenstein, orders the hit. And Aeon (Charlize Theron) is her ace assassin. Teamed up with Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), Aeon must penetrate the leader's offices and take him down. Yes, Theron has her supermodel body back, which she slides into a kicky jumpsuit. But the movie has no sex, little skin and only a couple of decent catfights, nothing we didn't see once a week on TV's Alias when Jennifer Garner wasn't pregnant. Alas, Aeon Flux is not so bad that it's fun. (Orlando Sentinel) PG-13 95 minutes C-

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 "nonfiction 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+

First Descent -- can be a sight for sore eyes - when it can keep itself from babbling on and on about its subject's importance. It's never more eloquent than when it simply shows a snowboarder slicing a path over cliffs and rough patches down a forbidding slope. Or another boarder barely slipping past what could have been a nasty avalanche. Maybe this stuff seems teased for dramatic effect. But if it was First Descent's intention to pique curiosity as to how some of the top riders in the sport will do at next year's Olympics, then it gets some, if not all, of the love it's seeking so aggressively. (Newsday) PG-13 110 minutes B-

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