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March 03, 2006|BY MICHAEL SRAGOW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH | BY MICHAEL SRAGOW AND CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITICS

Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach.

Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.

Annapolis -- wasn't shot in Annapolis and doesn't have an original thought in its head. James Franco is Jake Huard, son of a neglectful, working-class father. Determined not to spend his life in a factory, Jake gets an appointment to the Naval Academy. Those who have seen An Officer and a Gentleman know the rest of the plot. Once there, Jake faces nearly insurmountable odds, most the result of his uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Then come the brigade boxing matches, through which he can prove his mettle and fitness to serve. (C.K.) PG-13 108 minutes C

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 named Baraka, 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 take wives 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

Cache -- is the feel-guilty movie of the new millennium. The director, Michael Haneke, an Austrian who makes films in France, depicts characters who'd just about define the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie if he weren't so intent on unveiling their inner sleaziness. Daniel Auteuil plays the host of a public-TV talk show, a sort of Gallic Charlie Rose with intellectual street cred. Juliette Binoche plays his wife, a success in publishing. Auteuil starts to receive disturbing surveillance videos that link him to the aftermath of a terrible racist episode in French history. (M.S.) R 121 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+

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- plummets into an imaginative landscape as large as all creation. As it moves from the Battle of Britain to a war between good and evil in the parallel world of Narnia, this film has everything a first-rate fantasy should have, including sweep, color and clarity. But it's also downright ennobling. It reminds us of the true meaning of "sacrifice." (M.S.) PG 140 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 big-screen 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. Like the books from which it springs, Curious George is safe and tame, utterly without guile or malicious intent. Some adults may find the film unbearably simplistic, or its pace burdensomely slow. But it would be a shame if movie audiences have become so hyper-adrenalized that they can't appreciate a charmer like this one. (C.K.) G 87 minutes B

Eight Below, -- in which eight gorgeous sled dogs are stranded in the frozen Antarctic after being left behind by their owners, should win over all but the determinedly cynical. Ordered on an expedition under threatening conditions, 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 beautiful, loyal and whip-smart. Watching them should leave any sensate human thrilled at times, near tears at others. Sure, the movie's manipulative, but at least it's expertly manipulative. (C.K.) PG 112 minutes. B

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 master thief who locks down his family, Harrison Ford has the reliability and the plain and simple charm of the old Timex watch: He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (M.S.) PG-13 106 minutes B-

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