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November 23, 2007

Capsules by Michael Sragow unless noted. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.

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+

Beowulf -- Geats champion Beowulf (Ray Winstone) conquers the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) and goes on to confront Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) and, later, a dragon. Robert Zemeckis' version of the medieval epic owes more to the sword-and-sex-play fantasies of 12-year-olds than the traditions of Old English poetry. (M.S.) PG-13 113 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-

This Christmas -- The universal strains that secrets and doubt create among brothers and sisters and parents come to the surface - and then get overcome - during the a Christmastime family reunion. A cast headed by Loretta Devine and Delroy Lindo makes it the rare movie about a cozy household at holiday time that's as funny, dramatic and poignant as any seasonal family get-together should be. (M.S.) PG-13 117 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-

Enchanted -- Fairy-tale characters tumble down a well in the storybook land of Andalasia and come rocketing up a manhole in Times Square, New York. It has a piquant idea and enough good jokes to overcome its uneven moviemaking; best of all, it has Amy Adams as the gorgeous maiden Giselle, and she carries the film gracefully and uproariously on her creamy shoulders. As a maiden who believes that the greatest power in the universe is "true love's kiss," Adams gets to be a full-blown romantic whose transition to full-grown romantic is in turn sweet, stirring and blissfully funny. (M.S.) PG 107 minutes B+

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+

I'm Not There -- A half-dozen performers represent different phases of Bob Dylan's life in director Todd Haynes' essay on '60s culture and celebrity. If any man should be more than the sum of his parts, it's a poet. But this movie makes Dylan less than the sum of his parts. It's like a tony art-school parlor game. (M.S.) R 135 minutes C

Love in the Time of Cholera -- A telegraph clerk-turned-riverboat magnate (Javier Bardem) falls in love with a rich beauty (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) as a teenager and then spends decades waiting for her. The movie follows the plot of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterwork, but if you haven't read the book, all you sense of its greatness comes from a subdued yearning for glory. (M.S.) R 138 minutes C

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