Nicolas Cage in World Trade CenterWORLD TRADE CENTER

Following Paul Greengrass' United 93, Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is the second 9/11-themed movie to arrive in the past four months - including A&E's Flight 93 and the Discovery Channel's The Flight That Fought Back, the fourth in the last year - and make no mistake: There will be more. There are so many tales to be told and so many elements of this national tragedy to focus on that, as cinematic subject matter, 9/11 is practically inexhaustible.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky BobbyTALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY

The Will Ferrell spoof Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, like the actor's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is less a movie than a sketch-comedy figure with a little bit of movie draped around him. And despite its narrow conceit - again, just like Anchorman - it isn't bad at all.

United 93UNITED 93

The question of whether it's too soon for United 93 is endlessly debatable. Yet United 93 we have. And having seen Paul Greengrass' dramatic re-creation of those shattering minutes aboard the doomed Newark-to-San Francisco flight on the morning of September 11, 2001, it seems that the timing of its release isn't just acceptable but - for this particular film, at any rate - absolutely essential.

Jon Heder, Rob Schneider, and David Spade in The BenchwarmersTHE BENCHWARMERS

The audience laughter at The Benchwarmers chilled me to the marrow. What in God's name are we allowing to pass for "children's entertainment" these days? Dennis Dugan's "comedy" is about a trio of aging dweebs (Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Jon Heder) who - seeking retribution for their childhood humiliations - arrange to play in a Little League tournament, and it's better for everyone's mental health that I ignore the logistics of the plotting.Suffice it to say that the film is an empowerment fantasy for middle-aged booger-eaters everywhere. But it isn't geared toward adults. (At least, not adults with IQs in the triple digits.) The Benchwarmers is a diversion aimed squarely at kids, and as such, it's almost unspeakably repellent - the movie is so hateful that you want to file a restraining order against it.

The Hills Have EyesTHE HILLS HAVE EYES

The setup for The Hills Have Eyes - Alexandre Aja's remake of Wes Craven's 1977 horror classic, with Craven himself on board as a producer - couldn't be simpler. A vacationing family, headed for California, stops for gas at a filling station near an abandoned nuclear-testing site in New Mexico. The station's gnarled and suspiciously friendly attendant guides them to a shortcut. The shortcut is a trap, set by the attendant and a family of horribly mutated, not-entirely-inhuman cannibals. And from there on, the plot boils down to three words: Us Against Them.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in CapoteCAPOTE

When I first saw Bennett Miller's Capote back in November, I was so knocked out by Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal that I fear I may have undervalued the movie itself; Hoffman's channeling of this singular author was so extraordinary that, although the film itself wouldn't fit anyone's definition of "feel-good," I'm not sure I stopped smiling once through its two-hour running length. (Performances of this quality have a way of putting me in a fantastic mood, regardless of a movie's subject matter.) But on a return visit to Capote this past weekend, I was able to more fully luxuriate in the brilliance of its design and the strength of its presentation; what could have been a "mere" performance piece proves, in the hands of Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman, to be a work of rare artistry and depth. Capote is so beautifully crafted - thematically rich, psychologically insightful, and mordantly funny - that you might be embarrassed by what a fine time you're having at it.

Matthew Broderick, Will Ferrell, and Nathan Lane in The ProducersTHE PRODUCERS

Devotees of the theatre had plenty of reason to be excited about The Producers, the movie version of Mel Brooks' stage work based on his 1968 movie. (Got that?) This tale of two Broadway crooks who plan to make a fortune on the worst musical ever conceived has been brought to the screen by the Broadway production's director/choreographer, Susan Stroman, with all of Brooks' musical-comedy numbers intact, and the show's original stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, reprise their roles as Bialystock and Bloom. It's enough to make a theatre fan nearly giddy with anticipation.Yet after more than two hours spent with this theatrical adaptation, I wanted nothing more than to get my ass to a movie.

Eric Bana and Geoffrey Rush in MunichMUNICH

He may be revered - and often reviled - for his sense of childlike wonder, but no Hollywood director shoots scenes of violence with the no-frills grimness of Steven Spielberg. In the helmer's taut, ambitious Munich - which focuses on Israeli retribution for the murders of nine of their athletes at the 1972 Olympics - Spielberg, as he did in Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, doesn't distance himself from the carnage on the screen, and doesn't let us distance ourselves, either. There's nothing self-consciously "artistic" about the numerous killings we're shown here; bullets tear through flesh with terrifying force, bombs rip limbs apart, and most of these atrocities are portrayed with an almost shocking matter-of-factness - we recoil from the violence because Spielberg's presentation of it is so intentionally artless. (The murders in Munich come off as almost painfully realistic.) Yet although Munich is a brutal work, it isn't brutalizing; Spielberg is too much of a natural showman - and natural entertainer - for that. The film is a riveting and intelligent political thriller, and although the director can't fully rein in his expectedly sentimental impulses, Munich is probably Spielberg's strongest directorial accomplishment in more than a decade. It's a gripping and, for Spielberg especially, refreshingly tough-minded piece of work.

Joan Allen in YesLast week, I received an e-mail from a reader asking whether I thought Ang Lee's wildly acclaimed Brokeback Mountain would be playing in the area any time soon. She also referenced Capote and The Squid & the Whale - two other small-scale, independently financed films with a whole slew of end-of-the-year accolades and no current release date set for Quad Cities venues - and concluded her correspondence with a cry often heard from we Midwestern art-film fans: "Are we not grown-up enough to see these films?"

Charlize Theron in Aeon FluxAEON FLUX

By all rights, Aeon Flux should be godawful. (Certainly, Paramount is treating it like it is, as the studio opted against pre-release screenings for fear of lousy advance notices.) Set some 400 years in the future, director Karyn Kusama's film - a big-screen vehicle for MTV's Liquid Television character - takes place after 99% of the earth has been eliminated by a virus, the most humorless 1%, apparently, having been left to roam the earth. Charlize Theron's Aeon leads a Spandex-clad revolt against the government, and the movie is, for the most part, a joke; the effects are particularly shoddy, and as they recite their clunky dialogue, you feel badly for several performers - when they were being feted as Oscar nominees, did Theron, Frances McDormand (in a red fright wig), Sophie Okenedo and Pete Postlethwaite ever think it would come to this? (The film's one impressive performance comes from Marton Csokas, who's like a more rugged version of Kevin Spacey.)

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