opening this week

Something New (PG-13) With checklist in hand, career woman Kenya (Sanaan Lathan) sets out to find her perfect man. In Brian (Simon Baker), she finds a guy who, despite all outward appearances, just might be the one.

When a Stranger Calls (PG-13) During an otherwise routine babysitting gig, a high-school student (Camilla Belle) is harassed by an increasingly threatening prank caller.

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (Unrated) From the abundant grasslands of the Shamwari to the savannahs of the Kalahari, this 2005 IMAX film take viewers on a 3,000-mile quest for Africa’s most legendarily exciting beasts, known as the Big Five: the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhinoceros, the leopard, and the lion, all in 3D.

critical capsules

Annapolis (PG-13) Your standard-issue “arrogant young misfit finds himself in the military thanks to the determination of a training officer who believes in him.” Shorn of his Bee Gee-like Tristan & Isolde locks, James Franco returns to the screen with this cheesy ragbag of clichés — essentially a valentine to the U.S. Naval Academy — and proves once more that he can’t carry a film. Granted, there’s not much film here to carry. It’s sort of a mix of An Officer and a Gentleman and Rocky, with the worst qualities of both and not an idea in its head. —Ken Hanke

Big Momma’s House 2 (PG-13) Judging by the exit chatter I heard at a showing of Martin Lawrence’s latest offering, there’s definitely a market for movies where guys drag themselves up as avoirdupois-laden, smart-mouthed elderly black women with wisdom that old Solomon himself would have envied. The film is a messy, moderately incomprehensible affair that exists only to shove Lawrence into fat suit drag so he can say outrageous things and end up in situations predicated entirely on a grown man being reduced to a gibbering idiot by the sight of bare bosoms. —KH

Brokeback Mountain (R) The name and setting of director Ang Lee’s much heralded new film perfectly evokes pain and loneliness and all those other tragically romantic emotions that twist your gut into a knot in the best love stories — and Lee’s remarkable film is one of the best ever. There’s nothing in the least political about it — it’s not about anything more than two people in love. The two people both happen to be men, but the fact that these guys couldn’t be more guyish might convince those who need convincing that that’s true for everyone who’s not heterosexual. Movies don’t change the world, but if one changes the minds and thaws the hearts of just a few people, that’s a start, maybe. —MaryAnn Johanson

Casanova (R) I must have been out of the room when the critical memo went out saying that movies had to be “deep” to be any good, since I don’t share the general disdain with which this lighter-than-air historical romp from Lasse Hallstrom has been greeted. It’s witty, gorgeous to look at, stylish to a fault, and beautifully acted by a perfect cast including Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, and Lena Olin. Sure, it turns the story of Casanova into bedroom farce, but what’s wrong with that? —Ken Hanke

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (PG) It’s hard to imagine how much more right director Andrew Adamson and his four FX houses and his perfectly perfect cast could have gotten The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. With this film, also, it becomes clear that there is nothing well-done CGI cannot convincingly re-create. It’s in all the tiny details, the rock-solid reality of even the most impossible things in the magical land of Narnia, that make you not just believe but feel its solidity and substance. C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy is here warm, sweet, funny, scary, magnificent, gorgeous, expansive, and intimate, but mostly completely and utterly charming. — MJ

End of the Spear (PG-13) Christian-oriented movies are pretty much critic-proof. They aren’t aimed at average moviegoers or anyone who’s interested in movies for their own sake. They’re made for Christians. This one features a cast of mostly unknowns (apart from Chad Allen, whose presence in the cast has ruffled some feathers, owing to his openly gay status) in a fact-based story about missionaries who were killed by an Amazon tribe in South America, and the forgiveness expressed in the aftermath. It will impress those it was meant to impress and leave the rest pretty much cold. Surprisingly well-photographed (in wide-screen no less), but rather clunkily directed. —KH

Fun with Dick and Jane (PG-13) A dumbed-down, slapdash reworking of a 1977 movie that wasn’t all that smart to begin with. At least in the original, George Segal and Jane Fonda had some chemistry and were basically likable — things not true of Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as down-on-their-luck yuppies who turn to a life of crime. More desperate than funny, it takes two-thirds of the film to even get to the point, and even then it’s too tame to be very interesting — unless you think Jim Carrey making faces is intrinsically amusing. — KH

Glory Road (PG-13) It’s this season’s — or maybe this month’s (these things are spawning like rabbits) — feel-good “inspired by a true story” movie about a (insert sport of choice here) coach “who made a difference.” This round it’s Josh Lucas as a basketball coach who helped integrate the game in the ’60s. Next time it could be Cole Hauser as the inventor of the jock strap. It is what it is — a safe, predictable, middle-of-the road Disneyfied and Bruckheimered “crowd pleaser.” Whether or not you count yourself among that crowd is another matter. —KH

Hoodwinked (PG) For a while, this Grimm fairy tale-themed film, from new animation house Kanbar Entertainment, is merely a pointless parody of human behavior as performed by animals, as the woodland creature cops come to Granny’s house to interview “Red” as they investigate a “domestic disturbance.” But then something almost miraculous happens. Red steps aside, and the Wolf starts relating his story, and suddenly everything snaps into sharp focus: the satire gets genuinely satirical, the humor gets actually funny, and surprises galore start rolling out at us. Directors Cory and Todd Edwards blaze a new trail for feature animation, one that’s sufficiently like what we’ve seen recently not to scare off anyone and also sufficiently new to feel fresh. —MJ

Last Holiday (PG-13) The great British writer J.B. Priestley wrote only one screenplay, Last Holiday. It was about a mousey salesman who’s misdiagnosed as dying from “Lampington’s Disease,” prompting him to cash in his insurance and savings and go to a posh hotel for a last fling. Fifty-six years ago it was made into a great little movie with Alec Guinness; now it’s been retooled with Queen Latifah as the protagonist. (Will they rework Bridge on the River Kwai next?) Though padded with broad comedy, it’s surprisingly faithful in tone to the excellent original — up to its cop-out ending. Still, it mostly scores due to the combined charm of the Queen, L.L. Cool J, and Gérard Dedpardieu. —KH

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D (Unrated) Until we get some poets into space, Magnificent Desolation may be as close as anyone gets to imparting the astronauts’ feelings of awe to the rest of us. The IMAX film promises to put viewers on the lunar surface, and through previously unreleased photos and footage from NASA’s archives, along with CGI and re-enactments, it pulls off the illusion. As entertaining as it is educational, the hyper-realistic 3D sims and cleverly collated archival footage give filmgoers the best idea yet of what it’s like to set foot on gray lunar soil. —KH

Match Point (R) A lot of people are trotting out the superlatives for this noirish work from Woody Allen — calling it a long overdue return to form and his best work in years. As a Woody Allen fan (I even found merit in Anything Else), I find Match Point one of the biggest disappointments of 2005. Is it really anything other than Crimes and Misdemeanors with a Brit accent, zero laughs, and about 20 extra minutes of running time? I’d say no. You may think otherwise. It’s well-made, but the fuss seems exorbitant. —KH

Memoirs of a Geisha (PG-13) If a trip to Epcot Center’s Japanese pavilion is impossible, just pop into Memoirs of a Geisha, cuz it’s totally, like, Japanesey. Except what’s really cool is that it’s like those all-you-can-eat Asian buffets, where they’ve got a little bit of chow mein and a little bit of tempura, but nothing, like, too strange and yucky like sushi. Like, it’s Asian enough to be cool, like Hello Kitty, but not so alien that you’re like, Huh? It’s also neat how director Rob Marshall cast, like, Chinese actors as the Japanese geisha girls and then — and this is really neat part — had them all speak American, so the movie wouldn’t be too hard for people. — MJ

Munich (R) Munich is not about the historic 1972 slayings of Israeli Olympic athletes by Arab terrorists, though it starts with that event. Steven Spielberg movie explores what followed, when a group of Mossad agents were sent to track down and assassinate the Black September members responsible. In doing so, they nearly become terrorists themselves. This is easily Spielberg’s best film since Saving Private Ryan, and it’s nice to see him return to heavier, more exacting material. This is a great movie, but not a friendly one. It asks a lot of its audience, and staying with it till the end demands a price. But Munich is going to stick with you long after leaving the theatre. —JT

Nanny McPhee (PG) Emma Thompson tries to break the 40-year stranglehold on nanny related entertainment by Mary Poppins with her own take on the magical babysitter genre. Emma’s entry owes a big debt to Julie Andrews, but differentiates itself just enough to avoid being labeled a blatant Poppins knockoff. The production design is pretty, which is enough (barely) to make Nanny a passable way to entertain your kids on a weekend. In some ways, parents may find more to enjoy in it than kids, since the little buggers are probably only there for the magic, of which there’s not nearly enough. —KH

The New World (PG-13) It’s 17th-century Virginia and the first English settlers have just landed at Jamestown. They claim the land as their own and begin to set up shop. The indigenous residents are naturally somewhat perturbed. Director Terrence Malick tells his long, overextended story through layer after layer of jump cutting, from characters staring blankly off into space to a shot of some random piece of scenery and back again. He never lets his scenes play out to any kind of a conclusion. Upshot: this is an unforgivably long, incredibly boring movie. — JT

Roving Mars (Unrated) (See full review page 34) Director George Butler, whose previous IMAX outing took him to Antarctica, delivers an eye-popping mix of people and machine, of genuine images and computer-assisted animations based on real pictures from NASA’s two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity — all of it accompanied by a magnificently ethereal score from composer Philip Glass. This is space-geek nirvana. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any more in love with the idea of Mars — of going there, of exploring the planet, of seeing the Martian sights. But after seeing Roving Mars, I am. —MJ

Syriana (R) While writer-director Stephen (Traffic) Gaghan is to be commended for attempting to upgrade the geo-petro-politics discourse from the present administration’s hall of mirrors obfuscation plan, the fact that his movie, by any measure, isn’t very good, kind of louses up its excellent timing. In trying to be a one-film introductory lesson in petro-maniacal greed, a ’70s-style thriller, a character study, and a primer on assorted Middle East miseries, Syriana just packs too much information, and it’s often as glib as it is incomprehensible. As is, it suffers from the odd problem of being — at over two hours — too short for any lasting impact. — Ian Gray

Tristan & Isolde (PG-13) Romantics and lovers of folklore will feel ripped off by this cinematic updating of one of history’s oldest and most adapted romantic epics; violence freaks will come out smiling. Think Titanic meets Braveheart meets The Blue Lagoon — but without the same quality of screenwriting. Castle and forest are under constant, fiery siege in this bombastic Tristan & Isolde; for better or worse, forbidden romance and the English language get second priority. —Bill Gallo

Underworld: Evolution (R) High on the list of sequels that didn’t need to be made is this follow-up effort by Len Wiseman (aka: star Kate Beckinsale’s husband). This one is pretty much of a piece with his original — rampant CGI effects of preposterously acrobatic vampires battling it out amidst a silly story full of awkward dialogue. The real surprise is how similar it is to Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne — right down to a decadent vampire with a taste for hookers, a gratuitous sex scene, and a respected actor (Sir Derek Jacobi standing in for BloodRayne‘s Sir Ben Kingsley). Oh, it’s better, but they’re definitely blood brothers. —KH

Walk the Line (PG-13) Walk the Line is Johnny Cash’s story and more. It captures his life from shortly before his first record up until his marriage to the woman he’d spend the last 35 years of his life with, June Carter. Because of that, this is both of their stories. Featuring a legendary performance from Joaquin Pheonix as the Man in Black, filled with Cash’s music and full of rousing life, Walk the Line is a fantastic success. You’ll clap, you’ll cheer, you’ll cry, and then you’ll run out and buy every scrap of Johnny Cash music you can find. This is a special film, much more than a biopic: it’s an emotional masterpiece, and easily one of the year’s best. — JT

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