opening this week

Date Movie (PG-13) The writers behind the Scary Movie franchise try their hands at a spoof of romantic comedies that follows a young guy’s (Adam Campbell) attempt to get his crush (Alyson Hannigan) to love him.

Eight Below (PG) Reviewed at left.

Freedomland (R) When her daughter disappears, a single mother (Julianne Moore) blames an African-American man for the crime. During the resulting controversy, a detective (Samuel L. Jackson) and reporter (Edie Falco) work together on the ever-twisting case. Word has it this one’s based on the real-life tale of S.C.’s own Mother Mayhem, Susan Smith.

critical capsules

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

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

Curious George (G) It captures that strange and wonderful state of a child’s psyche that comes about when intense inquisitiveness is encouraged and supported by parental love and attention and not too much scolding for perfectly normal mischief-making. And this Curious George is pretty much strictly for those little kids, which is fantastic: there’re so few films aimed at very young children that aren’t insipid or full of exactly the wrong kind of monkey business.If you loved George as a kid — and who didn’t? — there’s plenty to enjoy here even if you graduated from kindergarten way back in the 20th century. —MJ

Final Destination 3 (R) Everybody dies, but then that’s not much of a spoiler, since the same thing happened in both previous Final Destinations. This time, though, death is almost the least depressing thing facing the cast; the film’s encyclopedic litany of despair lends ex-X-Files scribe and Destination director/co-writer James Wong’s skilled, minor panic attack of a movie an unexpected, cumulative gravity. By about the fourth teen death, it becomes clear the franchise is going to stay true to formula and nobody is going to get out of here alive, and the film takes on the feel of an increasingly discomfiting death watch. That one character survives long enough to weakly give the world the finger is the movie’s sole victory. — IG

Firewall (PG-13) If nothing else, this stupefyingly boring wannabe thriller stands as a testament to what a really bad idea an Indiana Jones 4 starring 63-year-old Harrison Ford is. His feats of derring-do in Firewall are … let’s just say unpersuasive. So is the film. In fact, Ford isn’t the worst thing about this high-tech variation on The Desperate Hours with a singularly low-tech mentality. The plot has Ford as a computer security expert who finds himself at the mercy of vicious criminal Paul Bettany (warming up for The DaVinci Code?), who is going to off Ford’s whole family unless he help them rob the bank he works for. You’ve seen it all before and done better — probably as a TV movie of the week. —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

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

Mrs. Henderson Presents (R) Oscar-nominated Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins make a perfect — if somewhat unorthodox — screen team in this delightful new film from Stephen Frears about the history of London’s legendary Windmill Theatre. Don’t let the historical setting (or that dreaded phrase “inspired by true events”) put you off. This is no dry study of history, but a delicious confection about getting a nude stage show past the British censors. Though nudity abounds, it should be noted that Dame Judi does not strip off, though Mr. Hoskins does. That will probably appeal to someone’s prurient interest. —KH

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

The Pink Panther (PG) Despite its surprising box-office performance on opening weekend (probably due to Steve Martin’s new status as a “family friendly” funny man, thanks to those abominable Cheaper by the Dozen flicks), this misbegotten “prequel” to the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers Pink Panther series is every bit as bad as its having been moved from a summer to a February release date suggests. Martin just isn’t Peter Sellers, no matter how hard he tries to be with his sub-Rich Little impression. The very fact that he’s so desperately trying (Sellers made it look effortless) would be enough to sink the movie by itself. Mechanical slapstick, however, steps in to bury it. —KH

Roving Mars (Unrated) 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

Something New (PG-13) Insofar as the basics of the romantic comedy formula is concerned, Something New really isn’t. Uptight business woman Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) and landscape architect Brian (Simon Baker) “meet cute” on a disastrous blind date. Circumstances force them into contact a second time and she succumbs to hiring him to redesign the overgrown backyard at her new house. Naturally, they end up in love, but of course there are problems, without which there would be no film. You’ve seen it often enough. The hook, of course, is that she’s an upscale black woman and he’s a downscale white guy. Occasionally sharp and perceptive, and even when it’s not, it’s entertaining.

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

When a Stranger Calls (PG-13) Unregenerate drivel aimed at easily spooked 13-year-old girls. When a Stranger Calls recycles the first 20 minutes of the 1979 original that starred Carol Kane by stretching it out to a painful 86 minutes, resulting in a situation without a story. A babysitter (Camilla Belle) is terrorized by menacing calls (“Have you checked the children?”) only to learn that the calls are coming from inside the house. Mayhem — pretty tame mayhem at that — ensues. Director Simon West confuses fussiness with style and serves up such overripe genre clichés as false-scare-by-cat, while adding such new wrinkles as false-scare-by-icemaker (why did no one think of that before?). —KH

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (Unrated) The Charleston IMAX reaches back to 2005 for a kid-friendly 3D tour through South Africa’s national parks in search of the worlds top five big game animals: the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhinoceros, the leopard, and the lion. It’s mostly a film for the 12-and-under set, as the pacing moves at Teletubbie speed. The film rolls as if the audience is seated in the back of a topless Range Rover; it’s supposed to make one feel in the middle of the action, but the only action you’re likely to feel is car sickness. As with most IMAX films, the entertainment quotient is at least matched by the fun-fact-and-educational-anecdote quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. —Kinsey Labberton

Keep the City Paper free

We don't have a paywall. Each week's printed issue is free. We're local, independent and free. Let's keep it this way.

Please consider a donation of $100 to keep the City Paper free. Donate: