opening this week

The Da Vinci Code (PG-13) It’s possible there’s a blind, deaf mute living in a remote Amazon tribe wearing a banana leaf thong who somehow hasn’t heard about the film version of Dan Brown’s hyper-bestselling book, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks. But we doubt it.

Joyeux Noël (PG-13) In the opening months of World War I, a most extraordinary — and most ironic — event occurred: On Christmas Eve, 1914, French and British soldiers ventured out of their trenches, German soldiers clambered out of theirs, and they all met in the middle to celebrate the holiday. And then, after this brief and spontaneous Christmas truce, they went back to their trenches to face the prospect of having to kill their new friends. Joyeux Noël dramatizes this bizarre moment in time with a straightforward aplomb that is devastating, that makes you wish you could laugh at the insanity and pointlessness of it, but refuses all emotional response except overwhelming rage and grief. —MJ

Over the Hedge (PG) Paramount Pictures brings us yet another batch of kooky CGI critters, this time a mischievous raccoon and his sensitive best-buddy turtle who, along with other pixelated forest fauna, try to resist the evils and temptations of encroaching suburbia.

The Princess Bride (PG) The City Paper‘s final installment in our spring 2006 Movies in Marion Square series offers Rob Reiner’s inspired 1987 satirical comedy classic for your consideration. Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity, battling rodents of unusual size, facing torture in the Pit of Despair … none of it’s inconceivable.

See No Evil (R) Sentenced to community service, a group of teens are dispatched to fix up a ramshackle hotel. Little do they know the hotel is home to a maniacal killer who looks to murder them one by one.

critical capsules

Akeelah and the Bee (PG) Akeelah is pretty darn wonderful: uplifting without being sappy, inspiring without being unrealistic. I confess I got a bit sniffly at the end, even though I saw the ending coming from, well, from the moment when all those Akeelah and the Bee flashcards started getting plastered all over every damn Starbucks in America. What keeps Akeelah from being a truly great film is its predictability: It’s so conventional as to be clichéd: the underdog student no one expects to succeed, the wounded teacher who will be rejuvenated by the joie de vivre of this young person taken under his wing. Writer/director Doug Atchison won the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting contest in 2000 with this, and it’s shocking and saddening to imagine that this was one of the top five scripts out of the 4,500 entries that year. Where Akeelah succeeds, it is despite its script, not because of it. —MJ

Art School Confidential (R) Max Minghella (Bee Season) stars as an idealistic art student with the modest goal of becoming “the greatest artist of the 21st century” in this bitterly cynical satire of art and art schools from director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes. Much like their previous collaboration, Ghost World, Art School Confidential has an air of terminal coolness to it all -— but it’s coolness of a weirdly adolescent stripe. It’s funny and clever, but it’s so superior and intellectualized that it lacks any real emotional resonance. A dark subplot about a serial killer on campus doesn’t help matters. But the various posers, frauds and nut-cases at school are spot-on, and the writing is very nearly as clever as the filmmakers seem to think it is. Great supporting turns from John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, and Steve Buscemi. —KH

Deep Sea 3D (Unrated) Directed by renowned underwater cinematographer Howard Hall, Deep Sea 3D takes viewers through a pastiche of some of the ocean’s oddest creatures, many of which we’ve seen before in superior documentaries like the BBC’s Blue Planet. Still, with the underwater vistas leaping out from a five-story-tall IMAX screen, it really is remarkably like being underwater. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the music of frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman; when a small anemone extends a series of seemingly never-ending branch-like arms accompanied by a jaunty Elfman ditty, one can’t help but wonder, just for a second, if it’s real or animation. —Sara Miller 

Hoot (PG) What could be worse than a lame, high-minded kiddie flick with a TV sitcom mentality where the two biggest stars are Luke Wilson and Tim Blake-Nelson? Well, an all-Jimmy Buffett soundtrack is a good starting place. I suspect that this environmentally-conscious tale about three kids trying to save some burrowing owls from being evicted by an encroaching pancake house has its heart in the right place, but its head is clearly lodged up another part of its anatomy. The jokes aren’t funny, the kids aren’t believable, and the whole thing is flatter than the staple item on the menu of the restaurant chain that’s out to dispossess our feathered friends. —KH

Ice Age: The Meltdown (PG) It’s the last days of the ice age, and the cold-weather animals that have for thousands of years frolicked on earth’s frozen surface are blissfully unaware of the warm-up that’s coming. It’s the end of the world as they know it, and they feel fine. Meltdown is a big step up from the original Ice Age. The story is sharper, smarter, and funnier. It helps that there’s no time wasted with cavemen in this one, allowing the film to focus entirely on its animal characters. But the script is just flat-out funnier and the animation is better, too. It’s still of considerably lower quality than the work of Pixar or DreamWorks, but Fox’s Blue Sky animation department seems content to be third best. —Joshua Tyler

Just My Luck (PG-13) This thoroughly inoffensive piece of cinematic fluff is designed to do one thing only: move Lindsay Lohan out of the realm of child star into adult roles. To some degree -— mostly thanks to Lohan — it’s reasonably successful. The problem is that it tries too hard to copy her two biggest hits, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, without the charm of the first or the wit of the latter. Instead of magically switching bodies with Jamie Lee Curtis, here she trades her character’s impossibly good luck for the equally unlikely bad luck of would-be rock impressario Jake Hardin (Chris Pine, The Princess Diaries 2) and never gets beyond Mean Girls-Lite, resorting to slapstick as filler. It’s not awful and Lohan handles the change to a grown-up role well enough, but she deserves better. —KH

Mission Impossible III (PG-13) Two solid hours of preposterous stunts, ridiculous plotting, Tom Cruise’s biceps and lots of things blowing up — all in bone-jarring Dolby sound. No, it’s not unwatchably bad, but it’s remarkably undistinguished. The big development this time is giving Cruise a girlfriend/fiancee/wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the villian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to imperil. This affords Cruise the chance to emote. Unfortunately, Cruise’s tears seem about as sincere as his trademark smile, while his scenes of soulfully gazing into Monaghan’s eyes suggest less rapturous devotion than the star studying his own reflection therein. —KH

Poseidon (PG-13) There’s a website where you can use your keyboard to rock an S.S. Poseidon in a bottle till it finally capsizes. It’s a tremendous waste of time, yes, but less so than Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon, and considerably more entertaining. Petersen’s remake of the much-loved camp-and-cheese 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure is a mind-numbing combination of bad writing, characterless characters, and terabytes of state-of-the-art CGI work. The writing (what there is of it) transcends every known standard of terrible. After the ship has turned over thanks to the film’s “rogue wave” and hundreds of people have been killed in a sequence that looks like the prom from Carrie minus the pig blood, someone actually asks, “How bad is it?” Petersen puts his B-list cast through their paces and does create a few tense moments, but it’s a lot of effort for very little return. —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. —MaryAnn Johansen

R.V. (PG) R.V. is more than just a bad movie — it’s symptomatic of a kind of bad movie that seems to be proliferating like cinematic cockroaches. Cut from the same bolt of polyester as Cheaper by the Dozen, Johnson Family Vacation, Are We There Yet?, The Shaggy Dog and god only knows how many other exercises in mediocrity passing for “family comedies.” The premise is the same in each: take one name star and subject him to humiliations various and sundry, all involving children who make you reconsider your objections to grievous corporal punishment. Then turn everything around in the final reel by pouring treacle over it, so that everyone learns a valuable life lesson for a picture-perfect future that would have embarrassed Norman Rockwell at his most saccharine. The major difference here is that you get to see Robin Williams covered in what the film coyly calls “fecal matter.” —KH

The Sentinel (PG-13) In the words of David Bowie, “the film is a saddening bore, because you’ve seen it 10 times or more.” The Sentinel can best be described as just another “wrong man” suspense flick of the generic political kind — complete with the usual pseudo-technical/procedural trappings and the requisite nonpartisan president. Michael Douglas plays a highly-placed Secret Service agent who comes under suspicion when he fails a lie-detector test (because he’s been knocking boots with the First Lady), placing him in a bad position that gets worse when he has to thwart an assassination attempt — and his protégé and former best friend (Kiefer Sutherland) is out to bring him down. Absurd, but even so, fairly competent. The real problem is that it’s the sort of thing that hasn’t been fresh in 40 years. —KH

Thank You for Smoking (R) Written and directed by Jason Reitman, son of veteran Hollywood funny filmmaker Ivan Reitman, Thank You for Smoking is pretty much what you’d expect from a born-to-the-Malibu Mansion post-liberal. Depending entirely on a craven assumption of its audience’s cynicism to cover up its corrupt, pro-whorish heart, it offers a message for our troubled times: In a world where everyone seems to be a crook, the only truly admirable man is he who admits to and revels in his corruption. Of course, in a comedy, a panoply of sins can be forgiven if your film is, you know, funny. But as with conservative humor in general — already a contradiction in terms — all Thank You can manage is a series of smirks. —IG

The Wild (G) Pleasantly unappalling. For all its problems — ranging from lack of originality to uneven animation to indifferent writing — it’s a darn sight better than such recent movie misfortunes as Doogal and Hoodwinked!, not to mention Disney’s own filmic flotsam like The Jungle Book 2 and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. Yes, it’s pretty much a cross of Madagascar and Finding Nemo, but it’s not unwatchable. Some of the animation is effective, especially the opening, but might be too scary for the smaller kids. The characters are largely forgettable, though William Shatner does his best as the voice of the evil wildebeest with a a penchant for choreogaphy and a desire to turn carnivore. Still, it’s pretty tepid stuff. —KH

United 93 (R) When it happened, for those of us watching it on TV from our living rooms and offices, the events of September 11, 2001 seemed almost like some Hollywood disaster movie. When the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell, many might not have been surprised to see the name Roland Emmerich emblazoned somewhere in the breaking news broadcast’s credits. But now that day is a movie; a movie which, oddly enough, feels every bit as real as that day didn’t. Don’t see United 93 unless you are sure you’re ready for it. —IG

V for Vendetta (R) The Wachowski brothers’ adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel — about a dystopian future U.K. crushed under a faith-based totalitarian government — and James McTeigue’s treatment of it, is fearless. It never shirks from the gleefully obvious (a fat, pill-popping asshole talk radio host) the utterly horrific (a Dachau-like government atrocity leading to hundreds of lime-coated bodies dumped into a pit) or Goon Show-style absurdity. While certainly not perfect, V for Vendetta is a feast of ideas, a furious Molotov cocktail of a tale, a valentine to the idea that art and information can change things, and the first genuinely relevant film of this bad new century. —IG

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 world’s 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 Teletubby 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 quotient. But for those not toting tots, consider passing on this one and taking in the remarkable Roving Mars instead. —Kinsey Labberton

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