opening this week
Curious George (G) Reviewed on page 42.
Final Destination 3 (R) Reviewed at left.
Firewall (PG-13) Security specialist Jack Williams (Harrison Ford) is forced into robbing the bank he works for, as a bid to pay off the ransom on his kidnapped family.
The Pink Panther (PG) Where is the shame? What’ll they remake next, Gone With the Wind? In the remake of Peter Sellers’ classic comedy, Steve Martin, as bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau, is tasked by the duplicitous Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) to solve the murder of a famous soccer coach and the disappearance of the infamous Pink Panther diamond.
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
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
Capote (R) Capote isn’t really about the murders that shattered the town of Holcomb, Texas, and became the fodder for Truman Capote’s legenday novel In Cold Blood. It’s about — although this only slowly becomes clear — Capote’s capacity for self-deception. Director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman brilliantly skitter around the edges of the crime, and Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t impersonate Capote so much as embody the author so intimately that there is no artifice or actorly showiness in the Capote-isms: the lisping, the dapperness. Mostly, though, we see in Capote’s interactions with the people of Holcomb and with the killers what a tough son of a bitch he really is. — 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
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
Good Night, and Good Luck (PG) Are you now or have you ever been a journalist? George Clooney’s remarkable film feels like, a smooth, sardonic smack in the face of today’s so-called newspeople, the cinematic equivalent of a withering glare and a disdainful roll of the eyes. Yeah, it’s about CBS’s Edward R. Murrow and how he took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s right-wing insanity, but what it’s really about is how badly we need a Murrow now. What’s most brilliant about it isn’t that it ends up serving the very purpose that it suggests no one else is serving — but that it’s so damn cool. — MJ
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 she star in a reworked 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 Depardieu. —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
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
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.
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
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