FILM ‌ Capsule Reviews 

opening this week

ATL (PG-13) As four friends prepare for life after high school, different challenges bring about turning points in each of their lives. The dramas unfold and resolve at their local rollerskating rink.

Basic Instinct 2 (R) Dear God, where to begin with this one? Novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is once again in trouble with the law, and Scotland Yard appoints psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Glass (David Morrissey) to evaluate her. Like others before him, Glass is entranced by Tramell and lured into a seductive but deadly game.

Ice Age: The Meltdown (PG) Reviewed on page 46.

Slither (R) A small town is taken over by an alien plague that tranforms residents into zombies and mutants. One townie (Michael Rooker) turns particularly violent, and it's up to his ex-wife (Elizabeth Banks) and the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion) to stop him.

critical capsules

16 Blocks (PG-13) A tired-looking Bruce Willis plods his way through this tired-looking rag-bag of clichés churned out by the apparently also tired director Richard Donner from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (Vamp). The theory undoubtedly was that combining the star of the Die Hard franchise with the director of the Lethal Weapon franchise would result in fireworks. Instead, it's a by-the-numbers damp squib -- like a bad TV movie. Chances are you won't care whether or not Willis and the witness (Mos Def) who's supposed to testify against some dirty cops survive that 16-block trek to the courthouse. --Ken Hanke

Aquamarine (PG) It's tweener time at the movies ... again. This soggy tale about two girls (Emma Roberts and Joanna "JoJo" Levesque) who befriend a mermaid (Sara Paxton) is never mean-spirited. It's never cruel. It's just so ... innocuous. It's an afternoon special that seems to have blundered into a theater by accident on its way to a TV set. Does this sort of thing really appeal to 13-year-old girls? Or do the people who made it just think that it should? It won't hurt you, but that's the best I can say. The best performance comes from Australia, which plays the part of Tampa Bay with fair conviction. --


Breakfast on Pluto (R) Like a cinematic Roman candle, Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto bursts onto the screen ablaze with more color, more ideas, more nerve, more invention, and more heart than just about anything imaginable -- reminding us anew that Jordan is one of the finest filmmakers working today. Cillian Murphy stars as Patrick "Kitten" Brady, an eternally optimistic drag queen (and sometime prostitute) in a picaresque tale set against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland's "Troubles" and the last days of swinging London. Murphy is absolutely brilliant, as are supporting players Liam Neeson, Ruth Negga, Stephen Rea, and Brendan Gleeson. A terrific late '60s-early '70s pop/rock soundtrack adds to the delicious sense of the period. --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

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

Date Movie (PG-13) A sampling of Date Movie: Two Hobbits and a wizard walk into a jewelry store. One Hobbit asks the clerk how much she'll give him for a certain ring in his possession. She offers $50 while the wizard bemoans the fate of mankind over the transaction. The Hobbit tells him to shut up and kicks him squarely between the legs. The wizard doubles up in pain, crying, "My precious!" Are you laughing? If so, this strangely unpleasant attempt to do for (or to) romantic comedies what Scary Movie did for horror films is for you. Otherwise, avoid at all costs. --KH

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (R) Those looking for the next work from Michel Gondry -- the director of the cult hit The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- had best wait for his Sundance award-winning The Science of Sleep if they're wanting something comparable. This documentary from comic Dave Chappelle has a good heart and a good message, but the comedy quotient --- while quirky enough -- is low, and its primary audience is going to be fans of hip-hop. Otherwise, it's unlikely that the film will hold much appeal. --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 narration from Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and 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 

Doogal (G) This vapid release from the Weinsteins (who got lucky with Hoodwinked) is a redubbed and thoroughly Americanized version of a 2005 British release called The Magic Roundabout. It's also a terminal case of dumbing-down. Sure, American audiences might not know that a roundabout is a merry-go-round, but we're also apparently so intellectually stunted that the name "Dougal" has to be spelled out phonetically for us as "Doogal." The uninvolving sub-Lord of the Rings story about an evil wizard trying to freeze the world into perpetual winter likely wasn't any great shake in its original form -- the animation is crude, the characters unappealingly rendered -- but it had to be better than this. --KH

Eight Below (PG) When eight sled dogs are abandoned in the Antarctic wilderness, they must struggle for survival against the elements while their owner fights to return and rescue them. The dogs are absolutely beautiful, and outshine a lot of the little flaws plaguing their movie. Dave DiGilo's screenplay doesn't pull any punches, and capably balances the demands of realism and family-friendly entertainment. This being a Disney movie, you can see the happy ending coming from a mile away. But when it comes, at least you feel you've earned it. --JT

Failure to Launch (PG-13) This somewhat repellent romantic comedy is about a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) who specializes in duping 30-somethings still living at home by pretending to fall in love with them -- thereby making them want to strike out on their own and get a house with an attic and a cookie jar, a wife, and 2.3 children. Since this is rom-com world, we aren't supposed to wonder what happens when she dumps them, but merely be charmed when her scheme backfires and she falls for one of her subjects (Matthew McConaughey). It's frankly not funny, romantic, or even remotely charming. --KH

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

The Hills Have Eyes (R) About halfway through Alexandre Aja's remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes I was convinced that the film's tag line, "The lucky ones die first," was referring to the viewers of this entrail-festooned entry in the Inbred Hillbilly Cannibal sub-subgenre. There are moments in the film when new heights of imbecility must be scaled by the victims in order to keep the plot going, which itself offers some amusement value. The original 1977 version looked like it was made for $1.75, and while this new one looks like it cost at least 10 times that much, whatever visceral power Craven's original had was lost in the budget increase. --KH

Inside Man (R) Spike Lee's new film may not be the incendiary filmmaker's best work, but it just might be his most purely enjoyable and sophisticated. Clive Owen stars as a bank robber who holds a bankful of people hostage while he matches wits with hostage negotiation specialist Denzel Washington. At the same time, powerful forces far above them -- embodied by the bank's owner (Christopher Plummer) and a high-priced "fixer" and damage-control expert (Jodie Foster) -- try to keep a secret locked away in the bank from coming to light. Stylish to a fault and very entertaining (thanks in part to a sharply sarcastic script from newcomer Russell Gerwitz), it's the most wholly satisfying film so far of 2006. --KH

Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (PG-13) The very existence of Larry the Cable Guy would seem like a pretty good argument against the concept of Intelligent Design. Larry is the alter ego of comedian Dan Whitney, and here emerges as the "hero" of a movie where he plays a health inspector (though still called "the cable guy"). It's even worse than you probably think. This film almost redefines bad movies. Tasteless and tedious, it's the sort of thing that makes you long for the Ernest movies of Jim Varney. --KH

The Libertine (R) Johnny Depp, as the debauched 17th-century English poet and notorious rake John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, is creepy and alluring at the same time. If only the rest of the movie could keep up with Depp's astonishing ability to dominate the screen and make you his cinematic bitch. Director Laurence Dunmore, in his feature film debut, relies too much on low-light shooting and the resultant graininess to signify Wilmot's corruption and the general depravity of the culture of his world. But mostly, there's not enough genuine raunch in The Libertine's bawdiness to rise above the level of transitory shock for shock's sake. --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

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (Unrated) Simple-minded but sweet, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is an old-age tribute that doesn't press as hard on your gag reflex as The World's Fastest Indian. It's a romantic fantasy for seniors in which the grand prize isn't a world land-speed record or enough easily obtained sex to push a pacemaker to its limits, but a final chance to enjoy a real and satisfying friendship with a younger person. Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend acknowledge their similarity to Harold and Maude, then thankfully bypass the funny business to explore a platonic relationship that finds its currency in impromptu serenades and tales of the good old days. -- Steve Schneider

Nightwatch (R) Style isn't a problem for this crazy Russian horror fantasy, with its funny-ghastly imagery of shapeshifting creatures and its gritty urban vampires riding the crowded Moscow subway, and its jam-packed-with-apocalyptic-crap end-of-the-world showdown. Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) has style to spare -- and that's the problem. Timur Bekmambetov, working from a script he adapted from a novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, threw everything he knew into a blender and made an undead-walk-the-earth milkshake featuring loads of cool-as-shit elements. But he's thrown so many ingredients into his concoction that they battle one another for attention and lose all meaning ... or fail to make any impact beyond that initial Wow! before we've moved on to something else. --MJ

The Passenger (PG-13) Michelangelo Antonioni's 1975 film The Passenger is more important as a representative of its time than as a film in its own right. It's a somewhat ponderous work that's little more than a pulp thriller with a fit of existential angst. Jack Nicholson plays David Locke, an ennui-stricken documentary filmmaker stuck in the African desert working on a film that holds no interest for him. So when the only other occupant of his hotel dies, Locke decides to switch places with the dead man. The plot is inconsequential in most respects, since the film is about the nature of identity. Taken in context of its era, The Passenger is in some sense a valuable time capsule -- from its trendy director to its hip star to its deliberate vagueness to its basic pop culture underpinnings that feed on the very things it purports to be superior to. --KH

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

Shaggy Dog (PG) Any movie that still thinks it's funny to slap "Who Let the Dogs Out?" on its soundtrack -- whether in reference to literal or figurative canines -- is so creatively and comedically bankrupt that it's beneath any kind of serious discussion. With The Shaggy Dog -- a combined remake of the 1959 Disney film of the same name and its lame 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A. (thereby offering two crummy remakes for the price of one) -- this is only the tip of the iceberg of the crimes against taste. Another witless family film about a neglectful father who learns the error of his ways -- only this time by turning into a dog. For people who want to see Tim Allen hike his leg to use a urinal only. --KH

She's the Man (PG-13) Oh ho and oh hum, this teen comedy is, to put it bluntly, kind of a drag. Someone somewhere thought it would be a hoot to borrow a little -- a very little -- Shakespeare (in this case, Twelfth Night) and a lot more Just One of the Guys and have Amanda Bynes (What Every Girl Wants) masquerade as a boy at a prep school. The results were supposed to be the next Mean Girls. They aren't. It turns into lame farce with cardboard characters -- and Bynes with her chipmunk cheeks looks about as much like a boy as Mae West did. Maybe less so. --KH

Stay Alive (PG-13) There's something almost charming -- certainly brave and a little bit loopy -- about trying to craft a film for the videogame set, particularly when you up the stakes with a trailer that tells them that one in four of them is addicted to gaming. If there's a more persnicketty cross-section of humanity, I've yet to meet them. Gamers will tell you exactly what's wrong with any film adaptation of any videogame in great detail and then spend an hour detailing all the inhospitable things they'd like to do to Uwe Boll. Here we have a made-up game in which the players die in real life exactly as they do in the game. It's silly imitation Ring rubbish, but harmless fun if you're in the mood. --KH

Transamerica (R) Felicity Huffman gives what should have been the Oscar-winning performance of the year as a transgendered man in this worthy first feature from writer-director Duncan Tucker. Being a first film, it it tries very hard to impress you and get you to like it, and has a couple of missteps along the way as a result. But that doesn't keep it from being a great little movie. The plot revolves around Huffman's character discovering he has a son he never knew about -- and a psychiatrist who won't sign off on the final sex-change operation till Huffman deals with the troubled young man. By turns hysterical and heartbreaking, this is a film of tremendous warmth, charm and perception, anchored to a central performance that's plain brilliant. --KH

Ultraviolet (PG-13) Hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. Though undeniably ambitious -- in terms of both style and wildly overstated allegory -- I can't conceive of calling Ultraviolet a good movie in any reasonable sense of the term. Overall, it's a film that can best be thought of as the work of a more cerebral Uwe Boll. It's a silly futuristic bit of nonsense with the worst special effects I've ever seen (even with Milla Jovovitch). Its message might have been interesting, in the manner of old Soviet propaganda movies (sort of Eisenstein by way of Marvel Comics), but the whole thing is so awash in awful dialogue, bad action scenes, and fuzzy plotting that it sinks almost at once. --KH

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

The White Countess (PG-13) Ralph Fiennes has been sadly overlooked this year, not just for his remarkable turn in The Constant Gardener but for The White Countess, too -- and Fiennes' performance here may well be even better than his turn in Gardener. In Countess, Fiennes is Jackson, a recently blinded American in Shanghai in the late 1930s, a man who affects detachment, who lets casual insouciance become shorthand for the sophistication he wishes to project. He meets sad Sofia (the wonderfully regal Natasha Richardson), a Russian aristocrat down on her luck and working as a taxi dancer in Shanghai. In standard Merchant Ivory form, what follows is all about repression and the price one pays for insisting on being a unemotional prick. --MJ

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 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 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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