opening this week
End of the Spear (PG-13) Read the review here.
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. -- Josh Tyler
Transamerica (R) A pre-operative male-to-female transsexual (Felicity Huffman) takes an unexpected journey when she learns that she fathered a son (Kevin Zegers), now a teenage runaway hustling on the streets of New York.
Underworld: Evolution (R) As the war between vampires and werewolves rages on, the legacy of both races is revealed. The personal histories of Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the vampire warrior, and Viktor (Bill Nighy), the father of modern-day vampires, are also revealed.
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
The Family Stone (PG-13) If you don't know what you're getting into from the moment you walk into the cinema, you haven't seen many movies. Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings uptight girlfriend Meredith (even her name sounds severe) Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays to meet his functionally dysfuctional family. Said family is the antithesis of uptight. A good cast (Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams) helps make this one of those films that succeeds not because it surprises you but because it does what you want it to do, like cinematic comfort food. -- 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
Grandma's Boy (R) This is by no means a great movie. In fact, it's a mess that hardly pretends to have a plot. But there's a certain charm to that and, frankly, it's a lot funnier than most things Adam Sandler's name is attached to -- including the ones he stars in. It helps if you number video game nerds, role-playing game geeks, and stoners among your acquaintances, because you'll find them all in here -- and sympathetically portrayed. Allen Covert, as a game tester who has to move in with his grandmother and her friends, is a lot more likable than such Sandler stalwarts as Rob Schneider (whose requisite appearance is blessedly brief here). --KH
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (PG-13) There's a lot that's disconnected and disjointed in the muddled middle of Goblet of Fire -- this is the Harry book that prompted speculation that it might have to be broken into two films to do it justice, after all. And for all the startling and delightful bits that remain, most of the characters other than Harry suffer a bit from dramatic malnourishment. But Ralph Feinnes' Voldemort is Darth Vader and Satan in one slithery package, and he's absolutely terrifying. The finale of Goblet of Fire is unsettling, in a way that'll have you squirming in your seat. Which is as it should be. There's a level of horror operating here that raises this beyond escapist family fare and into the realm of cutting metaphor for adolescence. Which is also as it should be. -- 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
Hostel (R) It's better than Eli Roth's first film, Cabin Fever, but if Roth does — as executive producer Quentin Tarantino insists — represent "the future of horror," then horror must be going into the recycling business. Except that the characters are rather more than usually unlikable, all this occasionally effective thriller does is slap a revenge climax onto a standard torture and murder yarn about American tourists running afoul of a sadistic killers who pay a Slovakian hostel owner for the privilege of killing unwary foreigners. It may up the sadism, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. —KH
King Kong (PG-13) Peter Jackson could have and should have lost at least 30 minutes from his monkey opus. But be ready to forgive him. None of the many versions of Kong's story have approached the greatness of this film — perhaps not even the 1933 original. The essentials remain spot-on faithful to that original movie, but in between those he's made this pic his own. The result is much more than a sympathetic monster movie; Kong has become a deeply emotional, even tortured film. —Joshua Tyler
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
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
The Producers (PG-13) Once you get acclimated to the fact that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick — reprising their stage roles — are still playing to the last row of the balcony, you're apt to enjoy this musical version of the 1968 Mel Brooks classic. It's loud, obvious, gaudy, over-the-top, and utterly theatrical, but it preserves the zany plot about putting on a glitzy musical, Springtime for Hitler, that's "guaranteed" to fail, allowing its producers to pocket the excess money from the 25,000 percent of stock they sold. It won't eclipse the old film, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but it's a fun variation. —KH
The Ringer (PG-13) It tries to make Johnny Knoxville likable and at least succeeds in making him less repulsive, but this well-intended comedy about a guy who pretends to be mentally challenged in order to participate in the Special Olympics is so bland and ordinary that it's more a snooze-fest than a laff-fest. It paints a warm and realistic picture of the mentally challenged, but its moralizing "messages" are utterly predictable and it's never more than mildly amusing. —KH
Rumor Has It (PG-13) A clever premise — that The Graduate was a true story — gets Rob Reinered to death in this misbegotten mess. The writer, Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven), was sacked less than two weeks into production and Reiner waltzed in to turn a satire into a pretty standard romantic comedy. (Does anybody really think The Graduate was a romcom?) The results are lopsided, to say the least. Shirely MacLaine steals every scene she's in, but she's not in enough of them to save the film from its own plot. —KH
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
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