opening this week
Breakfast on Pluto (R) In Neil Jordan's acclaimed '05 film, as foster kid Patrick "Kitten" Braden (Cillian Murphy, nominated for a Golden Globe) grows up, he leaves behind his small-town life in Ireland for London, where he's reborn as a transvestite cabaret singer in the 1960s and '70s. (At the Terrace.)
Inside Man (R) In Spike Lee's latest, a bank robber (Clive Owen) plays cat-and-mouse with a cop (Denzel Washington), who's facing increasing pressure to foil his opponent's intricate plot. The stand-off is further complicated and confused by the arrival of a power broker (Jodie Foster) who requests a private meeting with the perp.
2006 Italian Film Festival: New Italian Cinema (Mon. March 27-Tues. March 28.) On Monday and Tuesday, the Italian Program at College of Charleston will present its 2006 Italian Film Festival in the Sottile Theatre, 44 George Street. All films are free and open to public. Film include Marco Tullio Giordana's Once You Are Born (Mon. at 4 p.m.), Paolo Virzí's Caterina in the Big City (Mon. at 7:15 p.m.), Cristina Comencini's Don't Tell (Tues. at 4:45 p.m.), and Marco Bellocchio's My Mother's Smile (Tues. at 7 p.m.).
Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (PG-13) A misfit health inspector (Larry the Cable Guy) goes undercover to get to the bottom of a series of food poisoning incidents at his city's top restaurants.
Nightwatch (R) Reviewed at left. (At the Terrace.)
The Passenger (PG-13) Steven Soderbergh presents a recut version of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1975 film, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, in which a depressed, jaded television reporter assumes the identity of a dead man while at a hotel in a north African country -- not knowing that the man was a renowned arms smuggler. (At the Terrace.)
Stay Alive (PG-13) For a group of teens, the answer to the mysterious death of their old friend lies within the world of an online video game based on the true story of an ancient noblewoman known as The Blood Countess.
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. --
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
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
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
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
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
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
Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion (PG-13) For anyone still unfamiliar with Tyler Perry's Madea franchise, there's one important thing to keep in mind: Madea may be a big momma, but she's no Big Momma. What a surprise, then, to find genuine humor in Madea's Family Reunion, the sequel to Perry's 2005 hit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Considering the inoffensive lightweight sermonizing that runs through the whole of Perry's film, it would seem the perfect antidote to harried parents in need of some quality cinema time with their own offspring. But, of course, there're the flatulence and sex jokes to bring Perry's ultimately noble attempt down to a more pedestrian level. That's too bad. --MS
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