Capsules by Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach, except where noted. Full reviews at baltimoresun.com/movies.
Akeelah and the Bee -- follows a formula, one of the oldest in all of fiction: an underdog, struggling against the odds, seeks fame, fortune and - most importantly - self-respect. But this is one of the most winning movies of 2006 in its abundance of great intentions. (C.K.) PG 112 minutes B+
Art School Confidential -- is intermittently exhilarating. Director Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa) skewers not just the jocks who taunt the artist hero (Max Minghella) in high school, but the clueless members of his family and, most of all, the pseuds who surround him at the Strathmore Institute, a fashionably decrepit art school. When the hero falls for a smart, gorgeous art model (Sophia Myles), it becomes an unwieldy combination - bitter and semisweet. (M.S.) R 102 minutes B
The Break-Up -- is half a great movie: a biting, hard-hearted comedic look at what happens when former lovers take off the gloves and begin using each other as emotional punching bags. It gets the sense of betrayal right, the absolute fury that the pig you've been sleeping next to all this time not only doesn't understand his or her piggishness, but seems to revel in it. But The Break-Up doesn't offer insight into how the mutual attraction between Vince Vaughn's Gary, a narcissistic, good-time-loving schlub, and Jennifer Aniston's Brooke, a cultured, meticulous, Type-A poster girl, arose in the first place. (C.K.) PG-13 105 minutes B
Brick -- is a remarkable oddity, audacious and engaging. This film noir for the young and the feckless spills over with suburban bravado and unrelenting wit. Our antihero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), tries to get to the bottom of a narcotics underworld that has swallowed up his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). The movie is deliriously disarming in the way it laces life-and-death heartbreak in and out of cozy-seedy circumstances. (M.S.) R 110 minutes A-
The Da Vinci Code -- issues a spray of perspiration - not from the hero (Tom Hanks) and heroine (Audrey Tautou) outrunning forces set on framing them for multiple murders, but from director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman sweating buckets of unholy water as they try (and fail) to stay on top of novelist Dan Brown's heavy, exposition-riddled plot. Howard treats Brown's book as holy writ. It's a fatal mistake for an adaptation of a novel whose sole virtue is irreverence. (M.S.) PG-13 149 minutes C
District B-13 -- boasts actor-athletes David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, who turn kicking butt into jack-booted ballet. It's 2010, and the French government has disowned and walled off the most crime-ridden suburb of Paris, turning it into a tenement empire running on coke and greed. The plot clicks into gear when someone hijacks a neutron bomb and delivers it to the district's ruling drug lord. The entire film goes by like a theme-park cyclone ride. (M.S.) R 85 minutes. B
Down in the Valley -- features Edward Norton as a cowboy who ambles into the contemporary San Fernando Valley and creates a walking pocket of calm in the dull suburban roar of engines and air conditioners. As a Valley Girl who says she's been waiting for life to happen, Evan Rachel Wood ferments yearning and concupiscence into essence-of-adolescence. The balance between his courtliness and her readiness gives this film's magical first hour the unexpected sensual lilt of a lithe, spontaneous dance. The movie has a trick second half, but writer-director David Jacobson and his actors do so much with the characters that they leave an ambiguous residue of blood-streaked regrets and sadness. (M.S.) R 125 minutes B+
Ice Age: The Meltdown -- offers some good news: The nut-nutty squirrel of the first Ice Age is back. Otherwise, the movie has exactly the same flaws as its predecessor. It's a glacier-paced mastodon quest, just critters on the run from extinction. (Orlando Sentinel) PG 85 minutes C-
Inside Man -- is a slick, briskly paced tale of bank robbers who think they're at least twice as smart as everybody else, and maybe are. Clive Owen is the robber determined that everyone play his game, Denzel Washington is the detective assigned to the case, and Jodie Foster is a mysterious operative. (C.K.) R 129 minutes B+
Just My Luck -- does for Lindsay Lohan something unmatched by any of her previous films. It makes her boring. She plays a woman who unwittingly trades her fabulous luck with a guy (Chris Pine) who has no luck whatsoever. (C.K.) PG-13 100 minutes C
Keeping Up With the Steins -- is equal parts a rumination on the rapacious silliness that comes from efforts to keep up with the Joneses and a tale of family rapprochement. Too bad the filmmakers couldn't settle on one plotline and stick with it. The resulting film is affable enough, featuring an endearing turn from Garry Marshall as an eccentric grandfather who, on the occasion of his grandson's bar mitzvah, seems the only person in the universe concentrating on the boy's best interests and not the scope of the celebration. (C.K.) PG-13 99 minutes C+
Mission: Impossible III -- will provide a satisfying ride for series fans; others may regard it as TV squared. The action hinges physically on Tom Cruise's abilities to race through city streets like the Flash or soar through the air and land safely thanks to super bungee cords and his virtuoso ways with a parachute. (M.S.) PG-13 125 minutes B-
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont -- stars veteran British actress Joan Plowright as an aging widow casually ignored by her daughter and grandson. Not wanting to be a bother to anyone, she moves into a seen-better-days London hotel whose elderly residents find themselves in straits similar to hers. There's a steady drumbeat of melancholia that winds its way through, but the movie is far from turgid. (C.K.) Unrated 108 minutes B
The Notorious Bettie Page -- makes its way to the finish line on Gretchen Mol's back - and every other body part. With a wholesome gusto, she inhabits the role of the ultimate pin-up gal of the Fifties. Despite the flimsy script by Guinevere Turner and director Mary Harron, Mol effortlessly sells their vision of a guileless, generous gal making her way through life by doing what she does best: having fun in front of the camera. (M.S.) R 91 minutes B
The Omen -- with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles as the unwitting parents of the anti-Christ, is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the original 1976 film, so what's the point? Besides offering the giddy pleasure of seeing Mia Farrow play a demonic nanny, there's not much to the film that a repeat viewing of its earlier incarnation couldn't provide. (C.K.) R 110 minutes C+
Over the Hedge -- is the tale of a bunch of forest critters and their wide-eyed introduction to the pleasures and dangers of suburbia. It has funny animals that will appeal to the young, humor that will appeal to adolescents, tongue-in-cheek sophistication that will endear itself to adults and an appreciation of its animated predecessors that should warm the hearts of veteran moviegoers. (C.K.) PG 86 minutes A-
Poseidon -- fails to provide even the dubious excitement of seeing a handful survive and hundreds of passengers and crew drown when a monstrous wave overturns a cruise ship. It's clear no one's on the open sea, just in some studio tank, stuck up Remake River without a paddle. (M.S.) PG-13 99 minutes D
RV -- Barry Sonnenfeld's remake (in spirit, if not in name) of National Lampoon's Vacation is a comedy in which Robin Williams doesn't resort to his standard shtick (except for one overlong and unfunny scene in which he gangsta raps). (C.K.) PG-13 92 minutes B-
United 93 -- returns us to Sept. 11, 2001, with immediacy, intelligence and a full-bodied human impact. Instead of weepiness, it offers us insight and revelation - and what James Joyce in The Dead called "generous tears." What's great about United 93 is that you never feel it's just a movie - even though, as a movie, it's terrific. (M.S.) R 111 minutes A+
Water -- offers a fervid outcry against ancient yet extant Hindu laws that say widows of all ages - even child brides who never knew their husbands - should either throw themselves on their spouse's funeral pyre, adopt a life of renunciation or, with the family's permission, marry a brother of the deceased. But this flowery, literary feature too often takes the form of a romance novel rather than robust or muckraking fiction. (M.S.) PG-13 114 minutes B-
X-Men: The Last Stand -- does stay true to the franchise: Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his band of virtuous mutants negotiate peacefully with mainstream society, while his nemesis, Magneto (Ian McKellen), raises an opposition culture, this time to destroy a new-found "cure" for the mutant gene. But too many characters stand around with their mouths open. The one standout is Kelsey Grammer's Dr. Hank McCoy, aka Beast, a jolly blue giant who likes to hang upside-down for his sanity, as if single-pawedly bringing back the gravity boot. (M.S.) PG-13 104 minutes B-
Rating -- G
What it's about -- A race car learns there's no "I" in "team," and to stop and smell the WD-40 in this Pixar cartoon.
The Kid Attractor Factor -- Pixar. Got to see it. Must own toys.
Good lessons/bad lessons -- Respect your elders, pay your debts, acknowledge the help you got along the way.
Violence -- Wrecks. Animated.
Language -- Disney clean.
Sex -- Kind of hard to picture.
Drugs -- None.
Parents advisory -- Gentle Pixar comedy in an old-fashioned "take time to live life" vein, harmless, in spite of the crass NASCAR-toy sales pandering.
A Prairie Home Companion
Rating -- PG-13
What it's about -- An old-fashioned radio variety program is about to go off the air, and its cast does one last show with death knocking on their door.
The Kid Attractor Factor -- It's a bit before their time. But Lindsay Lohan's here.
Good lessons/bad lessons -- Old people, old music and old media are worth savoring and saving.
Violence -- A death. Nonviolent.
Language -- Flirts with off-color.
Sex -- Flirts with off-color.
Drugs -- None.
Parents advisory -- If they're listening to the radio show with you Saturday nights, the kids will get a kick out of seeing what the show looks like as it is broadcast.