Because of Winn-Dixie Wayne Wang. (PG) A soulful, mostly successful children's movie based on the best-selling novel of the same name. Ten-year-old Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of a preacher (Jeff Daniels), leads a lonely life in a sleepy Florida town. Her mother has long since departed, and her father has barred the doors against discussion of that. The kids in town don't show any interest, except to tease, so Opal's left to her own devices -- until Winn-Dixie comes galumphing in. Winn-Dixie is a dog, a large and shaggy mutt-looking thing (actually a rare Picardy shepherd, flown to the set from France), whom Opal saves from the pound. In short order, the smiling dog conquers the heart of Opal's father and of many of the town's eccentrics, winning Opal friends. Just as Winn-Dixie the canine draws out the people he meets, Winn-Dixie the film evokes several remarkable performances, including a moving and humble turn by Jeff Daniels. In the end, despite a tendency toward the overcooked and a climactic misstep, it succeeds. Opens Friday, February 18, at multiple locations. (Melissa Levine)
Constantine Francis Lawrence. (R) Opens Friday, February 18, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
The Sea Inside Alejandro Amenábar. (PG-13) Opens Friday, February 18, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Son of the Mask Lawrence Guterman. (PG) Oddly, this what-the-fuh? sequel (of sorts; not really) to the 1994 Jim Carrey hit is actually being released in theaters, when it has all the trappings of a dust-gathering, direct-to-video product: B-lister Jamie Kennedy, as would-be kiddie-show cartoonist Tim (no, not Tex) Avery, instead of Carrey; Alan Cumming (who will apparently do anything for half a buck) as Norse god Loki; Bob Hoskins (another downward-spiraling tramp) as one-eyed god Odin; Steven Wright, a former Oscar-winner for a 1988 short comedic film, who long ago gave up even trying; and lousy CG effects that turn a newborn into a possessed Baby Bob that pisses like a broken fire hydrant. The plot, thin as a supermodel, has Kennedy donning the mask and impregnating his wife (Two Guys and a Girl's Traylor Howard), who gives birth to an icky-cutesy baby possessed of wacky superpowers; the dog, too, gets involved by putting on the mask...oh, God, whatever. One presumes the only thing worse than making this disaster is actually watching it; wouldn't wish either on anyone. Opens Friday, February 18, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)
Travellers & Magicians Khyentse Norbu. (unrated) Writer-director (and incarnate lama) Khyentse Norbu, who single-handedly put Bhutan on the world-cinema map with his charming debut, The Cup, tops that success with a lovely and enthralling parable about the allure of greener pastures. A young villager, besotted with all things Western, takes off for the city, where an American friend has a line on a U.S. visa. The too-cool-for-words Dondup meets various strangers on his journey through the countryside, including a cheerful monk who spins a cautionary tale of another young man who dreamed of a richer life far from his sleepy Himalayan home. Norbu gracefully segues between allegorical stories and the present day to suggest Dondup's awakening consciousness without resorting to Hallmark-card naiveté or holier-than-thou smugness. Gently guiding a cast of underplaying nonprofessionals, the director achieves an inviting warmth that avoids the pretentious precision of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring and other recent "spiritual" treatises. Travellers is imbued with a playfulness and generosity that clearly establishes Norbu as the natural heir to Indian master Satyajit Ray. Opens Friday, February 18, at the Tivoli. (Michael Fox)