Brotherhood of the Wolf. Christophe Cans. Attended by a rather sexy air of intrigue, this hit French film from screenwriter Stéphane Cabel and director Christophe Gans arrives upon our shores, and, refreshingly, it's left up to us to figure out just what the hell it is. Monster movie? Costume drama? Martial-arts extravaganza? To say the least, it's the most ambitious import since Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with which it shares the all-too-rare ability to blur the line between art house and multiplex. The year is 1764, and something ghastly is ravaging the French countryside, so King Louis XV (Gaspard Ulliel) enlists a rational scientist named Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and de Fronsac's spiritual Iroquois blood brother, Mani (Mark Dacascos), to track and slay the nasty Beast (an impressive horror courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop). We've got two powerful women involved, in the forms of sensuous, self-obsessed courtesan Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) and the seemingly naïve Marianne (Emilie Dequenne), as well as loads of fight choreography by Philip Kwok (Hard Boiled). In sum, this highly original tale becomes a weird amalgamation: The Last of the Misérables mixed with The Affair of the Howling. C'est chouette, non? Opens Jan. 25 at the Ronnie's 20 Cinema. (GW)
The Count of Monte Cristo. Kevin Reynolds. There is nothing terribly wrong with Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo, the 18th remake of Alexandre Dumas' tale of innocence betrayed and avenged. It is neither a drag nor a gas; it neither betrays its source material nor adheres too slavishly to the densely penned novel. It is hardly the best Monte Cristo or the worst, and it's not at all the longest (the 1988 Bravo miniseries runs 400 excruciating minutes), though in stretches this latest take feels very much like a film begging for an intermission or nap time. Jim Caviezel is Edmond Dantès, the sailor betrayed and imprisoned over nothing more than another man's desire to claim his woman. Novice screenwriter Jay Wolpert has tweaked Dumas' tale and added an intriguing twist: Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce), who barely knew Edmond in the novel, is now his best friend since childhood, so when Fernand sells out Edmond, he now does so out of a raging, long-simmering (and long-simpering) jealousy. Richard Harris, as the priest who teaches Edmond the fine art of revenge, provides the film's rare moments of vigor and wit. Otherwise, Caviezel is left to brood. The movie's so short on style and verve it feels lifeless; audiences might feel imprisoned in the Château d'If, praying for escape or death. Fortunately, one need not tunnel out of a movie theater. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple locations. (RW)
I Am Sam. Jessie Nelson. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Steve Oedekerk. This send-up of kung fu movies both highbrow and lowbrow features writer/director Oedekerk as the Chosen One; it also features, among the many undoubtedly hilarious fight scenes, a knock-down, drag-out kung fu battle with a cow. Crazy. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple locations. NR
Lantana. Ray Lawrence. Australian director Lawrence (best known here for the quirky 1985 comedy Bliss) provides some high-toned soap opera nicely flavored with a touch of suspense and some well-timed jolts of humor. Playwright Andrew Bovell's busy, busy screenplay is crammed with philandering police detectives, grief-stricken psychoanalysts, traumatized gay men, gloomy husbands and alienated teenagers, but the filmmakers manage to bind their untidy package of seemingly unrelated characters and boiling subplots together through the mystery of one woman's disappearance. The talented ensemble cast includes veteran tough guy Anthony LaPaglia, Aussie superstar Geoffrey Rush, Kerry Armstrong and the re-emergent Barbara Hershey, among others. From many telling moments, Lawrence constructs a teeming pastiche of human foibles that proves terrifically entertaining by the end. Opens Jan. 25 at the Plaza Frontenac. (BG)
The Mothman Prophecies. Mark Pellington. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
A Walk To Remember. Adam Shankman. Like the Fruit Roll-Up in an eighth-grader's backpack, Mandy Moore's singing career could vanish at any moment. But first, the pop princess who's sold 5 million CDs to melancholy 14-year-olds must appear in her one and only feature film, derived from a gloppy Nicholas Sparks novel about an unpopular high-school girl who struggles to discover first love, then -- right on cue -- dies of leukemia. Into every adolescence a few tears must fall, but parents wishing to protect their beloved daughters from cliché overload might do well to withhold the old allowance money for a couple of weeks -- until the inevitable bout of Mandymoviemania subsides. With teenthrob Shane West as the loverboy and Peter Coyote as Moore's stern preacher/father. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple locations. (BG)