Girl With a Pearl Earring (PG-13) Peter Webber. Not a great deal is known about the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, so there's plenty of room to speculate, which is exactly what Tracy Chevalier did when she wrote the book upon which this film is based. Chevalier was inspired by a poster of the famous titular painting she had owned since she was nineteen; little surprise, then, that this Vermeer, as portrayed by Colin Firth, plays like a teenage girl's fantasy of a sensitive yet sexy artist. Apparently Vermeer was the sole passionate hippie in a town full of puritans, the latter group epitomized by Tom Wilkinson as designated horny old hypocrite Master Van Ruijven. And the girl in the picture? That'd be Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a servant girl who, in this hypothetical telling, wasn't actually having an affair with Vermeer but was suspected by all nonetheless. It's beautiful to look at, and yet the story's strangely lacking; the novel's first chapter, available online at Chevalier's Web site, seems to contain more plot points than the entire film. Opens Friday, January 16, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Monster (R) Patty Jenkins. Opens Friday, January 16, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.
Teacher's Pet (PG) Timothy Björklund. If you haven't seen the Gary Baseman-designed TV show on which this movie is based, here's the gist: Family dog Spot (Nathan Lane) longs to be a boy, and with the aid of a hat and glasses, he manages to fool everyone around him into believing he is one. Under the clever alias of "Scott," he attends school alongside his owner, Leonard Helperman (Shaun Fleming), where he is the star pupil of Leonard's teacher and mother, Mrs. Helperman (Debra Jo Rupp). Still, that isn't enough for Spot, who longs to become a real boy at the hands of a mad scientist named Krank (Kelsey Grammer). The logic at work in the film's ultimate theme -- that a boy and his dog need each other in a unique way -- seems a tad shaky. Essentially, the film posits that even if one's canine companion has a mind superior to that of its owner, it should remain in a subservient role because "a boy needs his dog." The musical numbers are energetic and fun, though. Opens Friday, January 16, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Tokyo Godfathers (PG-13) Satoshi Kon. Opens Friday, January 16, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue. (Tokyo Godfathers will be preceded by Terra, a seven-minute animated short about an alien girl who is curious about a mysterious object in the night sky.)
Torque (PG-13) Joseph Kahn. Neither a French documentary about the Monkees' mellow genius nor an industrial film for engineers, Torque is about how neato motorcycles are. Out in the California desert, where grimy thugs constantly attack each other with chains and guns while their lowrider chicks organize riotous thong parades, a lone biker (New Zealand actor Martin Henderson, of The Ring) struggles to clear his name while pursued by evil redneck riders (led by Matt Schulze), enraged black riders (led by Ice Cube doing his "angry bunny" face a bit too much) and some particularly stupid fuzz (led by Adam Scott, who looks twelve). Fun stunts ensue. Although the press notes liken the movie to Easy Rider (why not Lawrence of Arabia while you're at it?), the obvious comparison is to the Fast and the Furious franchise, which shares the same producer. Actually, the closest spiritual cousin may be Pee-wee's Big Adventure, with its lone biker hero; all that's missing is the "Tequila" dance and the "I'm a rebel, Dottie" speech. Opens Friday, January 16, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)