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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (R) Julian Schnabel's new film is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the jet-setting editor of French Elle, who was felled by a massive stroke in 1995 that left him unable to speak or move but, shades of Johnny Got His Gun, fully cognizant. Bauby eventually developed a rudimentary form of communication — blinking his left eye (the only part of him that still worked) to signal a specific letter of the alphabet, slowly dictating a best-selling memoir and dying days after the book was published. It's no exaggeration to say that the real star of Schabel's film is cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who is fiendishly ingenious in his use of the camera as a surrogate eye for the movie's protagonist. The entire first half of the movie is presented almost completely from Bauby's perspective, with Kaminski's camera bending and distorting the light in ways that appear random but are actually meticulously calculated, pulling images in and out of focus in order to simulate how the world looks to a one-eyed stroke victim awakening from a coma. The film eventually broadens its perspective, but Schnabel keeps the focus firmly rooted inside Bauby's head, peppering the film with heavy-handed visual metaphors but avoiding melodrama and the temptation to turn his main character into some sort of martyr. Also stars Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, Marina Hands and Max Von Sydow. 3.5 stars

A FLASH OF GREEN (NR) Florida's most highly respected filmmaker, Victor Nunez (Ruby in Paradise, Ulee's Gold), is scheduled to make a personal appearance at this very special free screening of his 1984 film, A Flash of Green. Nunez's acclaimed adaptation of John D. MacDonald's novel about a reporter embroiled in a Florida land development scheme has never been released on DVD, and it has been nearly impossible to see for the past few decades — which makes this one-time-only engagement at the Beach Theatre even more of an event. The movie is as thoughtful and rich in character as anything this filmmaker has done; Ed Harris delivers one of his finest performances as the troubled journalist, and Nunez himself will be on hand for a Q&A after the film, along with many of the other people who worked on the film. Do you need any other reasons to go? Also stars Richard Jordan and Blair Brown. Plays Mon., Feb. 18 at 11 a.m., one time only, at the Beach Theatre, 315 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach, 727-360-6697. The event is free. 4 stars

I AM LEGEND (PG-13) Will Smith stars as the last human survivor of a deadly plague that has turned the world's population into bloodthirsty nocturnal creatures, and virtually the entire first half of the film consists of our hero and his faithful canine companion wandering the deserted streets of New York City. Director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) imbues these early scenes with both tension and an eerie poetry, finding undeniable power in the post-apocalyptic imagery of a depopulated Manhattan where stray weeds poke up through cracks in the pavement as if once again laying claim to the land. Smith holds down the film fairly well, but his character veers unconvincingly from rational man of science to unhinged paranoid to cartoon action hero, inconsistencies that are hard not to notice since there's so little else going on here. We don't often see the creatures, but when we do, the movie unravels further as they're a pretty derivative lot, a fusion of familiar elements from 28 Days Later and The Descent, all largely rendered via cheap and thoroughly uninspired CGI. Traces of elegantly creepy atmosphere can be found throughout, but the effect is all but ruined by packs of dopey looking zombie dogs (honest) and a little too much Bob Marley music at the wrong moments. Also stars Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson and Willow Smith. 2.5 stars

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