Outtakes

Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

NEW THIS WEEK:

HOUSE OF D (PG-13) David Duchovny's directorial debut is bad on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Awkwardly written, over-earnest and utterly unoriginal, the former X-Files icon's coming-of-age tale often feels as if it was constructed according to some unspeakable how-to manual for hack directors. Duchovny himself appears in the opening sequence as an expatriate artist recounting the story of his life to his estranged wife and child, at which point the movie dissolves into an extended flashback of early '70s Manhattan, and a generic voice-over takes over. Anton Yelchin is passable as the narrator's 13-year-old self, but surrounding him is a stable of insufferable stereotypes from a pill-popping single mom (Tea Leoni) to a streetwise, advise-dispensing hooker (Erykah Badu) to - brace yourselves now - a sweet-natured, mentally disabled janitor played by Robin Williams. If Williams' Gump-ish man-child doesn't drive you right over the edge, the obligatory classic rock soundtrack or regular infusions of tear jerking clichés just might. Also stars Frank Langella. Opens April 29 at local theaters. 1/2

WALK ON WATER (NR) Although it's essentially what you'd call a cloak-and-dagger thriller, Walk on Water piles on so many disparate thematic elements that you can almost hear it groaning beneath the weight. But better too much than too little, I suppose, and there's a lot of bang for your buck here. This is the new film from Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose Yossi & Jagger became a staple at recent gay film festivals with its same-sex romance between two Israeli soldiers, and Walk on Water also dips its toes, briefly, into queer territory. Israeli superstar Lior Ashkenazi (Late Marriage) stars as a grieving secret service agent dealing with his wife's recent suicide, and assigned to root out a Nazi war criminal by becoming friendly with the man's adult grandchildren. The female grandchild becomes a bit of a romantic diversion, the male grandkid turns out to be gay and forces the macho Mossad to confront his homophobia, and other plot thickenings touch on Israeli-Palestinian animosity and German guilt vs. Jewish paranoia regarding the Holocaust. Director Fox juggles all of these elements and, against all odds, keeps them aloft much of the time, although we can frequently feel the film straining to do so. Ashkenazi is compelling in the lead role, but suffers somewhat when he's speaking English (the film is in Hebrew, German and English), as do the other actors when navigating dialogue not in their native language. Also stars Knut Berger and Caroline Peters. Opens April 29 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm.

WINTER SOLSTICE (NR) So understated it nearly evaporates into thin air, this intimate, indie drama follows a working class New Jersey family quietly reeling from the untimely death of the brood's wife and mother. Each member of the all-male household sublimates his emotional turmoil in a different way - dad (Anthony LaPaglia) through stoicism, one teenage son (Mark Webber) through slacker-dom and mild rebellion, the other, elder son (Aaron Stanford) through an overload of work and, ultimately, escape. There are no huge dramatic turning points, no explosive narrative hooks here, but the film manages to engage by exhibiting a sure, steady power through its attention to detail, natural rhythms and solid performances. Also stars Allison Janney. Opens April 29 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 1/2

RECENT RELEASES:

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R) A remake of the much-loved but not very good haunted house flick from 1979, this new Amityville hails from the team responsible for the recent revisiting of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which undoubtedly accounts for the copious amounts of gore, grisly sadism and generally messed-up atmosphere. The remake begins with creepy noises and quickly escalates into squabbles and open rifts between the various family members inhabiting a malignant house that's clearly seeking to possess and destroy them. Shortly thereafter, Amityville '05 tips its hand and then peaks way too early - less than half an hour in, the house is dripping blood all over the place and ghostly, ghoulish visions are leering over every shoulder - all but deflating the movie's more subtle, psychological side, particularly its Shining-lite proposition that true horror is what lurks beneath the surface of the All-American Happy Family. Still, Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George turn in serviceable performances as the besieged leads, and there's no denying that the movie produces a handful of solid albeit uninspired scares. Also stars Philip Baker Hall and Jesse James. 1/2

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE (R) Daniel Day-Lewis was coaxed out of semi-retirement to act in this new project by his director-wife Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity), making it all the more disappointing that the film turns out to be not particularly good. Basically shapeless and heavy-handed at all the wrong moments, The Ballad of Jack and Rose is about, among other things, the fading dreams and perhaps too-intimate relationship of a terminally ill, hippie-dippie dad and his precocious, nearly-grown daughter. Day-Lewis plays the dad, Jack, a chain-smoking environmentalist living in something approaching total isolation with his beautiful, budding daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle). It all feels rather airless; the characters' "lively" quirks are supposed to keep us engaged, but even the good performances here can't disguise the rambling self-consciousness of what amounts to a seriously flawed script. The film opens up, briefly, when Jack brings a woman into the house to act as a surrogate wife-mother (a pair of teenaged boys are attached, providing some amusing interactions), but Day-Lewis' central character remains too vaguely drawn and unsympathetic, and the movie's core father-daughter dynamic is a mess. Also stars Catherine Keener and Jena Malone.

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