Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

click to enlarge THE POLAR EXPRESS - Warner Brothers Pictures
Warner Brothers Pictures


BEING JULIA (NR) "Luminous" is a word that film critics tend to overuse when describing beautiful actresses lighting up the screen, but hardly any other word will do for Annette Bening's career-topping performance here. The film itself is lushly mounted but otherwise pretty standard stuff — Bening plays an aging diva in 1930's London, engaged in a clandestine affair with a younger man — but Bening herself is on screen nearly every moment, and it's impossible to take your eyes off her. Director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto, Sunshine) invests the material with an appealingly light touch, lovely visual flourishes, and as much wit as we might expect in what is essentially a pretty dull story. The film becomes better during a last act that manufactures some All About Eve-like backstage intrigue and runs with it, but the real reason to see the film is Bening, who is extraordinary. Also stars Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevens and Michael Gambon. Opens Nov. 19 at local theaters. 1/2

NATIONAL TREASURE (PG) Nicholas Cage stars as a treasure hunter sworn to protect great riches hidden by the founding fathers who learns of a plot to steal the treasure using a map hidden on the Declaration of Independence. Much high-tech gadgetry, slick chase scenes and maybe even some history ensue. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. (Not Reviewed)

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (PG) Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Yep, it's Nickelodeon's favorite son, that little ol' absorbent, yellow pop culture icon, making the leap from the living room boob tube to your neighborhood megaplex. There are a few snags along the way — the movie has trouble holding our interest for nearly 90 minutes, mostly owing to an overly conventional storyline (Spongebob and Patrick embark on a quest to retrieve King Neptune's crown) that tries too hard to mold itself for the big screen. Still, that patented blend of wide-eyed nonsense and gleeful anarchy remains pretty much intact and there are periodic bursts of absurd brilliance that make it all worthwhile (a pectorally gifted David Hasselhoff, and Spongebob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream are only a few examples). The world of Bikini Bottom seems to work better in small doses, but any excuse to spend some time with Mr. Squarepants — the Pee-Wee Herman of his generation — is OK with me. Featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass and Bill Fagerbakke. Opens Nov. 19 at local theaters. 1/2


AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) Although there are worse ways to wile away 90-some minutes, After the Sunset isn't really exciting or original enough to engage us as a heist movie, and it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy. Pierce Brosnan (further distancing himself from the 007 image in flip-flops and a gray, gristled chin) and Salma Hayek are retired jewel thieves playing elaborately pointless cat-and-mouse games with FBI agent Woody Harrelson while they consider that inevitable one last heist. The movie is pleasant to look at (particularly the island locations and a frequently semi-clad Hayek), and some of the dialogue is fairly clever and quirky, but we've seen this Elmore Leonard-lite shtick too many times before. Also stars Don Cheadle. 1/2

ALFIE (R) Jude Law stars in this slick but pointless remake of the 1966 Michael Caine star-maker about a womanizing, commitment-phobic cad. Behavior that seemed shocking and provocative on a movie screen nearly four decades ago, however, now simply seems a bit inane and even creepy, and this new version of Alfie can't quite figure out what to do with its eponymous hero or how to feel about him. Law's character spends most of the movie yakking directly to the camera, endlessly re-stating versions of his personal philosophy ("It's all about FBB — face, boobs, buns)" and flitting from one woman to the next. Similarly, the movie flits from one Big Emotion to the next, starting out as a zippy and gleefully superficial ode to a superficial sex addict, and then executing some wild mood swings into unreservedly maudlin territory before swinging back again. The action's been transplanted from swinging '60s London to contemporary Manhattan, but otherwise the movie acts as if feminism, AIDS or even the notion of political correctness had never happened. Even during those moments when Law's character begins expressing something resembling remorse or the rudimentary stirrings of a conscience, the movie's not sharp enough to point out the multiple ironies implicit in the sadness. Marisa Tomei is very good here as one of Alfie's conquests, and there's a nice scene involving Susan Sarandon (another conquest) and some absinthe, but otherwise don't waste your time. Also stars Omar Epps, Nia Long and Sienna Miller.

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